Archaeologists have discovered a 4,000-year-old jar that contains a heap of small bones from nine headless toads in a Bronze Age tomb in Israel.
Researchers from Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) believe the jar may have been a funeral offering to feed the dead in the afterlife.
In 2014, archaeologists were excavating at a Bronze Age cemetery of more than 60 rock-cut tombs in Jerusalem's Manahat neighbourhood.
They discovered a sealed tomb, and after they rolled back the stone that was covering its opening, they found one poorly preserved human skeleton. The person had been buried lying on their back among intact ceramic bowls and jars.
Based on the style of the pottery, researchers think the tomb likely dates to the early part of the Middle Bronze Age (about 4,000 years ago).
One of the jars discovered held a heap of small bones from nine toads that had all been decapitated.
"It is impossible to determine what role the toads played, but they are clearly part of the funerary rituals," Shua Kisilevitz, one of the excavation directors with the IAA, told Live Science.
During this period toads were a symbol of regeneration for people in Egypt. However, it is also possible that the toads had a more practical function: At the time, the dead were often buried with offerings that would serve them in their passage to the afterlife, researchers said.
"Food offerings are a staple of burial customs during this period, and there is a possibility that the toads were indeed placed in the jar as such," Kisilevitz said.
The fact that they were decapitated is another clue: One way to prepare toads for eating is to remove the head and edges of the limbs so that the sometimes-toxic skin could be removed, Kisilevitz added.
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