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IAA 1980-2~Female figurine, Jerusalem, Iron Age II, 8th century BCE#2.tif

Female figurines from Jerusalem and Bethlehem and figurine and fragments from Lachish

Female figurines with prominent breasts and a moulded or pinched head on a solid pillar type base are common at Judean sites. For this reason figurines of this type have become known as Judean Pillar Figurines. They are well attested in Jerusalem, Lachish, and other sites in Judah.The figurines shown here are from Jerusalem (Jewish Quarter), Bethlehem, and Lachish. The fragments from Lachish remind us that most figurines are often found in a fragmentary state, having been broken and thrown away with common refuse in antiquity.  The meaning and use of these figurines is unclear. The figurines are clearly female, leading to suggestions that they are linked with fertility and childbearing, representing a goddess such as Asherah or Ashtarte or perhaps the women who worship the female deity. They differ, however, from the much clearer Late Bronze Age plaque figurines of such goddesses, insofar as these figurines lack any clear indicators that they are, indeed, goddesses. Some scholars have suggested that they might have had an apotropaic (for warding off evil) use. The figurines are found quite commonly in domestic contexts, and occasionally in funerary ones. This indicates that, whatever their specific use, they formed part of the daily life and rituals of ancient Judah and Jerusalem. They should not be isolated from the rest of Judah's figurine repertoire—most notably the horses and riders, as well as couches. They all formed part of a miniature world in which social meanings were represented and manipulated.

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Rosette seals and ink marking on storage jars

The rosette seals appear on large numbers of storage jar handles, from the late seventh and early sixth centuries BCE. They represent an official, centralised marking system, a successor to the lmlk ('belonging to the king') stamps used during the eighth and seventh centuries BCE.  The group here also includes an unusual ink marking—a letter he or het, written in black ink—preserved on a complete storage vessel. The meaning of this sign on the vessel is unknown. It may have indicated something about the contents, or perhaps the provenance or destination of the vessel. This marking is exceptional, in that it is written in ink rather than incised or stamped on the vessel. However, this rarity may simply be the result of the reality of what survives in the archaeological record, because markings in ink are more likely than incisions to have been washed away or lost.


Ahiel Inscription from Jerusalem

This fragmentary inscription was discovered in the House of Ahiel. It is written in ink on a jar in formal handwriting. Sherds (broken pieces) from storage jars were often used as a writing surface, so the inscription may be unrelated to the jar or its contents.The inscription's meaning is difficult to understand, but it mentions three individuals by name. Two of the names mention Yhwh. There is also a desciption of each person. These are harder to decipher, but may be tentatively translated as:...]s son of Ahiel, who marks [?] rags...]yahu son of Hesedyahu, who gathers silver...]yahu [son of Y]adayahu, who gathers [gold ?]Although the purpose of the inscription remains enigmatic, the House of Ahiel is named after the first individual named in the text.

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Clay figurines and models from Jerusalem and Judah

The variety of figurines found in Jerusalem and Judah are aprt of a general phenomenon and should not be studied in isolation. While the individual items and types are—of course—interesting, it is important to understand that they form part of a repertoire of figurines: a miniature world that includes female figurines, horses with and without riders, as well as furniture. Studies on figurines have tended to focus on specific types, but this risks isolating them from other kinds of figurines. Considering the female figurines alone, for example, it is easy to imagine them related to fertility ritual or female goddess. In reality they form a smaller part of the wider figurine repertoire. The majority of figurines are animals, which can generally be interpreted as horses; some appear with riders, others without. The use and meaning of the figurines is not very clear. Explanations range from cultic or apotropaic use, especially for the female figurines, to toys, usually with reference to the animals. Their archaeological context, which is primarily domestic and occasionally funerary, suggests that they were part of daily life. Whatever their immediate use, the repertoire provides a small window onto social meanings and identities that were represented and manipulated through the medium of clay figurines. 

