Huge quantities of pottery fragments were found in the ancient Jerusalem landfill—about 11,000 indicative sherds (fragments of rims, necks, handles, bases, and even decorated body sherds that allow us to recognize the shape, function, and occasionally the origin of the vessels) were analyzed. Studying this pottery not only helps in determining the time in which the landfill was operational, but also allows us to reconstruct the household activities for which the vessels were used before they were thrown to the garbage, and even to understand how the landfill was formed.

We realized that most of our pottery types belong to a single, short period between the end of the first century B.C.E. and 70 C.E., just before the Romans destroyed the city. Very few pottery types dating from the late second to early first centuries B.C.E. were discovered (less than 1 percent of our collection).

The deposits include ceramic types used in a multitude of functions, ranging from meal preparation and consumption, to food and liquid storage, to lighting. An ancient household assemblage typically shows a balanced and varied assemblage of vessels used for the different aspects of domestic life, while an assemblage of vessels used in a cultic or industrial context will show a more specialized pattern, with certain repeated functions being more dominant than others. In the research conducted by Ronny Reich and Guy Bar-Oz—with the collaboration of many other scholars—on the garbage found closer to Temple Mount, a high percentage of cooking pots was reported. They claim that those ceramic vessel remains were the byproducts of pilgrims who had made their way to the Jerusalem Temple. However, the pottery farther away from the Temple shows a relatively balanced pattern, with serving dishes (bowls) appearing most frequently, occupying almost 38 percent of the whole assemblage. Cooking-pots are the second most frequent vessel at 25 percent, followed by storage jars, smaller liquid containers like juglets, unguentaria (small ceramic or glass bottles used to hold oils, perfumes, and other liquids), flasks, and oil lamps. Based on this pattern, we suggest the fragmented vessels originated from a domestic context.

We were surprised by the relatively high percentage of imported vessels (0.52 percent all together). These are essentially terra sigillata vessels (ceramic vessels covered by an ultrarefined clay slip that gives a high gloss when polished) from Cyprus and Syria that were popular among Greeks and Romans, which some scholars claim were deliberately avoided by the Jewish population in Jerusalem. Our research suggests that wealthier Jewish families did not necessarily observe the prohibition against imported ceramic wares.

Finally, we analyzed the state of perseveration of the sherds. This was done to better understand the formation of the landfill and its content. We measured the lengths of 396 ceramic fragments at their longest points. While the entire assemblage was broken, we found that they had not been broken into relatively small pieces. The longest side of most of the ceramic fragments ranged between 1 and 5 inches, with an average length of about 2 inches. The relatively large size of sherds is an indication of material located in a primary dump.1 This accumulation of discarded sherds had not been trampled. The sherds’ broken sides are acute, which makes it difficult to claim that the material had been rolled by the water or wind. Therefore, this deposit is the result of a single, deliberate, human action and not likely due to a natural phenomenon.—Hélène Machline, Israel Antiquities Authority