Divers find ‘evil-eye’ disc – and village of 100,000 spikes

Divers’ surprising finds: Marble disc once used an a ship to ward off the ‘evil eye’ (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Marble disc once used an a ship to ward off the ‘evil eye’ (Israel Antiquities Authority)
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Surprising Stone Age and Bronze Age discoveries have been made by divers in Israel and Albania.

Lifeguard David Shalom, snorkelling off Palmahim Beach on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, spotted an object on the seabed and dived to retrieve it. What he had come across was a 2,500-year-old marble disc – adopted by sailors in ancient times to protect their ships from the “evil eye”. 

Because Shalom had been swimming near the remains of what had once been a port called Yavne-Yam, he passed his find on to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Superstitious belief in the “evil eye” dates back some 5,000 years, with many Mediterranean and Asian cultures believing that a malevolent supernatural glare could cause injury or misfortune, often with victims unaware of what had been inflicted on them.

The perforated 20cm-diameter ophtalmoi talisman, a disc flat on one side and curved on the other, still bore traces of concentric circles painted around the central hole to depict an eye, and dated back to the 5th or 4th century BC. The design has also been found on ancient pottery, mosaics and coins. 

Such discs would have been nailed either side of a ship’s bow as protection against the evil eye, and to act as a navigational aid and “a pair of eyes looking ahead and warning of danger”, according to Yaakov Sharvit, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Marine Archaeology Unit. 

Sharvit said that only three other such ancient artefacts had previously been discovered in the Mediterranean – one on a beach in Israel and two on an ancient merchant shipwreck site off Turkey. He added that similar decorations could still be found on modern ships in Portugal, Malta, Greece and the Far East.

Yavne-Yam was first settled during the Middle Bronze Age (1500–1200 BC) and archaeologists have found anchors and other remains indicating that it had been a busy port from that time, as well as a variety of artefacts associated with cooking on board vessels.

Stakes raised in Albania

In Albania, meanwhile, scuba-diving archaeologists working on what they say is Europe’s oldest village of stilt-houses have discovered that it is surrounded by a barricade made up of some 100,000 timber spikes that would have “required the felling of a forest” to create.

The submerged 8,000-year-old Neolithic settlement is located in ancient Lake Ohrid, which straddles the border between Albania and North Macedonia. Apart from being one of Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes – as deep as 290m in places – it has an ecosystem that includes more than 200 endemic species.

Radiocarbon dating carried out on timber recovered from the site puts it at between 6000 and 5800 BC, older by several centuries than previously discovered European lake-dwelling sites in what are now the Italian Alps.

The excavations have been carried out over the past four years by Swiss and Albanian archaeologists led by Prof Albert Hafner of the University of Bern. Between 200 and 500 people are believed to have lived at the site,  and he has described the recent discovery of the spiked fortifications as “a real treasure trove for research”, according to AFP.

The villagers are thought to have been farmers, because the archaeologists have found seeds, plants and the bones of both wild and domesticated animals at the site. They expect to continue working at the site for at least another 20 years.

Also on Divernet: Divers explore 2,300-year-old wreck off Egypt, Deep ancient wrecks overflow with glass, pots & lamps, Mine-clearance divers turn up ancient shipwreck, Divers set to lift Bronze Age ‘sewn’ boat, 2 lions with apple: 17th-century carvings stun divers

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