Ancient Mediterranean

Digital Project

Clay bulla

Cat. No.



ca. 830-700 B.C. Iron IA-IIB


Jerusalem, "rock-cut pool" near Gihon spring


1.68 x 1.5 x 0.72 cm


Grey fired clay bulla with a fragmentary impression of an oval seal

Accession Number

Jerusalem, Store Rooms of the IAA


Keel 2017: 408-409, no. 287; Reich 2011: 215, fig. 148; Reich et al 2007: 156-157, fig. 7

Oared galley facing left, very flat hull. High near vertical sternpost with a slight outward slant. The area of the bow is poorly preserved, but seems to have a stem with a zoomorphic device, most likely a horse. Mass amidships is likely the mast. There is quarter rudder and two oars preserved.

The bulla comes from fill found in the so-called “rock-cut pool” located near the Gihon spring in Jerusalem. Dubbed as such due to its rectangular outline, fairly flat bottom and straight, near vertical rock-walls, the rock-cut pool was part of the Middle Bronze Age water system of the settlement (Reich and Shukron 2011: 150). During Iron IIB, the rock-cut pool was reused for a private dwelling which made use of its vertical rock-walls. The inhabitants decided to raise the floor by about 3m using stone boulders and a large amount of debris which were packed to form a level floor of beaten earth (Reich et al 2007: 154). The excavators assume that these debris were most probably scraped off or dug up from the close surroundings of the rock-cut pool’s upper edges. Within this debris layer were found ten seals, over 170 clay bullae, several hundred unimpressed broken clay lumps, and large quantities of fish bones.

The broken state of the bullae and the unimpressed lumps of clay provide evidence that the assemblage represents the refuse from incoming mail, taken off sealed letters and packed commodities when they were opened. This is confirmed by the break of most bullae, where the imprint of thread is visible, as well as an imprint on the reverse side in most cases. The impressions on the latter exhibit various packing materials that range from papyrus sheet, woven fabrics, straw, canes, and flat materials such as wooden planks (Ibid 156). Bones from the fill represent no fewer than 228 fish, most from the Mediterranean (90%) as well as some Nile perch imported from Egypt. According to the excavators, this rich bone assemblage suggests an intricate commercial activity entailing quick preparation for conservation and long-range shipping (Ibid: 159-160).

Based on the large quantities of bullae and fish bones from the fill, there thus seems to have been an important administrative and commercial centre in the vicinity of the rock-cut pool during the late 9th and early 8th century (Ibid 162).

Keel, O. 2017. Corpus der Stempelsiegel-Amulette aus Palästina/Israel: Von den Anfängen bis zur Perserzeit: Katalog Band V: von Tell el-Idham bis Tel Kitan. Göttingen: Academic Press.

Reich R. 2011. Excavating the City of David. Where Jerusalems’s History Began, Jerusalem.

Reich, R., E. Shukron and O. Lernau. 2007. “Recent Discoveries in the City of David, Jerusalem,” IEJ 57.2: 153-169.

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