Photos: A Sacred Incense Shovel Unearthed in Israel

Ancient shovel unearthed

bronze shovel

(Image credit: IAA)

While excavating in a 2,000-year-old settlement near the Sea of Galilee, researchers unearthed an ancient bronze shovel.

The shovel was unearthed near the ancient settlement of Magdala, which was once a port town where fish were salted. Magdala was also considered a military base used in rebellions against the Romans, according to Jewish sources. And according to Christian historical texts, Magdala was the birthplace of one of Jesus' followers, Mary Magdalene.[Read the full story on the discoveries near Magdala]

Ritual purpose

bronze shovel

(Image credit: IAA)

The shovel, which was delicately carved, is similar to ones that were used to rake coals of incense during cultic rituals in the Second Temple Period.

Holy and ordinary

bronze shovel

(Image credit: IAA)

While archaeologists originally thought such shovels, called mahtas in Hebrew, were only ever used for working with burnt incense offerings in religious rituals, later excavations have revealed that people also used them for more ordinary tasks. Here, the shovel shown upright.

Ancient port city

magdala ruins

(Image credit: IAA)

The ritual shovel was unearthed in the ruins of an ancient port city called Magdala, which lies on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. During the Second Temple Period, the city was known for salting fish. It may have also been home to Mary Magdalene.

Ancient jug

bronze jug

(Image credit: IAA)

The shovel was found along with a bronze jug in a storeroom of the house of an ancient Jewish family. One possibility is that the family had stored the treasured heirloom for many years underground, where it lay hidden until recently.

Religious iconography

menorah box called the magdala stone

(Image credit: IAA)

The town of Magdala is also famous for the Magdala stone, a box found in a 1st century synagogue that shows images of menorahs and other religious iconography.