Samarian Ivory Decoration

Detail of a floral pattern on an ivory decoration from Samaria.

Floral and scallop shell decoration, circa ninth century B.C.E., Samaria. Ivory, Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums.

Ivory was a highly prized luxury material in ancient Samaria. Found in abundance at the Samarian Royal Palace complex, kings often received objects made of ivory, gold, and lapis lazuli as presents from visiting dignitaries. The ninth century B.C.E., during the rule of King Ahab, is known as the ivory period—ivory being the most coveted of all the materials. Ivory was exceedingly rare, as it comes from elephant tusks. Elephants once lived in the Levant, however they were hunted to extinction in the eastern Mediterranean by 800 B.C.E. Most of the ivory in the region came from Asiatic elephants and was imported to Samaria at great cost. Ancient sculptors used ivory to carve everything from chairs and caskets to decorative motifs of animals and flowers. Shown here is a geometric, stylized, floral motif with scallop shell from Samaria.