The top of a rare 2000-year-old measuring table used for liquid items such as wine and olive oil has been discovered in what appears to have been a major town square along the Pilgrimage Road in Jerusalem. The discovery was made during excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the City of David National Park.
In addition to the measuring table, tens of stone measuring weights were also discovered in the same vicinity. These all support the theory that this was the location of the main city square and market on route to the Temple during the Second Temple Period, in what was historically known as Jerusalem’s lower city. It appears that the market served as the focal point of trade and commerce. Researchers suggest that this area housed the offices of the Agoranomos, the official in the cities of ancient Greece and Byzantine Empire that controlled the order of the marketplace (agora).
According to Prof. Ronny Reich, who is currently researching the recent discovery, “we see two of the deep cavities that remained in a portion of the ‘standard of volumes’ table uncovered in the City of David, each with a drain at its bottom. The drain at the bottom could be plugged with a finger, filled with a liquid of some type, and once the finger was removed, the liquid could be drained into a container, using the measurement table as a uniform guideline to determining the volume of the container. This way, traders could calibrate their measuring instruments using a uniform standard.”
Reich adds that “this is a rare find. Other stone artifacts were very popular in Jerusalem during the Second Temple, however, so far, excavations in Jerusalem have only uncovered two similar tables that were used for measuring volume – one in the 1970s excavations in the Jewish Quarter, and another in the Shu’afat excavations, in northern Jerusalem.”
According to archaeologist Ari Levi of the IAA, one of the directors of the excavations of the Pilgrimage Road, “the Pilgrimage Road excavations in the City of David have also revealed a great number of stone scale-weights measuring different values. These weights are of the type which was commonly used in Jerusalem. The fact that there were city-specific weights at the site indicates the unique features of the economy and trade in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, possibly due to the influence of the Temple itself.”
The Stone scale-weights have a flat, round shape, and they are made in different sizes, representing different masses. According to Reich, more than 90% of all stone weights of this type, totaling several hundreds, were found in archaeological excavations in early Jerusalem, dating back to the Second Temple period, and they represent a unique Jerusalem phenomenon.
IAA researchers Nahshon Szanton, Moran Hagbi and Meidad Shor, who directed the excavations along the Pilgrimage Road, uncovered a large, open, paved area dating back some 2000 years, along the street leading up to the Second Temple. They suggest that it served as the main square of the lower city, where trade activity would have taken place in this part of the city.
According to Ari Levi, “the volume standard table we’ve found, as well as the stone weights discovered nearby, support the theory that this was the site of vast trade activity, and perhaps this may indicate the existence of a market.”