Although many of our textual sources about ancient Judah and Jerusalem focus on the big public issues such as nation, king, and temple, the unsung labour of the domestic and private sphere were the foundation of ancient Judean society—as they are with any other society. Although the objects in this collection may not have quite the cachet of palace gates and monumental walls, everyday household items such as figurines, jewellery, or pottery vessels, reveal a much about the lives of those who used them. A Cypriot jug or a pottery sherd with Phoenician decoration is a sign of international commerce, for example, when it is found in a Judean house. The presence of a figurine or an amulet of a god or goddess, on the other hand, is a sign of the religious beliefs of the house's occupants. Ovens and storage jars can help archaeologists date occupation or destruction levels very precisely, using scientific methods to test the traces of food or other organic material still left on them. Even everyday pottery vessels like bowls, jugs, cooking pots, and kraters, provide the backbone of dating of archaeological sites, by revealing the slow change of ceramic styles over long periods—which in turn allows archaeologists to date archaeological layers.
Our knowledge of life in the city and its environs comes in part from the biblical texts and in part from archaeological excavations at sites in and around the city. The activities illustrated by this collection centre on private spaces, especially the home. It focuses on the House of Ahiel and its surrounding neighbourhood in Jerusalem, exploring aspects of daily life associated with this particular house, such as food preparation, consumption and storage, hygiene, cultic activities, and textile production, as well as bringing in everyday objects discovered outside the city, to help imagine what life there might have been like before its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.
No one knows how big Jerusalem was just prior to its destruction. Population estimates range from as low as 15,000 people to at least as high as 25,000, due to uncertainty about ancient population density and disagreements over the size of the city. Whatever its exact size, the city was tucked away in the hill country, off the beaten path from the main thoroughfares nearer the coast.