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Yale Library

Ancient Jewish Archaeology: Ossuaries



Sometime in the middle of Herod’s reign, around 20-15 B.C.E., Jewish secondary burial in the form of ossuaries emerged in Jerusalem’s rock-cut tombs. Although most of the ossuaries from the Second Temple period so far discovered are from Jerusalem, several groups of ossuaries were also found in greater Judea, Jericho (including six ossuaries discovered north and northwest of Tell Jericho), Samaria, Galilee, and the Jezreel valley. Ossuaries were hand-hewn from large slabs of limestone, using a mallet, a hammer, and a chisel, usually into the shape of a rectangular box resting on four short feet. The detachable lids were flat, vaulted, or garbled, and the front and sides could be decorated, incised, or chip-carved.


The Caiaphas ossuary, Israel Museum, Jerusalem.