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.
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.”
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.”