Rare Measuring Table Reveals Temple Mount Market
A rare 2,000-year-old measuring table used for calibrating wine and olive oil vessels has been found in Jerusalem, leading experts to tentatively conclude they have found the site of a key ancient market en route to Temple Mount.
Table Indicates Location of Ancient Market
Israeli archaeologists unveiled the ancient wine measuring table on Monday this week, which was also once used for other liquids, such as olive oil. It is believed that this indicates the presence of an ancient market at the excavation site, to the east of Jerusalem. Archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), Ari Levi, told PHYS.org that the 2,000-year-old table was unearthed in the City of David National Park, between the Old City and the flashpoint Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan.
The IAA researchers Nahshon Szanton, Moran Hagbi and Meidad Shor directed the excavations along the pilgrimage road. They discovered the distinctive measuring table, by a paved town square, along the road leading to Temple Mount, which leads them to think ancient Jerusalem’s ‘main agora’ has been found.
The top part of the measuring table found at the excavation site of the ‘ancient Jerusalem market’. (Ari Levi / Israel Antiquities Authority)
Measuring Table Key to Fair Trade
According to the IAA archaeologist, Dr Levy, when shopkeepers needed to create a vessel to hold a certain volume of liquid (a standard), they would have consulted the “manager of the Jerusalem market who owned the measuring table.” Levi also said “to be clear, the table found in excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the City of David National Park wasn’t used to sell the liquids.” But rather it was used by the Roman inspector of measurements and weights, known as the agoranomos, to calibrate the vessels that merchants used to sell their liquids.
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The measuring table from the side view, shown at the excavation site of the ‘ancient Jerusalem market’. (Ari Levi / Israel Antiquities Authority)
Assuring exact volumes in merchants’ vessels, these distinctive tables had multiple dips representing specific measured volumes, and the drain holes at the bottom allowed the measured wine or olive oil to escape, after having been confirmed by the inspector. Essentially, the table created a standard and assured fair trading, the IAA explains, and in an article in Israeli Daily News, Prof. Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa who was a consultant on the discoveries said “in my childhood we would buy milk this way.”
Controversy Every Time A Hole Is Dug
The archaeologists say the table being manufactured from stone “is interesting,” because observant Jews had developed rules for purity and stones couldn't be contaminated. Pottery, on the other hand, cannot be purified once contaminated, according to Jewish traditions and therefore, they were discarded. Dr Reich added that the discovery of the table fragment might indicate that this part of the Second Temple-period city, “the road between Siloam and Temple Mount,” was where the office of the agoranomos of Jerusalem was located, which had a commonplace function across the Roman Empire.
The bottom of the measuring table found at the excavation site of the ‘ancient Jerusalem market’. (Ari Levi / Israel Antiquities Authority)
While Israeli archaeologists are celebrating the find, the PHYS.org article mentions the political sensitivities of the City of David excavations, and that they have been criticized by Palestinians who see them as “yet another attempt by Israel to cement its control over the area.” Furthermore, the archaeological park is run by hardline settler organization Elad, which bolsters Jewish presence in Palestine, east Jerusalem.
It’s a Fine Time for Wine, In Ancient Israel
Wine archaeology keeps cropping up in Jerusalem, and this discovery comes only two years after an article in The Drinks Business told the story of the IAA announcing that a small strip of papyrus, which had been removed from a cave near the Dead Sea had been recovered from the “thieves.” Dated to the 7th century BC two lines in Hebrew read: “from the king’s maidservant, from Na’arat [in the Jordan Valley], jars of wine, to Jerusalem.”
The full papyrus with the earliest non-biblical mention of Jerusalem. (Shai Halevi / Israel Antiquities Authority)
Dr Etian Klein, deputy director of the IAA’s Unit for the prevention of antiquities robbery, said the fragment represents “extremely rare evidence of the existence of an organized administration in the Kingdom of Judah.” What’s more, this is the earliest reference to Jerusalem yet found outside of the pages of the Bible, which shows women in the court life of ancient Israel, telling of a king’s maidservant placing the order for the wine.
Meanwhile, some Israeli professors doubt the scrolls authenticity. According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, professor Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University has criticized the IAA for releasing material that was clear “in advance… would be controversial” and might be a “fake, designed for the antiquarian black market?” On the other hand, Professor (Emeritus) Shmuel Ahituv, defended the scroll’s legitimacy pointing out that it was “extremely fragile and was found rolled up; a delicate and fiddly action for a forger to risk.” He also argued that the “banality” of the subject matter, a mundane “wine order” made it unlikely to be a fake, and he said, “if I were a forger, I’d choose a more impressive text.”
Top image: Archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Ari Levi, holds up the rare 2,000-year-old measuring table unearthed at the excavation site of the ‘ancient Jerusalem market’. Source: Ari Levi / Israel Antiquities Authority
By Ashley Cowie