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Horse and rider figurines from Lachish and Judah and a horse figurine from Jerusalem

Fragments of figurines of four-legged animals are by far the most common figurine type in Judah and Jerusalem, and are part of a wider repertoire of clay figurines. The horse and rider figurine type is common through the southern Levant during this period, and survives well into the Persian period (539–333 BCE). The particular style shown here, with very simple modelling and a pinched head, is typical of Judah.Few figurines survive intact or nearly so; the ones that do survive generally come from tombs. The horse here comes from Cave I in Jerusalem and the horse with a rider—the head broken off in antiquity—is from Tomb 106 in Lachish. The two complete figurines are unprovenanced, but are probably from Judah. The exact meaning and use of these figurines remains unknown. They do however, open a window on the way social meaning was contructed and manipulated in ancient Judean society. Horses were used only by the royal family and the military. Horses and riders, therefore, are likely to represent military power, and their frequent presence in the figural repertoire suggest that military power was a significant concern for the inhabitants of Judah.

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Clay oven

This image shows the remains of a clay oven (tabun) just outside the House of Ahiel in Jerusalem, excavated as part of by Kathleen Kenyon's expedition to Jerusalem. Similar clay ovens are still in use in parts of the Middle East. They were (and still are) often found in courtyards, and are especially used for the preparation of flat bread.See also: cooking pot and baking tray; grinding stone.

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Burial Inscription from Khirbet el-Qom

This inscription was removed from the pillar of a tomb at Khirbet el-Qom. It displays a carved handprint with some lines of text above it and two more lines of text on the lower left corner. The stone was smoothed over in preparation for the inscription with a tool that left scratches in its surface, and this, combined with natural faults in the stone and the presence of ghost-letters* has led to considerable debate over the translation of the text. Attempts to date the inscription paleographically (on the basis of the letter shapes) suggest a date between 750 and 700 BCE. If meant to be read top to bottom, the text perhaps reads: Uriyahu the rich wrote it Blessed be Uriyahu by Yhwh For from his enemies by his [Yhwh’s] Asherah he saved him [carving of hand]… by Abiyahu… by his Asherah… his A[she]eraAlmost all commentators agree that the inscription involves Yhwh’s blessing of Uriyahu, but it is not entirely clear if the inscription praises Yhwh for past blessings or expresses a plea for future blessing. The significance of the hand carving is also unclear, although a few places in the Bible associate hands with monuments. Both Saul and Absalom, for example, set up monuments that are referred to in the Hebrew as a 'hand' (1 Samuel 15:12; 2 Samuel 18:18). One of the most interesting features of the inscription is the mention of Asherah. This goddess was well known in biblical times; the biblical texts that use the term Asherah refer varoiously to a goddess or to an object (or, perhaps, sometimes to both, in an elision between the deity and the cultic object meant to represent the deity). When the texts refer to an object, it often appears in close proximity to Yhwh’s own altar. Biblical Hebrew does not usually affix pronominal suffixes to personal names. This has led to suggestions that 'his Asherah' in this inscription might mean the cultic object, rather than the goddess. A few other inscriptions associate Yhwh and Asherah; two inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Arjud provide an especially useful comparison, as they also refer to 'Yhwh and his Asherah'.*Ghost-letters are traces of letters that can be seen on an inscription but are not properly incised into it. They are often detected by modern cameras that pick up details the human eyes cannot see. Some of the ghost letters on this inscription were probably caused by a person in antiquity tracing the letters with a fingernail, or perhaps a stick.

