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How Much Does It Weigh?

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Find of the Month: February!

After a week away in the field, it is so nice to be back at the Sifting Project. It is my pleasure to present February’s “Find of the Month!” Now, this find requires a lot more research because it is pretty rare.

image-1Nicolle Perez from Ma’ale Adumin found this round stone that is likely to be a scale weight. It was her first time volunteering at the Sifting Project and she was really excited to have found something that could potentially be very important to our understanding of the history of the Temple Mount. It is amazing how something so small can provide so much information.

We have found a number of weights in the sifting. Our expert in weights is still looking for parallels that match this stone, because it is unlike most of the other weights we have found in the sifting. By parallels of shape and raw material, this stone is likely from the First Temple period, but more research is necessary to eliminate other possibilities.

In antiquity, before coins were used, weights were used to regulate and measure trade and barter. Most often, these weights would be used to weigh small pieces of silver which were traded as “currency,” although still very different from coinage.

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A 4 Gerah Judean scale weight found by the Sifting Project

Weights were used across the ancient world from India to the Aegean and beyond. In the land of Judah, including of course Jerusalem, the system of measurement for weights was based on the Shekel and is also mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament.

The shekel had many sub-units. This meant things could be weighed by half a shekel, or commonly in multiples of 2, 4, and 8 and deviations of Beqa, Pym, and Nesef. We know of Beqa and Pym from the Bible as well as smaller deviations known as Gerah.  The system was centered on a central unit of c. 11.33g.

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Judean scale weight

More than 500 inscribed Judean scale weights from the Iron Age have been found and published and they create a very homogenous weight-system. Most of these weights are made of local limestone and shaped as domes with flat bases. Many are inscribed with the names of the various units of measurement such as the Nesef and Pym, while smaller units (Gerah weights) and larger units (multiples of the Shekel) are often inscribed with hieratic numerals. Across Judah, these weights appeared in the 8th century BCE, but they mainly come from the stratigraphic layers dating to the 7th century BCE. Recent research done in Khirbet Qeiyafa by our own expert of scale weights show that the system of the Judean Shekel was used as early as the 10th century BCE.  It seems as though weights went out of use by 586 BCE and did not function by the time of the Persian period where we see the first coins.

The first dome shaped weights were found in Jerusalem in 1881 by the German excavator Hermann Guthe. Judean scale weights have been found in large numbers in almost every excavation of the Iron Age ever done in Jerusalem, supporting the fact that Jerusalem in the First Temple Period was a center of economic activity. This may possibly also support the idea that the Temple itself was a center of the economy.

Some scholars argue that the Temple might have used a slightly different system of weights from the daily shekel, and it is possible that they were marked in a different way. More research needs to be done on this “Shekel of the Sanctuary” mentioned in the Priestly Code of the Pentateuch (Torah) and in Ezekiel. It is possible that this weight system was a later creation in the history of weights, but still dating before the use of coins. It is also possible that the economic system of the Temple was connected with the royal house, as the Kings of Judah made decisions regarding the property of the Temple in times of emergency and supervised its maintenance (II Kings). Only a few weights have been found that might match the biblical accounts of this separate but connected system of weights and measurements. Perhaps more weights found from the Temple Mount itself would help archaeologists better understand this system of measurement and commerce.

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A selection of various weights (not all of the same system) found by the Sifting Project

Bar Ilan Conference

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Tomorrow is the 22nd Annual New Studies on Jerusalem Conference at Bar Ilan University. Dr. Aaron Greener will be presenting his research on the figurine assemblage found by the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

Our research on figurines has been a hot topic recently. You may have seen our “Find of the Month” in October about the Korshaya sisters who found the leg of an Iron Age figurine, most likely of a horse. You may also have participated in our “Name That Find” competition that was the snout of an Iron Age horse figurine.

With all of the buzz about our figurines, and the upcoming conference, we wanted to share with you the excerpts from Aaron’s presentation. Our project’s wet sifting method enables us to find the small fragments usually missed at other sites. 15% of our ceramic finds date to the Iron Age II, First Temple Period and include almost 150 typical Judahite figurine fragments. Their dating is based on style, morphology, manufacturing method, plastic details, and decorations.

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Some of the TMSP Figurine Assemblage

Aaron has discovered a unique distribution of figurines from our sifting. Our assemblage has an absence of foreign figurines and a high percentage of bird/pinched nose head fragments. The identity and function of Judahite figurines are complex issues surrounded by debate in Archaeology and Biblical Studies. Though “foreign” attributes are found in most Judahite sites, our assemblage has none. Though the statistics on this research has been completed, we have only theories about why this assemblage is distributed in this way. We suggest that the absence of foreign motifs in the Temple Mount figurine assemblage may be related to a Judahite rejection of outside influences during the Iron Age II, which found it greatest manifestation in the cultic and national center on the Temple Mount.

We hope that comments and other research from the conference will help to explain this anomaly further, and we will update you with any further research.

