Funerary contexts

The excavations at Ugarit began in 1928 with the chance discovery of a vaulted funerary cellar in Minet el-Beida. Six additional tombs were investigated soon afterwards, while recently such a tomb has been excavated, which, as yet, remains unpublished.118 At Ras Shamra, there were probably more than two hundred of such tombs; many of which remain unpublished.119 At both sites, these tombs are situated below the buildings. Schaeffer suspected that each house in Ras Shamra possessed its own tomb.120 Recent research, however, has shown that many houses did not have a funerary cellar, especially in the latest phase of Ugarit, while some tombs cannot be associated with a single structure.121 Moreover, most tombs seem to have had independent access from the outside. The relationship between the deceased in the tombs and the houses to which they belong architecturally, therefore, is not altogether clear. In addition, the tombs at Ugarit were used for many generations.

It is a premise of funerary analysis that the social life of deceased persons is reflected and reinterpreted in mortuary practices, which can be recognised in the archaeological record of the burial.122 For the reasons outlined above, however, it is impossible to determine whether the vaulted tombs of Ras Shamra and Minet el-Beida are related to one family or to a wider social group. Moreover, the long use of the cellars makes it impossible to assess which items of the tomb's inventory were part of one and the same funerary ceremony. Finally, all but two tombs have been pillaged, which complicates matters even further.123

Table III in the tables section of this book lists all the tombs in Ras Shamra and Minet el-Beida from which Mycenaean pottery has been published. These tombs can be analysed on a number of points. First, the amount of Mycenaean pottery in the tombs will be discussed. This will reveal the extent to which Mycenaean ceramics were considered appropriate as a funerary gift. Moreover, it may show differences among tombs in this respect. Secondly, the variety of Aegean pot shapes will be reviewed, in order to see if specific vessel types were popular in funerary ceremonies. Finally, the variety of the tomb inventories associated with the Mycenaean pottery will be considered. This may establish whether differences in the repertoire of the Aegean ceramics among tombs can be related to the rest of the inventory.

117 The two pictorial rhyta found together in room BD of the Maison d'Albâtres and the two hedgehog rhyta in the Maison au frittes may be exceptions to this pattern.

However, as all these vessels concern rhyta, it is more likely that their shape is responsible for the particulari-


18 Courtois 1979a, 1283-1287; Saadé 1995; Yon 2000, 3.

19 Marchegay 1999.

20 Schaeffer 1939a, 30; see, also, Courtois 1968, 20.

21 Salles 1987, 159-160; Callot 1994, 168-169, 175-176.

22 Binford 1971; Hodder 1982b, 141-146.

23 In the Ville Basse tomb 13 was found undisturbed; see

Thirthy-eight graves with Mycenaean pottery are mentioned in Table III. All but two - a burial in the royal palace and an enchytrismos from the eastern end of the site - concern vaulted tombs. In Minet el-Beida a total of seven such tombs have been excavated.124 Of these, tomb I certainly contained Mycenaean pottery, as it was this grave which led to the beginning of archaeological research at Ugarit. However, as none of the finds of tomb I have been published, they are absent from the catalogue. No Mycenaean pottery has been reported from tomb II and tomb VII. Likewise, not all funerary cellars at Ras Shamra, contained Mycenaean ceramics.125 From the hundreds of tombs identified at Ras Shamra, only from some forty have finds been published. Among them, thirty-two tombs contained Mycenaean pottery, which indicates that in a majority of cases this material was part of the funerary inventory.

There are substantial differences between the tombs in the quantities of Mycenaean pottery that have been reported. It is clear that not all the material from some tombs has been published.126 The pillaging of the tombs may also have resulted in the loss of Mycenaean ceramics. Of the two tombs that have been found intact, tomb 13 in the Ville Basse produced six Aegean specimens, while tomb 4253 yielded two Mycenaean pots. These figures show that the numbers listed for most funerary cellars are not unrealistic: with the exception of tombs III, IV, V and VI in Minet el-Beida and tomb 2698 in the Ville Sud, the figures for most burials lie between one and eight Mycenaean pots. Considering the long time in which these tombs could be used and the number of burials,127 these figures indicate that, in general, Mycenaean pottery was only a minor item used during the funerary ceremonies.

Five tombs deviate from this pattern. In Minet el-Beida tomb III has produced eighteen pieces of Aegean ceramics, while from tomb IV nineteen, from tomb V fifteen and from tomb VI forty-three specimens of Aegean pottery have been published. At Ras Shamra, tomb 2698 in the Ville Sud has produced twenty-one Mycenaean vessels. The tombs at Minet el-Beida are exceptionally large in comparison with those at Ras Shamra and contained a rich and varied inventory.128 Nevertheless, it is clear that in these five tombs the associations with the Aegean are particularly strong.

Table V in the tables section lists the vessel shapes that occur in the tombs of Ugarit. The first observation to be made on the basis of this table, is that, in contrast with the general pattern at Ras Shamra and Minet el-Beida, storage vessels are more abundant in tombs than dinner vessels. This pattern is not completely consistent for all tombs: from seven burials more dinner than storage vessels have been published, while in six cases the proportions are equal.129 The predominance of storage vessels is al-

Schaeffer 1936b, 140-142, while in the Ville Sud tomb 4253 was intact; see L. Courtois, 1969, 120-137.

