We had another “wow” day! LMLK handle, EB cylinder, etc.

Today we had another great day on the dig!

In addition to the ongoing work in the “cultic corner” we had some really nice finds in the other areas.

In Area E, they are excavation some really nice EB contexts, including streets, floors, installations, etc.. One of the most interesting finds was a very nice bone cylinder seal from within a jar!

In Area F, in addition to excavating an 8th cent BCE level (though without LMLK handles), they are excavating a truly impressive, monumental stone fortification dating the MB II, apparently related to the glacis discovered last year.

Just about 100 m to the north of Area F, I picked up on surface a very nice LMLK SWKH handle! This is the first LMLK from our expedition although Bliss and Macalister found several in their 1899 excavation. That tells us that the 8th cent. level that we are excavating should be very promising!

Here is a picture (for George …): lmlk-swkh-handle-safi-2007.jpg


6 thoughts on “We had another “wow” day! LMLK handle, EB cylinder, etc.

  1. [Preface: I originally attempted to post this long commentary the same day you found the handle, but it did not appear, so I’m guessing that there’s a WordPress character-count limit. So I’m going to divide it into 2 or more parts.]

    Cool! Thy failure-to-podcast sins be forgiven thee! Thank you so much for sharing your discoveries with us in a timely manner! This is the fastest one of these handles has ever been published, & obviously I have a few things to say about it!

    This particular impression came from the seal I’ve dubbed “S4L”.

    For those not familiar with my typology system, the “L” stands for “lapidarist”, which is a style distinguished from the “C” series, which stands for “cursory” (or crummy/crappy to be vulgar; the exact opposite of what we’d expect for something “royal”).

    These 2 sets were obviously made by 2 different people. The “C” seals were probably made by an elderly person acquainted with the older forms of the Paleo-Hebrew script, but not experienced with this medium; while this “L” series was probably made by someone younger–or at least up-to-date with the later styles–& (s)he was definitely experienced with this medium.

    If you compare just the 4 letters of “LMLK” seen on the 4 known specimens of the “C” seals with the 4 known “L” seals, the difference is night/day! All 4 “C” seals were obviously made by the same person, but they’re very poorly executed, whereas the 4 “L” seals are nearly identical! It’s truly an amazing testimony to the skill of this person whom I’ve dubbed the Lapidarist (& anybody familiar with my work knows who I believe made the “C” seals, so I won’t go into it here).

    Overall, this is an above-average specimen that if unprovenanced, would fetch $500-$1,000 on the antiquities market. I’m not aware of any provenanced LMLK handle that has ever been sold, so the sky would be the limit if it were to be auctioned, though I think it would command somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000, especially since it was discovered/documented by such a world-renowned excavator at such an important Biblical site (& one specifically mentioned relative to this period in Micah 1:10)!

    The letters made by this impression are the Mem of “LMLK”, & the Shin & Waw (or Wow, keeping to the theme of the title of this post) of “SWKH”. The icon is thick enough to reveal the outline of nearly all the body, but there was not enough clay to reveal the detailed lines of the thorax & elytra.

    The other classifications I assign to the handles that have been published are Orientation & Ware.

    This photo is excellent, in that the seal is oriented orthogonally to the camera lens, which is how I arrange them before assigning an orientation label. My system is based on the traditional clock most everyone’s familiar with, where 12:00 is at the top of the dial, 3:00 to the right, etc. (Do Hebrew wristwatches have 3:00 on the left side?) I classify the stamp based on where the body of the jar is located relative to this orthogonal position of the seal. You can clearly see this one’s at the 1:00 position. It’s a rare orientation, but not the rarest. Most of the seals with 4-winged icons were positioned at 6:00 or 12:00, so the stamper was probably in a little hurry, or just a bit careless. Bear in mind that the handles were probably stamped blindly while the jar was upside-down (they had cone-shaped bottoms).

    Since I can only see the front side of the handle, I can’t provide a full Ware classification, but thanks to some surface abrasions, I can tell this is an “Axx” type. I would need to see a side view of the broken pottery & the back/jar side to give it a complete classification, so I’ll forego the discussion & simply refer readers to the Composition section at the top of the Jars page of the LMLK Research website where there are links to examples of all eleven 3-letter Ware types.

    There are no incisions (i.e., Circles or Plus marks), so the handle’s full classification for now is: S4L, 1:00, Axx, 0. The formal, more-established scientific classifications for this handle are Lemaire’s “S Ib”, Welten’s “S IB 1”, & Diringer/Lapp/Aharoni’s “ii Sa”.


  2. If I can obtain permission from the brilliant excavator-with-the-million-dollar-smile to add this handle & photo (or at least a lo-res crop) to the known corpus published on the LMLK website, it will be:

    *) the 47th photo-documented S4L handle
    *) the 1,428th handle from a documented site (albeit the surface)
    *) the 2,127th handle documented (in general)

    It may surprise some readers/students to learn that although over 1,400 have been found scientifically, only about 50 with classifiable impressions have been found in-situ (in 7th- or 8th-century strata)–only about 4%!!! Nearly all the others are from the surface like this one, &/or lack proper identification.

    Based on the seal designs of those few stratified specimens, this S4L was probably from the pre-Assyrian-destruction level (8th-century as noted above by the finder). About half of the designs (including all the 4-winged types) correspond to this period, but the other half belongs to the period just after the destruction level. Biblical historians will note that this attack by the Assyrians occurred in the middle of Hezekiah’s reign (the 14th of 29 years).

    Coincidence? Nobody’s convinced me otherwise yet. This lends support to the theory that the jars contained offerings related to religious worship (per 2Chronicles 29-31), & tends to discredit the more popular (among scholars) theory that the jars contained military supplies. But since such little documentation exists for the handles, both theories remain valid options.

    Could I please ask for more details on the find spot? Specifically, was the seal facing up so that you saw it on the ground, or did you only discover the seal after picking it up & turning it around? (Hey, that rhymes!) Was it found near the rest of its original jar, or are the other fragments probably located afar?

    And have you assigned an official find/field number to it yet, or have the official records still not been set?

    Thanks again for making this an exceptionally fun History day for me (a Wow day for you)!


  3. Dear G.M.,
    I’ll leave your questions about the LMLK stamp to Aren, but as for “Hebrew watches”, most Hebrew speakers have just the same watches as do other human beings. You can, however, occasioanlly find watches or clocks with Hebrew letters instead of numbers that run counter-clockwise. My father, by the way, has a digital watch that also gives him such information as Sabbath candle lighting times, times for daily prayer and the weekly Torah portion. The wonders of digital technology!


  4. arenmaeir

    I’m posting as a comment to your comment, what I have already written you by email, so that others can read them as well:

    In any case, thanks for the kind comments about the LMLK seal. Clearly, the seal is not for sale (despite your estimate …), although if you know of anyone who wants to give such sums to the project – they are more than welcome!

    Actually, the circumstance of the find was quite funny. I was in Area F (near the summit of the tell), discussing with Jeff Chadwick (BYU, Supervisor of Area F) the 8th cent. level that we have, and how unusual it is that there are no LMLK seals from our excavations, despite the fact that Bliss and Macalister found them. As I was leaving, Jeff told me that he would like a LMLK handle for Christmas and I said “no problem”. I walked down the tell towards my car and on the spur of the moment decided to look for a LMLK under an exposed cliff just to the north of Area F. After looking around for about 10 minutes – there it was (the handle was facing down and I saw the seal only after I picked it up). I immediately ran back to Jeff and showed him his Christmas present — and the rest is history!

    We have given it a field number (don’t have it here) and we’ll publish it as soon as possible.



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