Forgotten Archive

A collection of over a thousand clay bullas from the second and third centuries BCE has been discovered at Tel Maresha (part of Beth Guvrin National Park). These document seals came to light through the “dig for a day” project run by Archaeological Seminars and Hebrew Union College.

Bullas were impressed with an identifying mark, which, if intact, indicated that the documents they sealed hadn’t been tampered with. Though said papyruses rarely survived antiquity, their seals remain. Since they’re made of unfired clay, however, their state of preservation leaves much to be desired.

In keeping with Idumean pagan culture and the Hellenist period, many bullas found at Tel Maresha are stamped with images of Athena, Aphrodite, or Apollo. Others feature cornucopias, animals, or erotic scenes.

As the entire collection was found in one room in Maresha, Dr. Donald T. Ariel of the Israel Antiquities Authority characterized the bullas as the remains of

[…] a large, private archive, perhaps belonging to a wealthy landowner. It seems to have been abandoned abruptly, a particularly interesting fact in view of written records of the time, which describe the conquest of the Idumeans living here by John Hyrcanus the Hasmonean, who forced them to convert.

Evidently, some prominent locals quickly skipped town to avoid circumcision, leaving their archive for posterity.