2,200-year-old bronze artifacts found at biblical site
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2,200-year-old bronze artifacts found at biblical site

Incense shovel, jug from Second Temple era unearthed at Magdala, on Sea of Galilee, during recent excavations

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

A 2,200-year-old bronze incense shovel found at Magdala after having been cleaned in the Israel Antiquities Authority metallurgical laboratories. (Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)
A 2,200-year-old bronze incense shovel found at Magdala after having been cleaned in the Israel Antiquities Authority metallurgical laboratories. (Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

An ornate Second Temple era bronze incense shovel and bronze jug were recently unearthed at the biblical site of Magdala, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday.

The 2,200-year-old artifacts were found during excavations being carried out at the archaeological site on the western shore of the Kinneret. The town is known traditionally by Christians as the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’s followers mentioned in the New Testament who witnessed his crucifixion and resurrection.

They were resting one on top of the another on a stone floor in a storeroom near the fishing village’s pier and likely belonged to a local Jewish family, archaeologists said.

Ritual shovels were used in Jewish cultic practice for burning incense in the Temple in Jerusalem. They are depicted in contemporary Jewish iconography as one of the articles associated with the Temple.

An aerial view of the Magdala synagogue uncovered in excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority. (Skyview Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)
An aerial view of the Magdala synagogue uncovered in excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority. (Skyview Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Dina Avshalom Gorni, the IAA archaeologist heading the dig, said that the incense shovel was one of just a handful from the land of Israel during that period.

“At the beginning of the study we assumed that the shovel was used only as a cultic object for treating coals and incense used in ritual ceremonies,” Gorni said in a statement. “Over the years, after incense shovels were found with no cultic context, it would appear that the incense shovel was also used as a tool of daily use.”

A 2,200-year-old bronze jug as it was discovered in the excavation at Magdala. (Eyad Bisharat, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)
A 2,200-year-old bronze jug as it was discovered in the excavation at Magdala. (Eyad Bisharat, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)

Last year a Hebrew University excavation at Khirbet el-Eika found a duck-headed incense shovel from a pagan context.

The IAA began extensive excavations at Magdala after construction of a new hotel brought to light ancient remains in 2009. In partnership with Dr. Marcela Zapata-Meza of Anahuac University in Mexico, the digs have uncovered the remains of a synagogue, ritual baths, streets, factories and a marketplace from the Second Temple-era town. Since then volunteers from around the world have taken part in the excavations.

“The volunteers were absolutely thrilled,” Eyad Bisharat, an IAA archaeologist supervising the site, said. “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.”

A 2,200-year-old bronze incense shovel as it was found during excavations at Magdala. (Eyad Bisharat, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)
A 2,200-year-old bronze incense shovel as it was found during excavations at Magdala. (Eyad Bisharat, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)
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