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Altar from Tel Rehov

This clay altar has two stories, with a roof that extends beyond the width of the altar and a slightly raised horn at each of the four corners. It is made from coarse clay and there is a certain roughness to its manufacture; the figures either side of the window are at different heights and the windows are asymmetrical. It is decorated with two molded figures flanking the lower windows, with an incised palm tree between. Each horn of the altar is incised with a palm frond and the space on the sides in between the horns is decorated with incised lines. The palm decoration is a symbol for an unidentified goddess. The altar shows signs of burning on the top, which indicates it was used for burning offerings at some point. The signs of burning on the sides are a result of the fire that destroyed the building it was found in. The altar was found along with a painted chalice and some other vessels close to an area that was devoted to producing honey and beeswax (an apiary). A number of clay cylinders bore traces of beeswax and were used as beehives. This apiary is the only one ever found in an excavation in the Levant. The altar and related objects found near the apiary are probably part of a 'cult corner' in this industrial area and, while the palm fronds on the altar indicate that a goddess is in view, they are also a symbol of fertility—an emphasis on which is to be expected given the apiary was dependent on the productivity of its bees. Another four horned altar of a similar, though finer, style was found at Megiddo, along with fragments of twelve others. These cult stands (see also this one from Jerusalem) were clearly popular among the inhabitants of the site in the tenth century BCE.

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Musicians Cult Stand from Ashdod

This cult stand depicts a musical ensemble made up of five figures playing different instruments. The figures are displayed around the base, with three four-legged animals above them. Four of the figures are modelled in the round and appear in small windows. One plays a flute, one the cymbals, one a lyre, and one a tambourine or drum. At least two of the four (the cymbal and tambourine players) are wearing hats or headdresses; the pointed chins on some may indicate beards. The fifth figure is larger than the other four and probably represents the leader of the group. The lead figure plays a double flute, like the one of the figurine from Tel Malhata, which held differently to that played by the smaller flute player. The stand comes from a group of buildings in Ashdod which produced numerous other fine cultic and domestic items. The unusual architecture of the buildings, combined with the finds, led to its identification as an official or elite building, part of which had a cultic function. The complex did not function as a temple and so attests to the close intertwining of daily life and cultic practice. The musicians are often thought to symbolise worshippers, but it has also been suggested that they could depict a wealthy family engaging in musical activities—perhaps the family to whom the stand belonged. Offerings or incense may have been placed in the dish at the top of the stand.See also the Altar from Tel Rehov, the Offering Stand from Jerusalem and the Horned Incense Altar from Megiddo.

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Model couch from Beersheba

The figurine repertoire of Judah includes not only female figurines and horses (with or without rider), but also models of furniture, such chairs and this couch or bed. Little is known of the use and meaning of these figurines. However, the fact that they are found in both domestic and funerary contexts suggests that they must have formed part of daily life and its rituals. It should be remembered that furniture was probably owned only by the better off and was probably a status symbol. Some scholars also suggested that couches like this one should be associated with fertility and birth. This particular example in Beersheba was found with a female figurine. At present, far too little is known from secure archaeological contexts to provide a conclusive answer.

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Chair model from Lachish

The miniature figural world of Judah included not only female figurines and horses (with or without rider), but also model furniture such as this chair and the couch from Beersheba. Little is known of the use and meaning of these figurines. However, the fact that they are found in both domestic and funerary contexts suggests that they must have formed part of daily life and its rituals. It should be remembered that furniture was probably owned only by those better off in society and was probably a status symbol. A chair, in particular, may be understood as a throne, and in this sense it may represent authority—the authority of a king or queen, or the authority of a male or female god. As the archaeological context does not shed any clearer light, however, these suggestions remain speculative.

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Silver Pendant from Ekron, depicting the Goddess Ishtar

