Biblical Archaeology Review 36:4, July/August 2010

Strata: What Is It?

A. Socket and pivot from a Canaanite gate

B. Herodian lazy Susan

C. Israelite potter’s wheel

D. Egyptian mortar and pestle

E. Assyrian wine goblets

Answer: C) Israelite potter’s wheel

This pair of stone objects dating to the Iron Age (1200–586 B.C.E.) functioned together as an Israelite potter’s wheel. The upper stone, with its conical projection, fit snuggly into the socket of the lower, heavier base stone. When both the pivot and socket were lubricated, the upper stone could be easily and quickly rotated on the base, thereby allowing a piece of pottery to be formed or “thrown” on the flat, smoothed face of the upper stone.

The potter’s wheel not only allowed ceramic vessels to be crafted more easily and quickly than when molded by hand, but it also meant that potters could fashion their wares in a far greater array of forms, sizes and thicknesses. In ancient Israel, a vivid awareness of the potter’s craft and the all-important wheel is found in Jeremiah, when Yahweh commands the prophet to go down to the potter’s house to receive his message. And so Jeremiah reports: “So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him” (Jeremiah 18:3–4).

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