This month we present you with Miriam and Elie Schwartz, of Philadelphia, PA, who found a small pottery shard, which may look unimportant at first glance (even to some of our seasoned archaeologists). However, on careful examination, some interesting features begin to stand out: one side of the pottery shard, which otherwise looks like just any piece of an ordinary cooking pot shard, seems to have a border surrounding two characters, resembling an six pointed star and a T with a curved leg (perhaps a Greek Tau?). Our initial impression is that we’ve encountered a rare Byzantine-period clay sealing (bulla), but further work is needed before we can say anything definitive. We can, however, with a fair amount of certainty, say that the style and material don’t match any of the well known First Temple period clay sealings (Sorry, Elie & Marie, we know you were hoping for this).
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a clay sealing (Bulla, pl. Bullae) is a piece of clay which was affixed to a knotted string, sealing a rolled document, package or container. Once the piece of moldable clay was attached, a seal was stamped on it, leaving an impression validating that the object had not been opened by the unauthorized. While a relatively large number of sealings have been discovered from earlier periods, particularly the First Temple period, sealings from later periods are a rarer phenomenon.
It was great to see the excitement on the faces of the Schwartzes, who happened upon this exciting artifact when they made a stop by us during the semester break at Pennsylvania State University, where they serve as educators in the OU’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus. Include us in your next visit to Jerusalem, and you too can (and will!) touch a piece of history!