Ilan Sztulman/Tel-Miqne-Ekron Excavations

A cultic gathering. About 40 small stone altars dating from the tenth to seventh centuries B.C.E. have been discovered in Israel, including this assemblage from Ekron. Measuring from 6 inches to 26 inches high, most of the excavated altars from these sites are made of limestone and have four horns projecting from the corners of their square platforms.

Scholars commonly identify the small stands as incense altars based on their similarity to the biblical altar that stood before the Holy of Holies in the desert Tabernacle: “One cubit long [about 18 inches] and a cubit wide—it shall be square—and two cubits high, its horns of one piece with it…On it Aaron shall burn aromatic incense” (Exodus 30:2, 7).

But traces of fire appear on only a handful of these purported incense altars. Archaeologists have discovered altars from some sites outdoors, where people would have been unlikely to expend rare, costly incense. Weighing the archaeological evidence, author Menahem Haran suggests that a less expensive offering would have been more appropriate for these small altars, and that incense burning in Israel was largely confined to the Royal Temple of Jerusalem.