Prior to the construction of a guesthouse at Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, the Israel Antiquities Authority conducted archaeological excavations at the site. During these excavations a decorated bronze incense shovel and a bronze jug were uncovered. The incense shovel ( mahta in Hebrew) was used for transferring embers from place to place and is mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 27:1-3 and is believed to be a sacred implement as were the other items utilized in the Temple. These incense shovels appear frequently in Jewish religious art related to the Temple. They are also depicted on mosaic floors of synagogues together with the Menorah, Lulav and Etrog.
The newly discovered incense shovel is one of only ten others in the country that are known to be from the Second Temple period. It was originally believed that the incense shovel was used only for ritual purposes but over time it was discovered that the shovels were also used in a non-cultic context and were also used daily task tools. Both the jug and incense shovel found during the excavation were found lying next to each other on the floor in a storehouse from the late Second Temple period. There is a possibility that the implements could be saved as heirlooms by a Jewish family who lived in Magdala at the time, or could even have been used for daily work in the Dairy.
The incense shovel after having been cleaned in the Israel Antiquities Authority metallurgical laboratories.
Photo Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authorities
Recently extensive archaeological excavations have been led by the Israel Antiquities Authority in partnership with the Anahuac University of Mexico. These excavations have led to the uncovering of a Jewish settlement dating to the Second Temple period and have exposed Jewish ritual baths, as well as a marketplace, industrial facilities, streets and a synagogue. A stone (the Magdala stone) was uncovered in the centre of the synagogue’s main hall depicting the second Temple of Jerusalem, with a seven branched Menorah on one of its side. Dated to the early first century CE, the synagogue is from the Second Temple Period and Jesus Ministry in the Galilee region and is one of the seven oldest synagogues thus far from this period found in Israel.
The discovery of the artefacts were very exciting for the volunteers involved in the Dig who came from Chile, Mexico, Italy and Spain to help in the continuing excavations at Magdala. They were thrilled to know that the items had been lying under the surface for 2,000 years. And even more thrilling was the knowledge that they were in such an excellent state of preservation.
The Archaeologist from the Israel Antiquities Authority stated that a similar incense shovel and just were found by Yigal Yadin in the Cave of the Letters in the Judean Desert, dating to the time of the Bar Kokhba uprising, and have also been found in various other places in the Galilee region.
Continuing excavations and restorations are being carried out at Magdala which is already open to the public. Visitors are able to tour the remains of a first century Jewish town and Duc in Altum which is a new prayer centre at the sight which is considered to be the crossroads of Jewish and Christian History. It has historical and religious significance for both Jews and Christians alike.