Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Ancient bronze implements excavated at Magdala

ARCHAEOLOGY: Second Temple period bronze implements discovered in Magdala excavations (IAA). The link to the press release at the IAA website is here. It includes a brief YouTube video which you can also find here. The main link above is to the IAA press release posted on the (more durable) Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
The excavation season was located alongside the pier of the large Jewish settlement of Magdala. Volunteers from Chile, Mexico, Italy and Spain came to Magdala in order to help and continue the excavations at the site.

​(Communicated by the Israel Antiquities Authority Spokesperson)

A decorated bronze incense shovel (used for transferring embers from place to place) and a bronze jug were recently uncovered in archaeological excavations in Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The Israel Antiquities Authority is leading archaeological excavations slated for the construction of a guesthouse at Magdala. The land is owned by Arke New Gate.

The Hebrew word for incense shovel is mahta, which is derived from the action of raking or gathering embers, and is mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 27:1–3: “You shall make the altar…you shall make pots for it to receive its ashes, and shovels and basins and forks and fire pans; all its utensils you shall make of bronze”. The mahta is thought to have been a sacred implement like the rest of the items that were utilized in the Temple where it was mainly used for transferring embers from place to place. Incense shovels frequently appear in Jewish art as one of the religious articles associated with the Temple, and they have been depicted on mosaic floors of synagogues alongside the menorah, lulav and etrog.

According to Dina Avshalom-Gorni, the Chief archaeologist on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The incense shovel that was found is one of ten others that are known in the country from the Second Temple period. From early research in the world it was thought that the incense shovel was only used for ritual purposes, care for the embers and incense that were burnt in ritual ceremonies. Over the years, after incense shovels were also discovered in non-cultic context, apparently were also used as tools for daily tasks. The incense shovel and jug found in our excavation were exposed lying next to each other on the floor in one of the room, at the storehouses that is locate adjacent the dock of a large Jewish settlement, on the shore of Sea of Galilee, in the late Second Temple period. These implements might have been saved in the storeroom as heirlooms by a Jewish family living at Magdala, or they may have been used for daily work as well”.

A potential connection of the shovel with incense work at the Temple is highlighted here and in the video, but I wonder how likely that is, given that it was excavated up north in the Galilee. The press release does also make clear, as above, that such shovels had other more mundane uses. The first thing that occurred to me when I saw it was that it would make a nice bread toaster for rich people. But I am not an archaeologist.

For some good photos, see the Daily Mail's coverage here. For more on the Magdala Stone, see here and links. For more on the site of Magdala, which may or may not be the home town of Mary Magdalene (specialists disagree and I myself have no opinion - more here), see here, here, and many links.