What Is It?
Answer: C. Roman armor scales
These bronze scales were discovered at the palace/fortress at Masada, along with more than 1,000 others. Cut from cast sheet metal less than 1 millimeter thick, the small metal scales were punched with two or four holes and often reinforced by a raised border and a central rib. The scales were then wired together and sewn to a fabric backing in overlapping rows to create a form-fitting, yet flexible, hip-length garment of armor, which the Romans called a lorica squamata (“scaled cuirass”).
In the 1930s, French archaeologist André Parrot excavated Tell Hariri, an obscure site on the Euphrates River near Syria’s present-day border with Iraq, where the Bronze Age city of Mari was located. Parrot uncovered the remains of a large, well-preserved palace complex, including royal archives containing thousands of cuneiform tablets. Although the precise number of tablets is unknown, the figure is around 25,000.
The tablets date to the early second millennium B.C., mostly during the reigns of Yahdun-Lim (1820–1800 B.C.) and Zimri-Lim (1780–1760 B.C.), when Mari played an important role in commerce, dealing with cities from Mesopotamia to Israel and even Crete. The script on the tablets is cuneiform; the language is Akkadian, a West Semitic language related to Hebrew.
The Mari tablets offer a unique glimpse into daily life at the palace. But they are also significant for Biblical studies. In addition to their languages, the tablets reflect many cultural similarities between Mari and the early Israelites, such as a nomadic lifestyle and covenantal customs. Although some possible links with the Bible have been disproven, the Mari culture in general provides a context for the patriarchal narratives.