Special bronze incense shovel uncovered at Second Temple-era site in Galilee

The newly discovered Second Temple-era bronze incense shovel. Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority.

(JNS.org) A special bronze incense shovel—a tool that plays an important role in ancient Jewish rituals—has been uncovered by archaeologists at Magdala, a 2,000-year-old Jewish settlement on the Sea of Galilee. 

“The incense shovel and jug found in our excavation were exposed lying next to each other on the floor in one of the room, at the storehouses that is locate adjacent the dock of a large Jewish settlement, on the shore of Sea of Galilee, in the late Second Temple period,” said Dina Avshalom-Gorni, an archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

“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 added.

Incense shovels, called “mahta” in Hebrew, are specifically mentioned in the Bible and play an important role in Jewish ritual. 

“The mahta is thought to have been a sacred implement like the rest of the items that were utilized in the Temple where it was mainly used for transferring embers from place to place,” the IAA said.

The IAA has been conducting an archaeological dig at the Galilee site for several years. During this time, archaeologists have uncovered several significant features such as Jewish ritual baths, a marketplace and industrial facilities, and a synagogue dating to the 1st century CE (around the time of Jesus’s public ministry in the Galilee). 

“The synagogue is one of the seventh oldest synagogues from this period uncovered so far in Israel,” the IAA said.

Archaeologists consider Magdala as a crossroads of Jewish and Christian history, as the site is also the traditional birthplace of Mary Magdalene, one of the apostles of Jesus. 

Posted on April 5, 2016 .