Facts About LMLK Jars & Handles

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Note:  The information on this page refers to the most common type of LMLK jar known as Type 484.  Click here for information about the less common type known as pithoi.


The technical name for these relatively well-fired, ovoid jars with plain-sloping necks & rounded bottoms is Type 484 (of Class S.7a designated by Olga Tufnell after they were excavated from Lachish; Type 180 by Aharoni, Group IIIA by Zimhoni, Type 4A by Gitin; see Gitin's revised typology in separate section below).  When struck, they produce a metallic sound.  Their composition is fine dolomite clay with some calcite & limestone temper producing a colored external layer with a gray core (sprinkled with mostly white but sometimes black grits).  Here is a list of adjectives used to describe the jar colors resulting from their iron content:
  • brick red
  • brick red to buff
  • brownish
  • brownish buff
  • buff
  • creamy buff
  • dark gray
  • grayish buff
  • light orange-buff
  • light reddish brown
  • light reddish buff
  • orange
  • orange to red
  • pinkish buff
  • pinkish to reddish buff
  • reddish
  • reddish buff
  • reddish to grayish buff
Palestinian pottery was unglazed, but slip (essentially the same clay, but finely levigated, used in making the jar body & handles) was applied during the leather-hard stage (when the clay's water content had reduced from about 50% down to about 10%) to reduce the ware's porosity; this & the chemical content, preparation climate, firing temperature, kiln air currents, kiln atmosphere, & general technique/workmanship all contributed to variegated appearances (a terrific example is Jar G849A3 from Rimmon).  When examining the cross-sections of handles, distinct layers can be seen (referred to as interior & exterior "zones" by Rosettes expert, Jane Cahill).  Depending on the amount & application of slip, the internal ware layer retains its original orange color & the external layer is more brown; in some cases, the same gray coloring of the core dominates the surface (interior &/or exterior).  LMLK jar handle fragments can be categorized in 10 distinct varieties of appearances based on the clay layer cross-sections:
  1. Type ACC (additional external layer, colored core, colored internal layer)

  2. Type AGA (additional external layer, gray core, additional internal layer)

  3. Type AGC (additional external layer, gray core, colored internal layer)

  4. Type AGG (additional external layer, gray core, gray internal surface)

  5. Type PPP (temporary designation for LMLK pithos handles until more photos become available)

  6. Type SCC (single external layer, colored core, colored internal surface)

  7. Note by Bliss in PEQ vol. 32, July 1900, p. 213:  "One specimen from Tell ej-Judeideh & one from Tell es-Safi show a red colour all through the section of fracture, but the clay appears to be the same as in the other handles, & the red colour inside probably means that these 2 specimens had been subjected to the severest firing."

  8. Type SCG (single external layer, colored core, gray internal surface)

  9. Type SGA (single external layer, gray core, additional internal layer)

  10. Type SGC (single external layer, gray core, colored internal layer)

  11. Type SGG (single external layer, gray core, gray internal surface)

  12. Type WPP (temporary designation for whitewashed LMLK pithos-ware handles until more photos become available)
Some LMLK handles have been described as having "white wash" but not all archaeology reports are accurate on this matter.  Slip is applied prior to firing & wash is applied after firing.  Washed ware is generally regarded as a cheap method of decoration since it can easily be removed by handling or moisture; although one example excavated from Gibeon (Field # 542) was white-washed over the jar body but the handles remained bare (red in color for an artistic effect).  Some handles are coated with a white patina resulting from chemical reactions over a long period of time; this can easily be distinguished from slip since the same patina seen on the external surface of the handle appears on the side covering the broken/fragmented cross-section, which can be gently scraped away to reveal the true color of the core.  Redondo Beach #5 is an excellent example of a handle with white patina but no slip layer.  If it were soaked in water & cleaned, it would have same appearance as Redondo Beach #3.

Occasionally a broken Type 484 handle will reveal a hollow channel, which was formed as the potter folded the clay, possibly not squeezing it hard enough, or possibly squeezing it over some organic material that disintegrated during the firing process.  The best example is Welch #134.

Note:  Chemical analyses of LMLK jars indicate that Type 484 jars were manufactured with clay from a single location or limited to the Shephelah region.

Cartoon courtesy of "Good News Bible:  The Bible in Today's English Version" by the American Bible Society


At least 14 mostly complete, albeit broken, jars with LMLK impressions have been published, & links to separate pages of photos/info are listed below.  Summary of stamped handles per 4-handled jar:
  • 1/4:  2 (possibly 5); H4C, H4L
  • 2/4:  3 (possibly 6); S2U, x2x, H4L
  • 3/4:  0
  • 4/4:  6; G2T, H4C, H4L, S4L

  • Note:  Some scholars have remarked that all possible combinations of stamped jars have been found, but actually, the Tel 'Erani jar might have originally had all 4 stamped.

Click here for information about Handle Matching to assist in jar restoration projects.

