"And Brought in the Offerings and the Tithes and the Dedicated Things Faithfully" (2 Chron. 31:12): On the Meaning and Function of the Late Iron Age Judahite "Incised Handle Cooking Pots"
Maeir, Aren M., The Journal of the American Oriental Society
The corpus of late Iron Age pottery (ca. late eighth--early sixth centuries B.C.E.) from Judah is one of the best-known pottery assemblages in the ancient Levant. Intensive and extensive excavations over the last century or so, coupled with a long list of publications, have enabled archaeologists to build a robust familiarity with the pottery assemblage typical of this period and region, including, inter alia, a close knowledge of the various chrono-morphological types, special features, unique decorations, socio-cultural manifestations, etc. (1)
In the published assemblages of the late Iron Age Judahite pottery, excavators have noticed cooking pots of various types with a pre-fired, incised "X-shaped" marking (similar to the Paleo-Hebrew letter taw) on one of its handles (Fig. 1). Noted already in the early twentieth century (Albright 1932: 81, 88 fat Tell Beit Mirsiml), the incised-handle cooking pot (henceforth IIICP) has since been reported, and in some cases, discussed, in the archaeological literature.
A representative sample of this type can be noted at a large number of sites (Fig. 2). (2) From the archaeological literature it is clear that this is a very well-defined phenomenon, both spatially and temporally. The markings, which had always been incised before the firing of the vessel, are located on the upper part of the handle, and on only one handle of each vessel. (3) This particular marking is to be seen during this period almost exclusively on cooking pots, (4) and across the full range of cooking pot types known in late eighth-early sixth centuries B.C.E. Judah. While the IHCP is found exclusively and extensively throughout Judah, (5) it is particularly well represented in Jerusalem.
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
The dating of the IHCP is quite clear. Shoham (2000a: 110) claimed that the IHCP was particularly popular in the eighth and early seventh centuries, and although it is still seen in late seventh/early sixth century contexts, its quantities diminish. Barkay (2003: 55) notes that these vessels appear in the eighth and seventh centuries, but does not remark on a diminishing in the later Iron Age. They are absent from non-Judahite sites and rare (e.g., at Gezer, Tel Batash) or absent also at some sites on the Judahite periphery (e.g., Ein Gedi). While their absence at non-Judahite sites is most likely due to the fact that the IHCP is a Judahite cultural phenomenon (see below), the absence of IHCP at late Iron Age Ein Gedi (dated by Yezerski 2007: 105 to the very end of the Iron Age), late Iron Age Kadesh Barnea (Bernick-Greenberg 2007: 179), (6) and Lachish Level II may strengthen the argument that the popularity of the IHCP did in fact diminish towards the end of the late seventh/early sixth centuries. (7) Thus, it would appear that while the IHCP continued to be used in Jerusalem in the late seventh/early sixth centuries, it had disappeared at some sites in Judah by the very end of the Iron Age.
Although the IHCP is quite common in the archaeological assemblages from late Iron Age Judah, Albright's (1932: 81) claim that these markings appear on approximately one-quarter of the cooking pots is exaggerated, based on the number of published examples of marked and unmarked sundry late Iron Age cooking pots from various Judahite sites (note, e.g., Shoham [2000a: 110], who publishes 163 such cooking pot handles among the hundreds of cooking pots from Shiloh's excavation in the City of David).
Before continuing the discussion, the main characteristics of the IHCPs may be summarized:
1. The IHCP appears solely at sites in Judah that date to the late Iron Age, specifically to the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E.
2. The earliest known example is from the mid eighth century B.C.E. (Arad, Stratum X, Singer-Avitz 2002: fig. 25:8), while the latest appear in terminal Iron Age contexts (e.g., Shoham 2000a: 110; Barkay 2003: 55). …