Frescoes in Herod’s Masada palaceCredit: באדיבות משלחת החפ

“Until a few years ago, we knew of no alabaster quarries in Israel and in Egypt there’s a ton,” Amir says. “So there had been a clear understanding that anything made of alabaster calcite had to have been imported from Egypt.” In fact, this importation of alabaster from Egypt began all the way back in the Bronze Age, she says; and it influenced the local alabaster plaster industry.

Yet in recent years, two quarries for calcite alabaster have been found, one in Te’omim Cave and the other in Abud Cave, both in central Israel, not far from Beit Shemesh. Thus the question arose: was Herod importing alabaster from Egypt, or using the local stone? Was the local rock even fine enough for his discriminating taste? In short: Was the assumption that he imported it from Egypt correct?

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