Approximately 1,020 clay seals (bullae) dating back to the Hellenistic period – which coincides with the time the Second Temple stood in Jerusalem – and which may have belonged to the letter archive of a wealthy landowner, were found in August at the Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park in central Israel, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority recently announced.
A team of archaeologists led by Dr. Ian Stern, who works in cooperation with the Hebrew Union College, as well as the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, discovered the bullae collection made of clay while trying to photograph a side room in an underground cave.
The sealings were gathered for preservation, storage, and analysis.
The bullae were attached with cord to thousands of papyrus documents that did not survive the 2000 years in the cave, and were impressed with a unique sign to provide tamper-proofing.
Dr. Donald Tzvi Ariel, Coin Department head at the Israel Antiquities Authority, and a leading world expert on seals, examined a group of 300 bullae and found that the seal prints depict Greek gods such as Athena, Apollo, and Aphrodite, as well as horns of abundance, erotic scenes, animals and more.
“This archeological finding indicates that a large archive of ancient private documents existed on the site and may have belonged to wealthy landowner” said Ariel. “It seems that the archive was abandoned suddenly – this fact is particularly interesting in light of the events of the period, during which John Hyrcanus the Maccabean conquered the Edomites who lived in this land and forced them to convert.” Hyrcanus’ ultimatum was extremely rare, as Jews were not in the habit of forcing their subjects to convert to Judaism. One of those who did convert was Antipater, father of Herod the Great.
Maresha, part of the national park was named a World Heritage Site in 2014 by UNESCO, the cultural arm of the United Nations.