Photo Credit: Israel Museum
The box that was discovered in the IAA excavations in the city of David.

A rare stone container with compartments, dating back to the days of the Second Temple, close to 2,000 years ago, is being revealed to the public for the first time at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The unusual box was discovered during excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the City of David, which is part of the Jerusalem Walls National Park and was funded by the City of David Foundation in collaboration with the Ministry of Heritage.

The square box measuring 30 x 30 cm was carved from soft limestone and divided into nine equal-sized compartments. It was discovered in a destruction layer inside an ancient store dated to the end of the Second Temple period, that once stood alongside the Pilgrimage Road in the City of David. The sides of the box are blackened, indicating that it was possibly burned during the Great Jewish Revolt, which ultimately led to the destruction of Jerusalem.

The box on display in the archeology section of the Israel Museum. / Israel Museum

Researchers assume that the box was used for commercial purposes such as displaying premeasured goods. Dr. Yuval Baruch and Ari Levy, excavation directors on behalf of the IAA, said, “Many objects have been found in the excavations of the Pilgrimage Road, where the box was discovered, which are a testament to the flourishing commercial activity that took place alongside the road during the Second Temple period. We uncovered ceramic and glass vessels, production and cooking facilities, various measuring tools, stone weights, and coins.

“Together, these objects suggest that the road was connected to commercial activities such as a lively urban market. The Pilgrimage Road connecting the Pool of Shiloah to the Temple Mount was the main thoroughfare of the city 2,000 years ago,” they added.

Daily life and trade in Second Temple Jerusalem were likely conducted with strict adherence to Jewish purity laws. Evidence of this can be seen by several distinct archaeological finds such as thousands of limestone vessel fragments discovered in excavations throughout the ancient city and its surroundings. The widespread use of stone vessels can be explained by Jewish purity law that says stone vessels, unlike clay or metal, cannot receive tumah (become impure). It is logical, therefore, that stone vessels were used over and over.

The pilgrimage street in the city of David. / Emil Algam, Antiquities Authority

“It appears that the compartmental stone box from the City of David was related to the unique Jerusalem economy conducted in the shadow of the temple in strict observance of purity laws. Therefore, we can consider this box a distinctly Jerusalem find,” said Levy and Baruch.

Pieces of a similar box were discovered about 50 years ago by the archaeologist Nachman Avigad during excavations in the Jewish Quarter. Avigad jokingly called the object a “nuts and seeds bowl,” and the name stuck. Interestingly, all similar boxes have been discovered in Jerusalem, mostly in the City of David. But the newly discovered box is the only complete sample. At this stage of research, archaeologists still contemplate what exactly it was used for.

Excavation managers Ari Levy and Ricky Zlot Har Tov on the pilgrimage street. / Emil Algam, Antiquities Authority

Dudi Mevorah, senior curator of the Archaeology Department at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, said, “The box was found broken into pieces with parts missing. The fragments were brought to Victor Uziel, a conservationist from the Israel Museum Artifact Conservation Laboratory which specializes in the treatment and restoration of artifacts directly from the field. We placed the stone box on permanent display together with spectacular colorful frescos, chandeliers, and magnificent pottery, and stone and metal vessels from Jerusalem’s luxury houses dating to the end of the Second Temple period – you are invited to come and see them.”


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