A small, carnelian stone has been found in a dig in Tel Dor, on the northwest coast of Israel.

It is only about 1 x 0.5cm, but intricately carved with the face of a young, handsome man: Alexander the Great. The gem is thought to date from shortly after Alexander conquered the region in 332BC.

Alexander the Great

Carnelian, a reddish-brown kind of silica has a striking, silky lustre when polished.

It was often used in signet rings when making authenticating marks in wax, as carnelian doesn't stick to hot wax. This gem is thought to have been set in a ring originally.

Alexander was the first Greek leader who commissioned artists to present his image.

Until now it had been thought the region where the gem was discovered was populated by simple people unacquainted with Greek opulence.

The discovery suggests that there was a local elite who could afford these things.

The intricacy of carving on the tiny jewel captures all of Alexander's features in line with other depictions: strong chin, straight nose, tied-back curly hair.

These are also similar to depictions of Greek gods, and the images may have been intended to legitimise his battle-won power by making him appear divine.

Alexander appears on many coins and also mosaics, and his image continued to be used after his death as an image of someone to emulate.

However, this piece is one of only a few gems which have been found to bear his image, which makes it all the more fascinating. 

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