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2,000-year-old ritual objects unearthed at ancient Jewish site

Bronze incense shovel and jug date to time of the Second Temple, which was still active in Jerusalem when Magdala was thriving • Only about 10 incense shovels from that period have been discovered to date • Site is home to first-century C.E. synagogue.

Yori Yalon

Archaeological excavations at Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee have unearthed traces of a Jewish community on the site that existed 2,000 years ago. The findings a decorative incense shovel, used to handle incense and embers and move them from place to place; and a jug, both made of bronze.

The dig is being carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority as part of the standard site research on sites slated for development. The Arke New Gate company has already secured planning approval to build a new hotel on the site.

The incense shovel (known in Hebrew as “mahta,” a word derived from the act of raking or gather embers) is thought to be a sacred tool used by Temple priests to carry burning incense and coals during incense lighting ceremonies. Incense shovels frequently appear in Jewish art as one of the religious articles associated with the Temple.

Dina Avshalom-Gorni, who is directing the excavation for the IAA, noted that “the incense shovel that was found is one of ten others that are known in the country from the Second Temple period.”

IAA archaeologist Arfan Najar noted that a similar incense shovel and jug as those found [in Magdala] had been discovered by Yigal Yadin in a cache dating to the time of the Bar Kokhba uprising which was revealed in the Cave of the Letters in the Judean Desert. “Incense shovels have also been found in the Galilee at Bethsaida, Taiyba and in Wadi Hammam, and across the country, but all in all this is a very rare find,” Najar said.

Avshalom-Gorni explained that the incense shovel and jug had been placed on a stone floor in one of the storerooms adjacent to the Magdala dock. “These implements might have been saved in the storeroom as heirlooms by a Jewish family living at Magdala, or they may have been used for daily work as well,” she said.

In recent years, the Israel Antiquities Authority has been leading extensive excavations at the site, overseen


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