A magnificent altar dating to the Roman period (First-Second centuries CE) made of granite and adorned with bulls' heads and laurel wreaths was discovered last week in excavations around the Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The altar was found in the middle of an ancient burial field.
According to Dr. Yigal Israel, Ashkelon District Archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "The discovery further corroborates the assertion that we are dealing with a pagan cemetery. It is an impressive find that has survived 2,000 years. The altar is ca. 60 centimeters tall and it is decorated with bulls' heads from which dangle laurel wreaths. There is a floral element in the center of each wreath and a decorative band on each bull's head. The laurel wreaths are also decorated with grape clusters and leaves. This kind of altar is known as an "incense altar." Such altars usually stood in Roman temples and visitors to the temple used to burn incense on them, particularly myrrh and frankincense, while praying to their idols. We can still see the burnt marks on the altar. The altar was probably donated by a family who brought it to the cemetery from the city of Ashkelon."
During the archaeological supervision of the development work for a new fortified emergency room at the Barzilai Hospital, a number of Roman period burial structures which served as family tombs, as well as cyst tombs that were used for interring bodies were discovered.
In addition, a large limestone sarcophagus with a decorated lid was found. The sarcophagus is ca. 80 centimeters high, 60 centimeters wide and about 2 meters long. The part of the stone in the sarcophagus in the spot where the head of the deceased was placed was carved to create a pillow like shape.
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