Photo Credit: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority
A fragment of the chalk bowl from the Hasmonean period, which is engraved with the name “Hyrcanus."

A stone bowl engraved with a rare Hebrew inscription – “Hyrcanus” – dating to the Hasmonean period was discovered in the archaeological excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Givʽati Parking Lot at the City of David at the Jerusalem Walls National Park. “Hyrcanus” was a common name of the time, as well as the name of two kings of the Hasmonean dynasty.

According to researchers, “This is one of the earliest examples of the appearance of chalk vessels in Jerusalem. In the past, these vessels were widely used mainly by Jews because they ensured ritual purity (stone vessels never receive tumah).”

The Givati Parking Lot excavation in the City of David.
The Givati Parking Lot excavation in the City of David.
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Who was “Hyrcanus,” whose name is engraved in Hebrew on a 2,100-year-old stone bowl from Jerusalem? In 2015 a fragment of a bowl fashioned from chalk (a type of limestone) was unearthed in the IAA excavation in the Givʽati parking lot. The find was published on Thursday and immediately aroused the curiosity of researchers.

According to Dr. Doron Ben-Ami of the IAA and Professor Esther Eshel of Bar-Ilan University, “This is one of the earliest examples of chalk vessels to appear in Jerusalem. These stone vessels were extensively used by Jews because they were considered vessels that cannot become ritually unclean.”

The bowl was discovered during an archaeological excavation beneath the foundations of a miqvah-ritual bath, dating to the Hasmonean period, which was part of a complex of water installations used for ritual bathing. The Givʽati parking site in the City of David is among the largest excavation areas to be opened to the public so far in Jerusalem. The excavations at the site, sponsored by the Ir David Foundation, have so far uncovered a wealth of artifacts from different periods. Of these, those that arouse special interest are the objects with traces of writing on them, especially when they can be deciphered.

According to the researchers, it is difficult to ascertain whether Hyrcanus, whose name is engraved on the bowl, was a high-ranking person or an ordinary citizen during the Hasmonean period. Since there are only a few vessels in the archaeological record of this period which are engraved with names, it is not known whether this type of engraving was a routine act or a special tribute.

“The name Hyrcanus was fairly common in the Hasmonean period,” say Dr. Ben-Ami and Prof. Eshel. “We know of two persons from this period who bore this name: King Yohanan Hyrcanus, who was the grandson of Matityahu the Hasmonean and ruled Judea from 135–104 BCE, and King Yohanan Hyrcanus II, who was the son of King Alexander Yanai and Queen Shlomtzion; however, it is not possible to determine if the bowl belonged specifically to either of them.”

About a year ago, remains from the Helenist-Syrian Seleucid Akra were exposed in the Givʽati parking lot at the City of David. This was the famous fortress built by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in order to control the city and monitor the activity in the Temple, and which was eventually conquered by the Hasmoneans. Interestingly, the bowl was found a short distance from where the remains of the Akra had been revealed.

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