Video: Fifth-century figurine discovered

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updated 1/27/2009 11:25:00 AM ET 2009-01-27T16:25:00

Israeli archaeologists have discovered a rare, well-preserved 1,800-year-old figurine in an excavation in Jerusalem, the Israeli Antiquities Authority said.

Dating from the time of the Roman Empire, the 5-centimeter (2-inch) marble bust depicts the head of a man with a short curly beard and almond-shaped eyes.

"The high level of finish on the figurine is extraordinary, while meticulously adhering to the tiniest of details," the authority said Monday. Nothing similar has ever been uncovered in Israel, it said, calling it a "unique find."

Archaeologists believe the figurine was used as a weight for a hanging scale of a type common in the Roman period. Tiny holes drilled in the neck of the figurine were likely used to attach it to the scale, and remnants of metal remain. They think the figurine could portray an athlete, possibly a boxer.

Carved from pale yellow marble, archeologists think the figurine originated in the far eastern stretches of the Roman Empire and was most likely carried to Jerusalem by a merchant.

It was found in the ruins of a building destroyed by an earthquake in the fourth or fifth century. The same dig outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City also recently yielded a well-preserved gold earring inlaid with pearls and a trove of more than 250 gold coins.

The dig is in a former parking lot in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, in east Jerusalem. It is part of broader archaeological excavations at the site, known to Israeli scholars as the City of David, after the Biblical monarch who is believed to have ruled from there some 3,000 years ago.

More on  Archaeology | Roman Empire

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