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Ancient kosher 'bread stamp' found near Akko

Archaeologists have unearthed a sixth-century C.E. clay bread stamp in excavations near Acre bearing a seven-branched candelabrum. The clearly Jewish symbol on a stamp of this type, used to identify the bakery from which baked goods came, is very rare in this period, in which Christians ruled the country and stamps more frequently bore crosses. 

Kosher bread stamp [Credit: Danny Syon, Israel Antiquities Authority]
The stamp was found at Horbat Uza, east of Acre, during excavations prior to the laying of railroad tracks from Acre east to the city of Carmiel.  

Dr. Danny Syon, who is excavating the site together with Gilad Jaffe, said it was the first time such a stamp has been uncovered in a controlled archaeological excavation, and the origin and date of manufacture can be determined. 

"The importance of the find is that it proves the existence of a Jewish community at Horbat Uza during the Christian Byzantine period," he said. 

The presence of a Jewish community so close to the Christian center of Acre was also new to scholars, Syon said. 

Because it was so close to Acre, the excavators said a bakery at the site probably produced baked goods for Jews who lived in Acre during the Byzantine period. 

General view of the excavation [Credit: Sky View Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority]
The seven-branched candelabrum, or menorah, appearing on the stamp stands on a narrow base and has a a horizontal line above its branches. Greek letters appear on the stamp's handle, which, according to inscriptions expert Dr. Leah Di Segni, spell the name Leontius. 

The name was common among Jews at the time, and is known from another Jewish bread stamp of unknown provenance. 

Dr. David Amit, of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and who studies bread stamps, said the menorah was likely a mass-produced symbol for bakers. 

"A potter engraved the menorah image in the surface of the stamp prior to firing it in a kiln, whereas the owner's name was engraved in the stamp's handle after firing," he said. "Hence we can assume that a series of stamps bearing the menorah symbol were produced for Jewish bakers, and each of these bakers carved his name on the handle, which also served as a stamp. Thus the bread could be doubly stamped before baking, with a menorah - a general Jewish identifying symbol, and the name of the baker, which added to its kosher credibility."  

Author: Jack Khoury | Source: Haaretz [January 11, 2012]

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