The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

Jar Handles with Judean “Royal Stamp”

Penn Museum - Joy of Museums - Jar Handles with Judean

These “Jar Handles with Judean “Royal Stamp” belonged to storage jars that were made nearly 3,000 years ago which have visible impressions of a stamps on their handles. The stamp impressions consist of an inscription in palaeo-Hebrew together with a symbol. The inscription on the handle above reads “lmlk” which translates to “belonging to King”. The royal symbol is a four-winged beetle.

Penn Museum - Joy of Museums - Jar Handles with Judean

In the picture above, the stamp on the handle on the left is inscribed with “belonging to the King” with the place name of “Sukoh”. The handle on the right is also inscribed with “belonging to King” with the place name “Ziph”. Both carry the symbol of a two-winged sun disk.

These stamped jars were part of a centralised system to distribute the produce of the Judean royal agricultural estates to administrators and soldiers. These large storage jars were used to contain wine, grain or oil. It is argued that the jars contained food intended for the army and for civilians as part of the preparations for the revolt by Hezekiah ( 716-687 BC), King of Judah, against Assyria.

Penn Museum - Joy of Museums - Jar Handles with Judean

In the picture above, the seal impression on the handle on the left is inscribed with “lmsl m’lntn” which translates to “belonging to the “Meshulam [son of] ‘Elnatan.” The handle on the right is inscribed with “lmlk mmst” which translates to ‘belonging to King. The place name “mmst” is an unknown name and has the symbol of a four-winged beetle.

Almost two thousand of these stamped jar handles have been discovered with variations of royal symbols and place names. Most have an inscription in paleo-Hebrew reading “lamelek” which meads “belonging to the King”. The place names were probably administrative centres in Judah where taxes in kind were brought and stored.

Recent scientific research on ceramic jars handle fragments from ancient Judea have reveal that the Earth’s geomagnetic field has been undulating for thousands of years. Data obtained from the analysis of well-dated Judean jar handles provide valuable insights on the historical changes in the strength of the earth’s geomagnetic fields. Ceramics can act as a recorder of the magnetic field at the time of heating and cooling. Ceramics have tiny minerals that save information about the magnetic field at the time the clay was in the kiln. By studying these Jar Handles, scientists now have proof that the earth’s magnetic field has fluctuated violently in the past, without dooming our planet.

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                 Jar Handles with Judean “Royal Stamp”
  • Dates:               900 – 701 BCE
  • Period:             Gideon,  Iron IIB
  • Provenience:  Israel, Beth Shemesh
  • Materials:        Ceramic
  • Technique:       Stamped
  • Museum:         Penn Museum

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 “A righteous man falls down seven times and gets up.” – King Solomon, Proverbs, 24:16

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Photo Credit: By GordonMakryllos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons