Limestone ossuary

Roman/Jewish, 1st century AD
From Jerusalem

Perhaps a representation of the Temple of Jerusalem

This limestone chest was used to hold the bones of a dead person or family which had been gathered together after burial in the soil, when the flesh had decomposed. The elaborate decoration may imitate a well-known building, possibly the Temple in Jerusalem started by Herod the Great and completed in AD 64.

The practice of family burial required secondary interment, that is the gathering of bones to make room for a new generation of deceased family members. Burials were usually first made in pits but the wealthy cut a tomb cave.

Herod was appointed king of Judaea by the Roman Senate in 45 BC. Under his rule Jerusalem was rebuilt and the Temple was completely remodelled. Soon after Herod died in 4 BC Judaea became a province of the Roman empire administered by procurators. Power shifted between direct Roman control and Roman recognition of Herod's successors as king. In AD 66, however, the Jews revolted. The revolt was crushed only after four years of bitter conflict. Jerusalem was besieged and subsequently the city, including the Temple, was destroyed.

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More information


J.N. Tubb, Canaanites (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)


Length: 42.500 cm (including lid)
Width: 78.000 cm

Museum number

ME 126392


Gift of the Palestine Exploration Fund


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