1,700-Year-Old ‘Curse’ Found on a Lead Tablet Under…a Parking Lot

Archaeologists excavating under a parking lot in Jerusalem have discovered a 1,700-year-old curse inscribed on a lead tablet most likely written by a professional sorcerer or wizard casting a spell, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced.

Researchers discovered the tablet inside the room of “an enormous” Roman-era mansion from the 3rd century A.D. being excavated over the past few years.

This lead tablet was inscribed with a curse likely written by a professional sorcerer, the Israel Antiquities Authority says (Photo: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

The excavation is underway in the “City of David,” the oldest settled area of Jerusalem, inhabited for 6,000 years which is also the neighborhood where King David built his palace.

“I strike and strike down and nail down the tongue, the eyes, the wrath, the ire, the anger, the procrastination, the opposition of Iennys” is one quote that was found on the “curse tablet” written by an ancient inhabitant named “Kyrilla,” according to Dr. Robert Daniel of the University of Cologne in Germany who deciphered the text.

Daniel noted that the curse aimed at a man named Iennys was written in cursive by a professional sorcerer hired by a woman named Kyrilla.

Researchers posit that the two were likely engaged in a legal dispute. “To this end she calls upon the help of the gods of the underworld, among them Pluto, Hermes Persephone, and even the Mesopotamian goddess Ereshkigal is asked to assist,” explains the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“What we have here might be a metaphorical description of actions taken by Kyrilla designed to gain control over her legal opponent. At the same time we cannot rule out the possibility that writing the text on the tablet was literally accompanied by Kyrilla striking the image of Iennys with a hammer and nails in a kind of ancient voodoo ritual,” IAA writes.

When it was unearthed, the tablet was tightly rolled up, resembling “a small narrow pipe,” according to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

Conservator Lena Kupershmidt toiled for days to unroll it. “She needed much patience and nerves of steel to open the lead tablet because any attempt to do so quickly might have caused permanent damage to the inscription,” the authority reported.

Her work paid off, as the inside was in excellent condition with the Greek inscription covering entirely one of the sides of the tablet plus a section of the other side.

Archaeologists excavated other artifacts in the mansion, including a gem of Cupid holding a torch (Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority via Live Science)

The building in which the tablet was discovered was destroyed in an earthquake in 363.

Kyrilla likely hid the tablet with the spell inscribed in a place associated with Iennys, presumably with the belief that proximity would increase its efficacy.

Researchers believe that Kyrilla hid the tablet shortly before the earthquake, after which the building was abandoned. The proximity of planting the curse and the earthquake that followed was likely an eerie experience.

“Besides the lead tablet, the finds include a large amount of roof tiles stamped with the impression of the Tenth Legion that was garrisoned in the city following its destruction in 70 CE [A.D.], bone and ivory objects, ceramic figurines and other finds attesting to the rich material culture of the structure’s inhabitants,” said excavation directors Dr. Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets in a statement.