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Jerusalem’s Ancient Market

(January 10, 2020)

The top of a rare 2000-year-old measuring table used for liquid items such as wine and olive oil has been discovered in what appears to be a major town square along the Pilgrimage Road in Jerusalem, during excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the City of David National Park . In addition to the measuring table, tens of stone measurement weights were also discovered in the same vicinity. These all support the theory that this was the location of the main city square and market on route to the Temple during the Second Temple Period, in what was historically known as Jerusalem’s lower city.

According to Prof. Ronny Reich, who is currently researching the recent discovery: “In a portion of the “standart of volumes” table uncovered in the City of David, we see two of the deep cavities remain, each with a drain at its bottom. The drain at the bottom could be plugged with a finger, filled with a liquid of some type, and once the finger was removed, the liquid could be drained into a container, therefore determining the volume of the container, using the measurement table as a uniform guideline. This way, traders could calibrate their measuring instruments using a uniform standard.”

Reich adds that “this is a rare find. Other stone artifacts were very popular in Jerusalem during the Second Temple, however so far, excavations in Jerusalem have only uncovered two similar tables that were used for measuring volume - one during the 1970’s in the Jewish Quarter excavations, and another in the Shu’afat excavations, in northern Jerusalem.”

According to archaeologist Ari Levi of the Israel Antiquities Authority, one of the directors of the excavations of the Pilgrimage Road, “The Pilgrimage Road excavations in the City of David have also uncovered a great number of stone scale-weights measuring different values. The weights found are of the type which was typically used in Jerusalem. The fact that there were city-specific weights at the site indicates the unique features of the economy and trade in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, possibly due to the influence of the Temple itself.” The stone scale-weights have a flat, round shape, and they are made in different sizes, representing different masses.

According to Reich, more than 90% of all stone weights of this type, totaling several hundreds, were found in archaeological excavations in early Jerusalem dating back to the Second Temple period. Due to this fact, they represent a unique Jerusalem phenomenon.

Israel Antiquities Authority researchers Nahshon Szanton, Moran Hagbi and Meidad Shor, who directed the excavations along the Pilgrimage Road on behalf of the of the Israel Antiquities Authority, uncovered a large, open paved area dating back some 2000 years along the street leading up to the Second Temple and suggest that this served as the main square of the lower city. The square was where trade activity would have taken place in this part of the city.

According to Ari Levi, “The volume standard table we’ve found, as well as the stone weights discovered nearby, support the theory that this was the site of vast trade activity, and perhaps this may indicate the existence of a market.”

Prof. Reich adds: “It is possible that this part of the Second Temple-period city housed the office of the inspector of measurements and weights of the city of Jerusalem - a function which was commonplace in other cities throughout the Roman empire in ancient times, known as an Agoranomos.”

Source: Israel Antiquities Authority