Thursday, May 20, 2010

First Century Roman Altar Found in Ashkelon

Since the discovery of tombs in the area where an emergency room for an Ashkelon hospital is being built, religious Jews in Israel have protested.  Today’s announcement by the Israel Antiquities Authority of the discovery of a Roman altar from the 1st-2nd century AD should strengthen the argument that the tombs are not Jewish.

From the IAA press release:

The development work for the construction of a fortified emergency room at Barzilai Hospital, which is being conducted by a contractor carefully supervised by the Israel Antiquities Authority, has unearthed a new and impressive find: a magnificent pagan altar dating to the Roman period (first-second centuries CE) made of granite and adorned with bulls’ heads and a laurel wreaths. The altar stood in the middle of the ancient burial field. Ashkelon Roman altar, IAA, IMG_1119

According to Dr. Yigal Israel, Ashkelon District Archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The discovery further corroborates the assertion that we are dealing with a pagan cemetery. It is an impressive find that has survived 2,000 years. The altar is c. 60 centimeters tall and it is decorated with bulls’ heads, from which dangle laurels wreaths. There is a strap in the middle of each floral wreath and bull’s head. The laurel wreaths are decorated with grape clusters and leaves. This kind of altar is known as an “incense altar.” Such altars usually stood in Roman temples and visitors to the temple used to burn incense in them, particularly myrrh and frankincense, while praying to their idols. We can still see the burnt marks on the altar that remain from the fire. The altar was probably donated by one of the families who brought it to the cemetery from the city of Ashkelon.”

The full press release is here.  Three high-resolution photos of the altar are available here.

UPDATE: The story is also reported by the AFP and Haaretz.



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