This silver pendant depicts the goddess Ishtar standing on the back of a lion, beneath the symbols for the stars and the winged sun. Lower down is the symbol for the crescent moon. A worshipper stands with arms outstretched, facing the goddess and in between them is a small cult stand. The hands of the worshipper are facing the goddess in supplication. The iconography is reminiscent of Phoenician craftsmanship, rather than the Mesopotamian iconography expected of the Mesopotamian goddess. This together with the crude workmanship suggests that it was locally made, with Mesopotamian influence. The pendant was found in a silver hoard, hidden in the hole of a hewn, perforated, stone olive press. This hoard, along with five others, were sealed in a destruction layer dated to 604 BCE. The silver hoards are highly unusual for a Levantine city at this time and probably reflect the growing economic status and expanding needs of Ekron’s population. Ekron was located on the border between Philistine and Judean territory. In the seventh century BCE it flourished under Neo-Assyrian influence, becoming a major olive oil production centre. Prosperity came with cultural strings attached, however, as the pendant’s use of the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar suggests. A similar depiction of Ishtar on a pendant was found at Zinçirli, while seals depicting Ishtar have been found throughout Israel. Ishtar was widely venerated across the ancient Near East in the seventh century, with depictions of her most commonly found on personal items, such as seals or jewellery, rather than monumental inscriptions. During the period of Neo-Assyrian expansion between the ninth and seventh centuries BCE, the development of trade routes and exchange of peoples and goods across the ancient Near East meant that cultural and religious ideas and goods were exchanged at a notable rate, which led to a diversification of local cultures. As the pendant from Ekron attests, foreign religious and cultural ideas were present among Judah’s closest neighbours during the seventh century; it seems very likely that they were known also in Judah itself.

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Musical Instruments: Flute, Rattle, and Conch Trumpet

In ancient times as in modern, both religious and non-religious life often involved music. Several ancient instruments are shown above. The flute above is made of bone, with incised decoration at the top and bottom. It was found at En-Gedi, near the Dead Sea. It is one of several similar flutes known as 'Megiddo-type flutes', named after a famous example from Megiddo. These flutes tend to be between 7 and 12cm long, are generally made of bird or goat bones, and have a hole in the center. They produce a shrill tone and have been found in a variety of contexts. There is no specific information known about their use; they may have been children’s toys, cultic instruments, domestic instruments, or even amulets. The rattle is made of pottery and decorated with painted red lines. It was found with another rattle under a layer of ash at Hazor, in a large house that had suffered a violent destruction. Similar rattles have been found in tombs in Samaria. The conch trumpet is made from a large shell (Charonia tritonis), with the point snapped off to form a mouthpiece and a small hole pierced near the end. It was found inside a casemate wall at Hazor, where it may have been used as a signal-horn. Conch trumpets are known in the Levant from the third millennium BCE. Almost all were found within areas connected with the Phoenician or Philistine cultural spheres—as one would expect, given they are made from sea-shells!Musical activity is also attested by the figurine of a double flute player and the cult stand from Ashdod with musicians on it.

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Reconstruction of a four-room house

The Harvard Semitic Museum has produced a full scale reconstruction of a four-room house, the typical home in Iron Age Judah. The reconstruction gives an idea of what an Iron Age Judean house would have looked like, divided into four rooms or spaces: three spaces separated by large pillars, and a fourth space in the back. The reconstruction also shows an upper floor, which does not survive directly in the archaeological record, but may be assumed from the presence of staircases in these homes. The first photo shows a general view of the house, with a reconstructed loom on the upper floor. The second photo shows examples of foodstuffs available during the Iron Age and vessels used in food preperation. The third photo shows a mortar and pestle, a set of grinding stones, and storage vessels in the background.

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Clay figurine of a woman baking from Achziv

This clay miniature is from a tomb at Achziv. The subject of this tableaux is ambiguous, because of the rather rudimentary way it is modelled, but it is generally interpreted as representing a woman kneading the dough for baking. It is part of a wider tradition of figural representation in clay.

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Amulets with a blessing formula from Ketef Hinnom

This amulet is one of two that were found beneath the burial chamber of a rock-hewn tomb near Jerusalem, in a cave in Ketef Hinnom. The amulets probably date to the seventh or sixth centuries BCE. The amulets are made of thin, beaten silver, with inscriptions scratched on using a sharp tool. They were discovered rolled up, and were probably worn hung around the owner’s neck. Originally discovered in 1979, these amulets were re-photographed in 2004 by the West Semitic Research Project, allowing for more comprehensive translations. The amulets are particularly interesting for biblical scholars as they both contain a blessing in the name of Yhwh, which echoes the one found in the book of Numbers (6:24-26):'Yhwh bless you and keep you; Yhwh make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;Yhwh lift up his face upon you and give you peace.' The inscription on the amulet shown here (Amulet 2) reads: [top of inscription broken]May (s)he be blessed by Yhwh, the helper and the rebuker of [E]vil. May Yhwh bless you, may he keep you. May Yh[w]h make his face shine upon you and grant you p[ea]ce. The 2004 photographs of the amulets indicate that both amulets are intended to seek protection from evil, and thus have an apotropaic function (to protect the wearer from evil).

