Matching half of 2,000-year-old lamp found in Jerusalem said located in Budapest

Hungarian archeologist reaches out to Israelis to say he may have found a match for the rare face-shaped piece discovered on road used by Jewish pilgrims on way to 2nd Temple

A bronze oil lamp discovered in Budapest in 2012 (R) which matched one found in Jerusalem's City of David in May 2021 (L). (Ágnes Bakos/Bence Tihanyi; Koby Harati/City of David)

A rare 2,000-year old oil lamp shaped like half of a grotesque face that was discovered in Jerusalem last week appears to have a matching partner — that was discovered in Budapest nine years ago.

The Israel Antiquities Authority said last week that the lamp, estimated to be from the late 1st century or the early 2nd century CE, was the first finding of its kind in Israel, and one of just a few worldwide.

According to Jerusalem’s City of David archeological site, after the announcement of the find, Hungarian archeologist Dr. Gabor Lassanyi reached out to say that he may be in possession of the other half, which was uncovered during a 2012 excavation in Budapest.

“In an excavation we conducted at Aquincum (modern-day Budapest), we found a remarkably rare object: at the bottom of the building, we discovered a bronze half-lamp depicting the right half of a face shaped like a Roman theater mask,” Lassanyi wrote to Ari Levy, the head of the Jerusalem excavation.

A bronze oil lamp discovered in Budapest in 2012 (R) which matched one found in Jerusalem’s City of David in May 2021 (L). (Ágnes Bakos/Bence Tihanyi; Koby Harati/City of David)

According to Lassanyi, “Only a few known creations that resemble this exist from this time period, and they sit in museums and throughout private collections in the world, yet none of them are like these two halves.  It is very difficult to craft in such an accurate way, and therefore, it is likely that the two halves of the lamps were created in the same artisan house and may even have served as a pair to one complete piece.”

The lamp found in Jerusalem is of the left-hand side of a face, while the Budapest lamp is of the right-hand side.

Upon an initial examination of the two lamps, Lassanyi and Levy found that the two halves had exactly the same dimensions. Additionally, the lamp in Hungary has a connecting slot that is depressed, while the lamp discovered in Israel has a protruding ridge, indicating they could connect together.

A bronze oil lamp discovered in Budapest in 2012 which matched one found in Jerusalem’s City of David in May 2021. (Ágnes Bakos/Bence Tihanyi)

Levy said he was “incredibly surprised and excited to receive such a response” from Lassanyi.

“From the start, it was clear to us that this lamp was made abroad in one of the European countries, but I could not imagine that I would receive such an incredible message. The presence of a similar counterpart in Hungary, an area that was under the control of the Roman Empire at the time, allows us to look at the issue in a much deeper and broader way than we expected,” Levy said.

Israel Antiquities Authority researchers said last week that they believe the bronze lamp was used as a foundation deposit — a ritual burial of an offering — to bring good fortune to the Roman Period building’s residents.

A bronze oil lamp discovered in the foundations of a Roman-Era building in Jerusalem’s City of David Pilgrimage Road, May 2021. (Koby Harati/City of David)

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the lamp was poured into a sculpted mold that was shaped like half of a face of a bearded man with a grotesque appearance. The tip of the lamp is shaped like a crescent moon, and the handle is shaped like an acanthus plant. The decoration that appears on the lamp is reminiscent of a common Roman artistic motif, similar to a theatrical mask.

Lassanyi and his team also likened their find to a theatrical mask [link in Hungarian].

Israeli archeologists are currently examining various options to explore whether the two lamps are indeed a matching pair, including the possibility of printing a three-dimensional model of the lamp from Israel and sending it to Hungary so that researchers there could try to connect the two halves, the City of David said in a statement.

A bronze oil lamp discovered in Budapest in 2012 which matched one found in Jerusalem’s City of David in May 2021. (Ágnes Bakos/Bence Tihanyi)

The finding, in the City of David’s Pilgrimage Road, also included the lamp’s wick, which was unusually well-preserved.

The Pilgrimage Road was used by Jewish pilgrims 2,000 years ago when they visited Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount.

Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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