Photo Credit:
Archaeologists Arfan Najar and Eyad Bisharat of the Israel Antiquities Authority at the moment when they discovered the incense shovel. Photo credit: Magdala

A decorated bronze incense scoop and a bronze jug were recently uncovered in archaeological excavations in Migdal, 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 Migdal. The land is owned by Arke New Gate.

The Hebrew word for incense shovel is makhta, 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 makhta is thought to have been a sacred implement like the rest of the items in the Temple where it was mainly used for transferring embers from place to place. Incense scoops frequently appear in Jewish art as part of the religious utensils associated with the Temple, and they have been depicted on mosaic floors of synagogues.

The incense shovel as it was found in the excavation. Photo:, Eyad Bisharat Israel Antiquities Authority.
The incense shovel after having been cleaned in the Israel Antiquities Authority metallurgical laboratories. Photo: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to Dina Avshalom-Gorni, the project’s chief archaeologist on behalf of the IAA, “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, to care for the embers and incense that were burnt in ritual ceremonies. Over the years, after incense shovels were discovered in a non-cultic context, it appears they 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 rooms, at the late Second Temple period storehouses that is located adjacent to the dock of the large Jewish settlement, on the shore of Sea of ​​Galilee. These implements might have been saved in the storeroom as heirlooms by a Jewish family living at Migdal, or they may have been used for daily work as well.”

In recent years the IAA has been leading extensive excavations at the site, overseen by Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najar, in partnership with the Anahuac University of Mexico, led by the Mexican Archaeologist, Dr. Marcela Zapata-Meza. During the archaeological dig at Magdala, a Jewish settlement dating to the time of the Second Temple was exposed, uncovering, Jewish ritual baths (mikvahs), streets, a marketplace and industrial facilities, as well as a synagogue whose walls were decorated with colored plaster and a mosaic floor along the pavement. In the middle of the synagogue’s main hall a stone was uncovered, renowned as the Magdala Stone, depicting the Second Temple of Jerusalem, with a seven-branched menorah carved on one of its sides. The synagogue dates back to the early first century CE, Second Temple Period. It is one of the seven synagogues from this period uncovered so far in Israel.

According to Eyad Bisharat, who supervised the work in the excavation area on behalf of the IAA, “The volunteers were absolutely thrilled. They simply could not calm down knowing that these artifacts had been waiting just below the surface for 2,000 years. Even we veteran excavators were extremely excited because it’s not every day that one uncovers such rare artifacts as these, and in such a fine state of preservation.”


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