Rare stone box from the Second Temple period discovered in the City of David

A rare and mysterious, multi-compartment stone container dating back to the days of the Second Temple that serves as evidence of the destruction of Jerusalem two millennia ago has been put on display for the first time at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The square box was discovered during excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in the City of David, part of Jerusalem Walls National Park. Measuring 30 by 30 centimeters, it was carved from soft limestone and divided inside into nine equal-sized compartments.

The multi-compartment container 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 black, indicating that it was burnt – perhaps during events of the Great Jewish Revolt that ultimately led to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Box may have been used for commercial purposes

Researchers assume that the box was used for commercial purposes, such as displaying premeasured goods.

“During excavations of the Pilgrimage Road where the box was discovered, many objects have been found as a testament to the flourishing commercial activity that took place alongside the road during the Second Temple period,” IAA excavation directors Dr. Yuval Baruch and Ari Levy said in a statement. “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 excavations in the city of David. (credit: EMIL ELADJEM/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY )

The Pilgrimage Road connecting the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount was the main thoroughfare of the city 2,000 years ago. It seems that the newly discovered box was related to this commercial activity that took place along the Pilgrimage Road, the researchers suggested.

The economic and commercial systems of Jerusalem at that time were similar to other large cities in the Roman world and boasted large markets, featuring local and imported goods, some even exotic. As a Temple city and pilgrim center, ancient Jerusalem’s markets must have had specialized items uncommonly found in other areas, the researchers said.

“Daily life and trade in Second Temple Jerusalem must have been conducted with strict adherence to Jewish purity laws,” they said. “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 Halacha, which designates that stone – unlike clay or metal – cannot become impure. Therefore, it is possible that stone vessels were reused over and over for long periods.

“It seems that the multi-compartment stone box from the City of David was related to the unique Jerusalem economy conducted in the shadow of the Temple, maintaining strict observance and by purity laws,” Levy and Baruch said. “Therefore, we can consider this box a distinctly Jerusalem find.”

Pieces of another similar box were discovered about 50 years ago by archaeologist Nachman Avigad during excavations in the Jewish Quarter. Upon discovery, he humorously called the object a “nuts-and-seeds bowl” – a name that has stuck since.

Interestingly, all similar boxes have been discovered in Jerusalem, mostly in the City of David, but the newly discovered box is the only complete example. At this stage of research, archaeologists still wonder what exactly it was used for.

According to Dudi Mevorah, senior curator of the Israel Museum’s archaeology department in Jerusalem, “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, 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.”

Jerusalem Walls National Park was funded by the City of David Foundation in collaboration with the Heritage Ministry. 

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