Rare Chalk Box Discovered in Jerusalem

Archaeologists puzzle over container’s function

Chalk box

The box discovered during the IAA excavations in the City of David. Courtesy Zohar Shemesh, Israel Museum.

Chalk vessels were a common feature of Judean life during the late Second Temple period (c. 200 BCE–70 CE), but what could have been the purpose of this strange box? Excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in Jerusalem’s City of David Archaeological Park, the rare chalk box, which measures about 12 by 12 inches, was carved from limestone and and is divided into nine equal-sized compartments.

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Shopping on Jerusalem’s Pilgrimage Road

The chalk box was uncovered on Jerusalem’s Pilgrimage Road, the 2,000-year-old paved road that led from the area of the Siloam Pool to the Temple Mount. In the late Second Temple period, this was one of the city’s most important commercial sectors, and many shops and signs of economic life have been excavated along the road.

According to Yuval Baruch and Ari Levy, directors of the IAA excavation, “During the excavations of the Pilgrimage Road, where the box was discovered, many objects have been found of the flourishing commercial activity that took place alongside the road during the Second Temple period. During the excavations, we uncovered ceramic and glass vessels, production and cooking facilities, various measuring tools, stone weights, and coins. Together, these objects suggest that the road was connected to commercial activities such as a lively urban market.”

Pilgrimage road

The Pilgrimage Road excavations in the city of David. Courtesy Emil Eladjem, IAA.

According to the archaeologists, this location provides a clue as to the box’s original purpose. Found within a shop along the road, the box may have been used to store or display premeasured goods. The sides of the box appear to have been blackened in antiquity, likely as a result of having been burned during the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE.

Chalk vessels were commonly used by early Judeans because, unlike clay and metal vessels, they could not be made ritually impure. As a result, many chalk vessels have been excavated in Jerusalem and other sites in the southern Levant that date to the Second Temple period. A similar chalk box was excavated in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter in the 1970s. At the time, the excavator humorously called it a “nuts and seeds bowl.” A few other fragments of such boxes have also been uncovered, but this is the first time a complete box has come to light.

Read more in Bible History Daily:

Excavating Jerusalem with Cosmic Rays

Archaeology and Jewish Purity Practices

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

Machaerus: A Palace-Fortress with Multiple Mikva’ot

Mikveh Discovery Highlights Ritual Bathing in Second Temple Period Jerusalem

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