Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Who would guess that this three-by-three-foot stone altar concealed a remarkable artifact? Yet when dig director Avraham Biran had the altar dismantled, he discovered a unique head of a scepter concealed beneath it. The altar stood in a room the excavators now refer to as the “altar room” (see plan), adjacent to the lishkah, or chamber, where priests may have officiated; this structure was apparently an eighth-century B.C. addition to the religious santuary at Tel Dan. The upper half of a jar found upside down in the hole beside the altar contained the ashes of burned incense and unidentifiable animal bones. Three iron incense shovels, probably used during religious rites, were also found next to the altar, as shown in the plan. The earliest of their kind ever found, these shovels resemble incense shovels pictured on synagogue mosaic floors of the fourth to fifth centuries A.D.