An international team of archaeologists conducted a comparative analysis of alabaster, the components for the manufacture of which were mined in ancient times in the Levant and Egypt. As a result, a cave was found in which raw materials were mined for the manufacture of the famous luxurious baths of King Herod the Great.
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports and briefly reported by Phys.org. Until now, it was believed that Ancient Egypt was the main supplier of calcite for the manufacture of luxurious alabaster products, including for the rulers and aristocrats who lived on the territory of modern Israel.
A striking example of such luxury items are two baths of the famous biblical king Herod the Great, found in the fortress of Kypros and his royal palace, located south of Jerusalem. They are kept in museum funds in Austria. These bathtubs are made from finely worked calcite alabaster.
Experts have always believed that bathtubs were made from raw materials mined in ancient Egypt. And the absence of ancient “alabaster” quarries in the Southern Levant (modern Israel and Palestine) led to the hypothesis that all alabaster vessels found in the Levant came from Egypt, and only low-quality products were made from local raw materials.
However, a new study disproves this hypothesis. The scientists analyzed calcite samples taken from a recently discovered ancient quarry in Teomim Cave, located on the western slopes of the Jerusalem Hills. This cave is located near the modern Israeli city of Beit Shemesh.
Then a group of scientists conducted a comparative analysis. The results were compared by archaeologists with the results of previous analyzes of samples of Egyptian alabaster. In addition, for the first time, the baths of Herod the Great themselves were subjected to such an analysis.
The source of raw materials for alabaster products cannot be determined by traditional archaeological methods. Therefore, a specially developed method based on an interdisciplinary approach was applied in the new study. He made it possible to establish precisely that the royal baths of Herod the Great were made from local raw materials, which were mined on the territory of modern Israel, and were not brought from Egypt.
“The fact that both baths were clearly made in Israel and not in Egypt, as one would expect due to the high quality of the stone, was a special surprise for us,” says Prof. local products, and the production of alabaster in Judea in the second half of the first century BC was sufficiently developed and of high enough quality to satisfy the luxurious standards of Herod, one of the best builders among the kings of that period.