In the Iron Age 1 vessels were customary marked using a method the nature of which is insufficiently clear. The marking appeared on the handles and rims of vessels, most of which are closed, such as pithoi, jars and jugs. The impressions were made with a stick or reed that was used to penetrate the clay while it was still soft; creating a deep impression/perforation or incised vertical line. An examination that was conducted has shown that the impressions appear mainly on the handles of jugs and jars. The main distribution of the impressions occurred from the end of the 13th century to the 11th century BCE in the area of the tribes of the House of Joseph (Ephraim and the western half of the Menashe). More than one hundred sites have been located within this region; most of which were documented in surveys where the impression was found. Two sites that are key to understanding the impression are ‘Ebal and Shiloh.
Its main concentration, near the inner valleys, indicates that the first impressions should be attributed to the area north of the Central Highlands. We presume the vessels were distributed from this region to the rest of the country. The southern border of the impression also denotes in our opinion the southern border of Menashe; when Ephraim departed to the south it took the impression with it to the central highlands and to its south.
In the 10th century BCE, probably in the wake of the establishment of the United Kingdom, the number of impressions decreases; they become rarer and rarer, until they finally disappear at the end of the 8th or the beginning of the 7th century BCE, perhaps following the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel. Throughout this entire period the impressions appear in the Kingdom of Israel, with only isolated instances of them occurring within the domain of the Kingdom of Judah.
As mentioned, the impressions are commonly found in the central highlands, mainly at two key sites whose activity is known from the Bible: ‘Ebal and Shiloh. The extensive distribution in the highlands, as opposed to other parts of the country, suggests the existence of some sort of a regional social mechanism during this period that is manifested materially by the making of impressions on pottery vessels. It is difficult to know at this point its origins and essence but we presume it was connected with the tribal alliance that was formed amongst the inhabitants of the highlands.
From the finds at Shiloh it is indeed difficult to resolve the question if we are dealing with an economic or religious element, but the finds at ‘Ebal can certainly reinforce in our opinion, its cultic significance. Nevertheless, the last word has not been said regarding the meaning of the impression.