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Bone needle and bone implement from Jerusalem

Clothing forms an important part of daily life and is a key venue for the expression of individual and group identity. The climate in Jerusalem is such that textiles themselves very, very rarely survive to be found in an archaeological context. However, the tools used for spinning and weaving, such as spindlewhorls and loomweights, as well as the tools used for sewing—such as this needle—do survive. They provide a small glimpse about where and how ancient textiles were produced.

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Cooking pot and baking tray from Jerusalem

Elements of daily life are—by their very nature—often simple, practical and unassuming. They are not the elements that attract the eye of the visitor to a museum or exhibition, and rarely receive more than cursory attention. Yet food production and consumption is an essential part of life—and not merely from the point of view of subsistence. Customs and taboos relating to food appear in all cultures and are very frequently important in marking out both the shared practices of neighbouring cultures and their points of difference.See also: clay oven; grinding stone.

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Forty shekel weight from Jerusalem, with reconstructed scales

The presence of limestone weights in Jerusalem and Judah during the late Iron Age attests to an increasingly standardised economy. This economic system does not yet involve coins, which only appear during the Persian period, but does use precious metals. Because these metal pieces were not issued and guaranteed by a central authority, they had to be carefully weighed at each transaction. Stone weights like the one shown here were used, along with scales, in order to make these measurements. The reconstructed scales (the pans are ancient) give an idea of how such weights would have been used. The presence of weights and scales throughout the kingdom of Judah attests to a shift from a subsistence-type economy, typical of smaller, more locally- and tribally-based societies, to a more complex state society, with centralised power and bureaucracy. The term shekel, which comes eventually to refer to a specific denomination and coin, originated as the word for 'weight'. This development is common to various languages: the lira and the pound, for example, were in the first instance terms for weight, only subsequently used for the currency used to represent the metal of that weight.

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Loom weights near the House of the Bullae and a spindle whorl from the House of Ahiel

The manufacture of cloth and garments formed an important part of daily life in a late Iron Age household, as attested by the presence of loom weights and spindlewhorls in excavated homes. This group of 24 clay loom weights were found in the City of David in Jerusalem. Two other collections of of clay loom weights were found on a possible living surface immediately below the House of the Bullae. The location of these loom weights suggest that in a previous period (before the floor of the House of the Bullae was laid down) the room contained a loom and was used for the manufacture of cloth.  The spindle whorl, made of decorated limestone, come from the House of Ahiel, also in the City of David. An image of a reconstructed warp-weighted loom gives an idea of the way that these loom weights would have been used in an Iron Age domestic context.

Clay seal of Gemariah son of Shaphan

Clay seals of Gemariah and Azariah

In one of the houses destroyed by the Babylonians in Jerusalem, excavators discovered 53 clay seal impressions ('bullae'). These small lumps of clay, impressed with the seal of a particular individual or official, were used to seal documents, and suggest that by time of the Babylonian destruction in 586 BCE the kingdom of Judah had a group of literate elites, who presumably controlled the administration of the city.

It is a pleasant surprise to find, among these bullae, two with likely connections to biblical personages: Gemeriah, son of Shaphan, and Azariah, son of Hilkiah.