Note:  The Pithos drawing is based on an illustration of an unstamped pithos jar excavated near the place where a LMLK pithos handle was found (1973, "Beer-Sheba I", Plate 65:12); the Type 484 drawing is based on a photo of Lachish jar ID# 5461 (1942, "Kedem"); the Type 467 drawing is based on an illustration of an unstamped jar from Lachish (ID# 10373/3) classified by Orna Zimhoni as Group IIIC (1990, TA vol. 17 #1); all 3 are accurately scaled relative to each other.


*APPROXIMATE* measurements of the fragments conforming to Type 484 jars:
  • Oval seal depression:  34 x 24mm (1.3" x 0.9")
  • Handle cross-section:  30-40 x 10-20mm (1 1/8"-1 5/8" x 3/8"-7/8")
  • Handle radius from the jar to the center of the handle:  40mm (1 5/8")
  • Center-to-center from the points where the handle joins the jar:  70mm (2 3/4")
  • Jar thickness:  3-9mm (6mm typical)
  • Approximate jar height:  550-700mm
  • Approximate maximum jar diameter:  400mm
  • Approximate jar opening diameter:  100mm
  • Approximate maximum jar volume:  40-52 litres (9-14 gallons)

  • Note:  It is safe to assume that these jars were designed to contain an even measurement of either 1 bath (~40 litres or 9 gallons (1 British imperial gallon = 4.546 litres)) or 2 baths (based on a smaller Judean jar (about half the volume of a LMLK jar) inscribed "BT LMLK" (click for details)) depending on which interpretation of ancient baths you use.  (Also see the incised oil jar page.)


In "The lmlk Jar-Form Redefined:  A New Class of Iron Age II Oval-Shaped Storage Jar" (a chapter within "'I Will Speak the Riddle of Ancient Times':  Archaeological & Historical Studies in Honor of Amihai Mazar on the Occasion of His Sixtieth Birthday" edited by A. M. Maeir & P. de Miroschedji, 2006), Seymour Gitin proposed the following system of classifying not only jars bearing LMLK stamps, but also Rosette stamps, with 4 handles or only 2, & unstamped jars of similar shape found in earlier strata (known as "Pre-LMLK" jars):

Type Century Handles Stamps General Features
(not necessarily common to all specimens; some anomalies exist)
PSJO 1 10th 4 none lacks wide shoulder; wide & slightly angled neck; simple rounded rim; plain/unribbed handles; non-metallic ware
PSJO 1.1 10th to 8th 4 none ribbed handles
SJO 1 9th to 8th 4 none wide shoulder; mostly non-metallic ware
SJO 1.1 mid to late 8th 4 none slightly shorter neck; metallic ware
SJO 2 9th to late 7th 4 none more exaggerated oval shape than SJO 1; broad should & higher/rounder arch; slightly narrower/truncated neck, more inverted with a somewhat bulbous rim
SJO 2.1 8th to 7th 4 none almost neckless
PSJO 3 9th to 8th 4 none (no description given by Gitin)
SJO 3 mid-late 8th 4 H4L & Z4L (Timnah Jar 7358) neck is narrower than SJO 2 & inverted; rim is everted or slightly externally-thickened
SJO 3.1 mid-late 8th 4 none thickened rim
SJO 3.2 late 8th 4 none slightly everted rim
SJO 3.3 late 7th 4 none externally profiled rim
SJO 4 9th to mid 7th 4 H4C & x2U+Personal widest point is closer to the top where the handle attaches; shorter/narrower neck, not inverted or truncated, but vertical, or slightly rounded outwards, or slightly inwardly inclined; slightly externally thickened rim; metallic ware
SJO 5 mid 7th to early 6th 4 S4L & Rosettes (III.A.12) shoulder's widest point appears at the top of the handle; somewhat narrowed oval shape, more slender body form, decreased width at the point where the handle's top attached to the shoulder's widest part; neck is narrower, but shorter & outwardly curved or inclined
PSJO 6 10th to 9th (?; rim only) none (no description given by Gitin)
SJO 6 9th to 8th 2 none widest point is where the lower part of the handles attach; wide & slightly angled neck; simple rounded rim like SJO 1
SJO 6.1 early to mid 8th 2 none more oval-shaped body; narrower, almost-vertical neck; everted bulbous rim
SJO 6.2 mid 8th 2 none inverted neck; simple, rounded rim
SJO 6.3 mid 8th 2 none widest diameter where handle's top meets shoulder; wide, inverted neck; everted bulbous rim like SJO 3
SJO 6.4 late 8th 2 none resembles SJO 2; truncated neck; slightly bulbous rim
SJO 7 8th to 7th 2 none turned/sharp shoulder, not rounded/arched; truncated, slightly bulbous rim
SJO 7.1 late 8th 2 none short, truncated inverted rim

Note that Gitin presented the above classification as a preliminary analysis, recommending further quantitative research.  Currently there are too many stratigraphical crossovers at sites where they have been excavated, & too many anomalies among the 5 major features he described:

  1. Shoulder Width
  2. Widest Point Location
  3. Neck Shape
  4. Rim Shape
  5. Fabric/ware

Note that the SJO 5 spans the "mid 7th to early 6th" century per Gitin's examples, but Gitin lists the Timnah S4L specimen as "late 7th".  This is misleading because it was found just above the Assyrian destruction layer, so any time in the 7th century would be feasible.  Also note that this particular specimen is a strange anomaly (the only one known) of a LMLK handle stamped not by a LMLK seal, but by another LMLK handle.