Excerpt: Iron Age II Figurine Fragments from the Temple Mount Soil
Aaron Greener, Gabiel Barkay and Zachi Dvira (Zweig)

The repertoire and ratios of the various TMSP figurine types are similar to the ones from most other excavations in Jerusalem and Judah. A closer examination and comparison, however, highlights several significant patterns. Firstly, all the Jerusalem excavations demonstrate low proportions of mold-made heads, and indeed, all three TMSP human heads were pinched. This would fit well with Erin Darby’s suggestion regarding the popularity of the pinched heads in Jerusalem, and its possible ideological significance. Secondly, the TMSP has a greater presence of animal heads that are not horses than any other site in or outside of Jerusalem. Thirdly, zoomorphic vessels are rare and miniature furniture models are totally absent.

The most significant characteristic of the TMSP figurine assemblage comes from a broader look at the Iron Age II figurines from neighboring regions (Northern Israel, Philistia, Phoenicia and Trans-Jordan). This examination highlights the basic similarities as well as the figurines’ differing regional characteristics and styles. Outside of Judah there are many plaque figurines, peg figurines, hollow and wheel-made anthropomorphic figurines, women playing drums, animal heads with unique characteristics and applied details, and almost all the human heads are mold-made. A small quantity of figurines with these “foreign” attributes are found in most Judahite sites. None, however, were found in the Temple Mount soil, the Temple Mount’s eastern slope or in the Ophel Excavations south of the Temple Mount. All the figurines from these sites are of the basic and simple Judahite types. It had already been suggested that sites situated close to the heart of the Judahite kingdom usually have less figurines with foreign influences than sites in the Kingdom’s periphery. A similar patterns has been recognized also in Philistia, where more foreign (Judahite) influences were recognized inland than along the coast. We suggest that the reason for the absence of foreign motives in the Temple Mount figurine assemblage may be related to a Judahite rejection of outside influences during the Iron Age II, which found it greatest manifestation in the cultic and national center on the Temple Mount. 

Making Seal Impressions

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As you know, the first 25 donors from our Annual Appeal are going to receive a clay seal impression (Bulla in Hebrew) that we made from one of our 10th century BCE stamps found in the sifting. Those lucky few will get a bulla and a whole explanation, but we thought we would share the process with all of you as well!

The 10th century BCE falls within the Iron Age and is the time period of the Jebusites, from whom David conquered Jerusalem—as well as the construction of the Temple by his son, King Solomon. Other similar seals found in Israel dating from the late 11th to the beginning of 9th centuries BCE allow us to date our seal to this time period as well. The stamp seal that we used is conical in shape and made of brown limestone. Two animals, one above the other, are carved on its circular base, maybe representing predator and prey. The seal is perforated which enables it to be hung on a string and worn.

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Imer Bulla. Notice it is broken and there is an impression of the sack on the back

In antiquity, legal or administrative documents, or other objects or goods that needed to be authenticated and approved were “signed” using a stamp seal. (Personal items could also be stamped. We have a number of stamped handles from clay vessels that have been found in the sifting.) But how do we get bullae? A document was rolled and tied, or a package of goods was tied with a string. On the knot of the string was a piece of clay that was then stamped with a seal. These seals could either be worn on a string, like the one that we used, or set into a piece of jewelry such as a ring. The bulla is the clay seal impression left behind. In order to open the document or package, the bulla would be broken. This was a great form of protection, but could also be the reason than all of the bullae we have found are broken.

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Bulla made in our lab

How We Made the Bullae

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First, we mixed regular store bought clay with some of the ashy Temple Mount soil left over from the sifting. This is called tempering the clay. Untempered clay will shrink and crack during drying or firing. In ancient times, as today, different forms of temper are added to wet clay in order to provide greater strength. Sand, crushed rock, or even crushed broken pottery can be used as temper, and each material, and the percentage of temper used, affects the finished product. Haggai added about 5% Temple Mount soil to the clay. (Right)

Next, a marble sized piece of clay was then folded around a string. We then used the stamp seal to impress the clay onto a sack. (The seal is stone, and was therefore unaffected by the clay. Don’t worry! We take care of our artifacts!) The impressions are real, but they are modern and not an antiquity. We therefore wrote “copy” on the back so that none of these bullae will be mistaken for antiquities or sold on the black market.

Finally, the impressions were burned in a fire. Because fires, unlike ovens, do not have a consistent temperature, some of the bullae blackened while others maintained their brownish color. Some also fell into the ashes. All of this actually made these bullae look much like the seal impressions that we have found at the Sifting Project.

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20170105_135709We then boxed them up in the cardboard finds boxes that archaeologists know so well and gave them their own artifact tag. Archaeologists need to label where their important finds were found, so tags always include the site, the area, the locus, and the basket number designating the place that the artifact was found. They also include the date and a short description. Our seal impressions don’t have a real provenance, so the numbers on our tags are the actual numbers from the seal itself!

Watch the whole process!!

I don’t know about you, but this whole process has made me want my own stamp seal. I could send letters sealed in wax! I wonder what the post office would think… I have vivid memories of doing that with my dad and sealing letters with old coins and green wax.

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