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Stamped Jar Handle

Stamped Jar Handle

Israel, late 8th century B.C.E.
  • Clay: impressed and fired
  • 2 1/2 x 3 x 2 in. (6.4 x 7.6 x 5.1 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Purchase: Archaeology Acquisition Fund, JM 12-73.271
  • Digital image © 2006 The Jewish Museum, New York Photo by Ardon Bar Hama
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Stamped Jar Handle

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Numerous archaeological sites in Israel have turned up storage jars with stamped handles like this. Frequently, the jars were in fragments and only the handles were saved. The seal impressions on the handles feature the word lamelekh, which means “belonging to the king,” along with the name of a place in Israel. (Click here to watch a video that explains more about these seals.)

Four different place names have been found on lamelekh seals; the one pictured here cites the city of Hebron. Each lamelekh seal also features one of two images—either a four-winged scarab (a kind of beetle) or a two-winged sun-disk (the circle of the sun with wings on either side) like this one. These were popular Egyptian symbols associated with the sun god and more generally with power; the sun disk was also a divine symbol in the Near East. The narrow mouths of the lamelekh jars suggest they were probably designed to hold liquids or grain.

Over the past few decades, several theories have been put forward to explain the significance of the lamelekh jars. Some scholars believed the jars were filled with agricultural products that were sent to the king as taxes. Others hypothesized that they contained supplies for the king’s staff and troops or that they held oil and wine produced at four royal estates. Still others suggested that the jars might have been marked to show that their capacity was officially standardized.

Recent studies have indicated that all lamelekh jars found in Israel were made from the same clay and were therefore manufactured in the same place. The place names thus do not specify the origins of the jars. In addition, measurement of the capacity of complete jars indicates they are not uniform in size. Therefore, the seals on their handles could not represent official acknowledgment of a standardized size. The exact purpose of these jars remains unknown.