Terracotta Oil Lamps from Qumran and Ein Feshkha (R. de Vaux’s Excavations, 1951-1958): Typology, Chronology and the Question of Manufacturing Centers

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Jolanta MylnarczykBy: Jolanta Mlynarczyk, University of Warsaw, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow

The aim of my research at the Albright was to study an assemblage of ca. 200 oil lamps discovered at Qumran by archaeologists from the Ecole Biblique at the settlement itself and in the caves (1951-1956) as well as at Ein Feshkha (1958). The importance of this cluster of sites for our understanding of the late Second Temple period is indisputable, yet in the past many lamps have not been properly described within their archaeological context. Hence, the first stage of my research was focused on completing a description of the lamps and extracting the relevant contextual information. The second stage involved working out the typology. Conceived as a part of the general typology of the Qumran ceramics, the lamp typology consists of two series, each one dependent on a different technique employed in lamp-making: wheel-throwing and moulding. In the former group, the types have been distinguished on the basis of shape; and in the latter, the criterion of shape is combined with that of decoration.

In terms of general chronology, the assemblage covers over two centuries of lamp development in the region, from the early 1st century BCE until the first half of the 2nd century CE. Whenever possible, I examined the chronology of individual types according to the stratigraphy of the relevant examples; in some fortunate cases, this was supported by accompanying coins. At the same time, comparable lamps from dated contexts have been considered, whether found at the sites around the Dead Sea (Jericho, En-Gedi, Masada, Kallirhoe, Machaerus), in Jerusalem or in more distant parts of Judea /Palestine. Finally, the time range of each lamp type has been correlated with successive phases of Khirbet Qumran occupation.

I also addressed the questions of how many workshops supplied Qumran with lamps and where they were located. A macroscopic examination of the lamps enabled me to distinguish several groups of fabrics and different types of surface treatment suggestive of different workshops. These divisions have been challenged by the results of recent physico-chemical analyses attesting to the use of different clay sources (chemical groups of J. Gunneweg and M. Balla) as well as different types of fabric preparation (petrographic groups of J. Michniewicz). The suggested clay sources would have been in Qumran itself as well as in the vicinity of Jericho, Jerusalem and perhaps Hebron (one should remember, however, that a workshop situated in one place might have had good clay delivered from elsewhere).

The sheer fact that in Qumran the wheel-made lamps greatly outnumber the mould-made ones (174 versus 23) suggests that the latter were not made in the local workshop(s). Indeed, most of them are closely paralleled by the finds from Jerusalem in a series of types covering the Hasmonean and Herodian periods until 70 CE. Wheel-made lamps consist mostly of two major groups, each made up of several minor types. One group (39 items) is the so-called “Qumran lamps,” the distribution of which in the region proves that they were manufactured in Qumran; their contexts point to a Late Hasmonean date. Another group (127 items) is comprised of the “Herodian” (“knife-pared”) lamps, a 1st century CE type common in Judea, but in smaller numbers present also elsewhere in Palestine, probably made for the observant Jewish population. The “Herodian” lamps plus other types represented at Qumran suggest that the Qumran society was conservative, since all the lamp types are Judean, with the exception of just two Italian-type lamp fragments pertaining to the period when the site was garrisoned by the Romans. On the other hand, a number of lamp-making centers tentatively identified among the Qumran lamps (not only local lamps, but also the products of Jericho, Jerusalem and possibly Hebron) prove that the site was not isolated, i.e., it maintained trade and/or personal contacts with the above-mentioned localities.


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