A fragment of chalk come from the Hasmonean period, which is engraved with the name “Hyrcanus”. (Photographic credit: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority)
Israeli archaeologists digging under a car park in Jerusalem have discovered fragments of a rare, 2,100-year-old stone bowl that was made of chalk (a type of limestone), and had a name written in Hebrew.
The scale, which bears the name “Hyrcanus,” was found under the foundations of a mikvah, a small pool built into the ground, that the Jews used for ritual bathing, a practice which is still today among the Orthodox Jews and many Conservative Jews.
“This is one of the earliest examples of chalk ships to appear in Jerusalem,” said Dr. Doron Ben-Ami of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Professor Esther Eshel of Bar-Ilan University, in a press release.
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“In the past these ships were to be widely used especially by the Jews, because they are assured of ritual purity…. They were regarded as vessels that could not be ritually unclean.”
The bowl was discovered during an excavation of the Giv’ati parking in the City of David, a disputed area of Jerusalem, which is controlled by the israelis.
The researchers are fascinated by the name etched in the bowl, because there are few archaeological records inscribed with the names of the Hasmonean period. They can’t say whether or not the inscription was a routine act or a special tribute, or as Hyrcanus was a high-ranking person or an ordinary citizen.
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“The name Hyrcanus was quite common in the Hasmonean period,” Ben-Ami and Eshel said.
“We know of two characters from this period who had this name: John Hyrcanus, who was the grandson of Matityahu the Hasmonean, and ruled Judea from 135-104 BCE, John Hyrcanus II, who was the son of Alexander Jannaeus and Salome Alexandra; however, it is not possible to determine whether the bowl belonged specifically to one of them.”
The Giv’ati car park in Jerusalem Walls National Park is one of the largest excavation areas opened in Jerusalem. Archaeologists have discovered a treasure trove of artifacts from different periods on the site.