The impressions were made at varying orientations with respect to the jar's body, & some handles contain multiple impressions at diverse orientations.  Bear in mind that these round-bottomed jars may have been upside-down when the handles were sealed making it awkward for the person doing the stamping to see the impression.  The classification system within this website uses the numbers on the face of a clock to denote the approximate position of the jar's body with respect to the impression when reading the inscription:

    11:00   1:00    
  10:00       2:00  
9:00     LMLK     3:00
  8:00       4:00  
    7:00   5:00    

Another system from the opposite perspective, developed by Gabriel Barkay & used by him in "Jewish Quarter Excavations vol. 1", utilizes 8 arrows pointing in the direction the inscription would read (in Hebrew from right to left) if you were looking at the handle while it was attached to the jar in an upright position.  So a cross-reference to the website's clock-dial orientation would be:

v = 3:00
> = 6:00
^ = 9:00
< = 12:00

His system also has 4 diagonal arrows that would correspond to 1:30, 4:30, 7:30, & 10:30, but half-hour designations are not used in the system on this website.


Some attempts have been made to classify the handles by their ridges or formed contours; however, they are avoided within this website since there are so few pictures available & the ones that are available demonstrate that the potters were not consistent like modern machines in their manufacturing process.  Here are six samples that illustrate the diverse styles:


Type 484 jars are fairly light & easy to manage when empty; when filled with liquid such as wine or oil, they typically weigh over 50 pounds (e.g., 10 gallons of water weighs about 80 pounds).  They were not as easily handled as modern, plastic, 5-gallon jugs with leak-proof lids:
  • Carrying:  It's not likely that 2 people would have carried the jars by their 4 handles because of their being evenly spaced instead of adjacent pairs, & the handles are too small for an entire hand to fit through (see photos below showing adult fingers in handle); probably one strong man lifted the filled jar from a squatting position by wrapping his arms around the body & carrying it a short distance (e.g., from a delivery cart to a storage room).  When full, the handles could have been used to tie multiple jars together with ropes for stability (on a cart or in a ship); when empty, similar ropes could have connected the jars so one person could carry several.
  • Emptying:  Portions were probably extracted through the wide opening with a long-handled ladle, & the rounded bottom of the jar made it easy to dip out the greatest amount before it became necessary/possible to lift the jar & pour out the remainder; pouring from a full (or even half-full) jar could not be done in a controlled manner & would cause the contents to gush out like a waterfall.  Note--A few restored Type 484 jars have a manufactured hole near the bottom that could allow non-liquid contents such as grain to be vended if the jar were stored above ground.

  • Recycling:  It's easy to imagine unmarked Type 484 jars being sent back for refills similar to the way bottled water is nowadays; if marked (i.e., royal) jars were recycled, that may explain the mixed assortment of seal types excavated from the same location, & may also explain the innovation of incised circles (if indeed the cancellation theory is true--refer to the Circles section of the Theories page).

  • Seepage:  As noted in the Composition section above, slip was commonly (but inconsistently & unevenly) applied to Type 484 jars to reduce seepage, but liquids such as wine & oil contain solid particles that eventually build up & prevent any significant loss of content.

  • Stopping:  Several stoppers of 2 distinct types have been found near the jar fragments.  One was a lump of clay placed over a leaf fitted so as to overlap the jar mouth, thereby forming an airtight seal that had to be broken to access the contents.  Another was carved to fit like a cork, which could be removed/replaced whenever necessary, but would have been susceptible to spilling during bumpy transport; strings may have been tied through the handles to hold this form of stopper in place, thereby explaining why the handles were not designed for adult-sized hands.

  • Temperature Control:  They were probably semi-buried up to their handles & then filled like miniature reservoirs; the cool earth or sand helped preserve their contents by protecting it from temperature extremes during the day & preventing condensation.

  • Transporting:  If they were filled & then transported, the delivery carts may have been partially filled with cushioning material (e.g., soil, sand, bundled cloth) for the same quality control purpose but also to protect the jars during the bumpy journey.  To date, there is no evidence that LMLK jars were ever transported by ship.

"Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor & another for dishonor?"--Romans 9:21
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This page was created on January 19, 2002, & last updated on March 14, 2011