Bulla of Gemariah son of Shaphan The inscription on the seal reads: (Belonging) to Gemaryahu [s]on of Shaphan

This Gemariah, son of Shaphan, should probably be identified with the person by this name known from the book of Jeremiah:

"Then, in the hearing of all the people, Baruch read the words of Jeremiah from the scroll, in the house of Yhwh, in the chamber of Gemariah son of Shaphan the secretary, which was in the upper court, at the entry of the New Gate of Yhwh's house." (Jeremiah 36:10)

Gemariah's father Shaphan was the chief scribe at the time of King Josiah and appears as a key player in the story of the finding of the law during work in the Temple (2 Kings 22). It is important to note that the term scribe is probably best translated as secretary, and to be understood as a high ranking official as in 'secretary of state'.

Bulla of Azariah son of Hilkiah The inscription on the seal reads: (Belonging) to 'Azaryahu son of Hilqiyahu

This Azariah, son of Hilkiah, may be identified with the person by the same name in the priestly genealogy in 1 Chronicles 6:13. Azariah himself is not a major biblical figure but, if the identification is correct, his father Hilkiah was high priest in the temple in Jerusalem at the time of King Josiah, and a key figure in the story of the finding of the law in the Temple (2 Kings 22).

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An Iron Age toilet

This is a toilet installation in one of the service rooms to the north of the House of Ahiel in the City of David in Jerusalem. The installation was set into a thick plaster floor over a deep cess pit. Unsurprisingly, the excavations of the cesspit turned up faecal remains, as well as human parasite eggs and other organic matter, including fish bones. The presence of a stone toilet seat and cess pit shows a significant level of sophistication in the hygiene practices within the city, or at least in parts of it, while the remains from the cess pit shed light on the diet of the ancient inhabitants. The parasite eggs may reflect the difficulties brought upon the city by the prolonged siege of the Babylonian army in 588–586 BCE, while the fish bones suggest commercial activities between the city and traders operating more widely afield.

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Lower grinding stone in the House of Ahiel

The grinding of grains into flour was perhaps one of the most laborious and time-consuming aspects of food production in the ancient world and therefore a very regular part of domestic life. The tool used for grinding up the grains in ancient Judah consisted of a larger lower grinding stone, which served as the main grinding surface, and a smaller upper stone that was rubbed against the lower one. The grains, caught between the two stones, was crushed and pulverized, eventually broken into pieces small enough to serve as flour for baking The size of the lower grinding stone means that it would likely have been difficult to move, and suggests that the stone may be in, or close, to the place where it was used, in the service rooms of the House of Ahiel.See also: cooking pot and baking tray; clay oven.

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The House of Ahiel

The typical domestic unit in the cities of Judah during the late Iron Age was the four-room house. The House of Ahiel, excavated in the City of David in Jerusalem, follows this typical type: there are side rooms, separated by monolithic pillars and piers, and adjoining service rooms to the north. These service rooms provide good examples of spaces dedicated to food preparation and food storage, as well as the house's toilet facilities.

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Carved wooden items from the House of the Burnt Room

Fragments of carved wooden items from the House of the Burnt Room, Jerusalem These tiny fragments of carved wooden items come from a house in Jerusalem, in the City of David area. Their presence suggests that at least some members of the local population were rich enough to afford luxury items like furniture. The items were made mostly of boxwood, which does not grow locally in the southern Levant. Identifying the wood as something not grown locally means that its presence in Jerusalem had to come from trade, with either the raw material or, more likely, the finished objects imported and sold in the city. 

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Storage vessels from the House of Ahiel

The ability to store food is easily taken for granted in a modern context, but could easily spell the difference between life and death in the ancient world. Food storage was crucial to a family's ability to survive the winter each year, as well as its ability to survive crises such as famine or siege. The administrative ability of the Judean state to control and direct food resources was also fundamental to its citizenry's survival in such crises. The collection of vessels shown here comes from a service room in the House of Ahiel (named after the man whose name appears on clay shards also found in the house). Excavators discovered thirty-seven storage jars in the room, most of which had been marked by a rosette-type stamp impression. These stamp impressions were part of the state's administrative system for the distribution or taxation of produce in the last years of the kingdom of Judah, just prior to the destruction of 586 BCE.