125 Such is the case for the Late Bronze Age tomb in the Centre Ville; see Yon, Caubet, Mallet 1982, 179. Tombs 22 and 28 at the Ville Basse contained local and Cypriot, but no Aegean, pottery; see Schaeffer 1949, 162-163. From three tombs only local imitations of Mycenaean pottery have been reported; see Monchambert 1983, 36-37: no. 3, Margueron 1977, 178 (tomb at A6dNO); Courtois & Courtois 1978, 358: no. 1 (tomb 10), Schaeffer 1938, 319, Fig. 47

126 Tomb VI in Minet el-Beida contained 282 Mycenaean pots and 35 Mycenaean figurines; see Courtois 1979a, 1283. However, only thirty-eight vessels and four figurines have been published.

127 In tomb 13 the remains of 44 individuals were recognised; see Vallois & Ferembach 1962, 566

128 Courtois 1979a, cols. 1283-1284.

129 In tombs III and V from Minet el-Beida, as well as in tombs 1 and 5 or 6 in RS Acr., tomb 37 in RS Ch. C, tomb 4642 in RS QR and tomb 30 in RS VB, dinner vessels occur more often than storage vessels. Tombs 2,

Fig. 5.10 Selections of Syrian, Cypriot and Mycenaean pottery from tomb 37 in the Chantier C — After Schaeffer 1949, 171 fig. 67

most entirely due to the number of stirrup jars found in tombs. These figures indicate that stirrup jars as a class, apparantly, were popular in funerary ceremonies.

Another vessel type which often has a funerary context are bowls.130 More than half of all Mycenaean bowls at at Minet el-Beida and Ras Shamra come from a tomb, which suggests that fu-

4, 29 (RS Acr.), tomb 23 (RS Ch. C), tomb 4642 (RS QR) and tomb 449 (RS SA) each have produced one specimen of either category. These deviations from the general pattern for tombs are slight and too random to represent a difference in funerary practices. They might, in fact, to a large extent be caused by circumstances of recovery and publication.

130 The largest class within this group are shallow bowls (FS 295-296): which occur 24 times in tombs. The other bowls are deep bowls (FS 284-285), which occur nerary use was an important function for this dinner vessel. The same may be said for cups, of which twenty out of a total of thirty-two specimens in Ras Shamra and Minet el-Beida have a funerary context.131 In the case of kraters, however, which also often occur in a funerary context, a larger amount has been found outside tombs,132 as is the case for piriform jars.133

Mycenaean pictorial vessels are not very common in the tombs at Ugarit. As is clear from Table 5.10, only a minority of this type of vases have been found in a funerary context. The large number of pictorial finds without a known context does argue for some caution, however. Only nine tombs listed in Table V have yielded Mycenaean pictorial pots, among which were kraters, bowls and a stemmed cup.134 The nine tombs are situated in various areas of Ras Shamra and Minet el-Beida and only three tombs have produced more than one Mycenaean pot with pictorial decoration: tombs IV and VI in Minet el-Beida and tomb 2698 in the RS VB.135 Each of these tombs has produced many Mycenaean pots in general and the presence of pictorial pots probably is a result of an accumulation of Mycenaean vessels. All this indicates that the pictorial decoration of Mycenaean pots does not seem to have been of consequence for their use in funerary practices.136

There is clearly a pattern in the occurrence of the different Aegean vessel types in tombs. The pot shapes which have a high frequency in funerary contexts occur in the majority of tombs. Even vessel types that are not very current in this type of context appear in more than one funerary cellar.137 This relative homogeneity in the presence of Aegean pot shapes in the tombs suggests that various groups in the society at Ugarit used the same type of Mycenaean pots in their funerary practices. Figurines show an exception to this pattern, as they occur in only four funerary cellars: tombs III, IV and VI in Minet el-Beida and tomb 81 in the Ville Basse. Moreover, in these four cases, figurines are relatively abundant in comparison with the various Mycenaean vessel types.138 It appears, therefore, as if twice in a funerary context, as do one-handled bowls (FS 244); one round-bottomed bowl (cat. no. 103) is present in tomb 30 in RS VB.

131 Both examples of the carinated conical cup (FS 230) occur in tombs. This is also the case for the single specimens of the spouted cup, the one-handled cup and the hand made cup. Of the shallow cup (FS 220), however, only eight of the nineteen are from a funerary context.

132 Of the seventy-five amphoroid kraters (FS 53-55) thirteen have been found in tombs. Of the six ring-based kraters (FS 281) this is the case for two specimens. A total of twenty sherds could not be assigned to either class of kraters; of these only one has been found in a tomb.

133 A total of thirty-two piriform jars (FS 35-36, FS 4448) have been found at these sites; sixteen have been attested in a funerary context.

134 Tombs IV and VI in Minet el-Beida, tombs 1 and 4 on the Acropole, tomb 4642 in RS QR, tomb 78 in the Ville Basse, tomb 449 in the RS SA, tomb 2698 in RS VS and the tomb of RS SW.

135 Tomb IV included an amphoroid krater sherd showing a man and horse (cat. no. 27), as well as a shallow bowl decorated with fish (cat. no. 17). Tomb VI included a chariot krater (cat. no. 80) and two shallow bowls, one of which showed a bull (cat. no. 53), while another showed a bird (cat. no. 60). Tomb 2698 produced two amphoroid kraters decorated with birds (cat. nos. 375, 398).

136 It has been suggested that Mycenaean pictorial pots were produced specifically to be included in funerary practices in the eastern Mediterranean; see Dikaios 1969, 249; Vermeule & Karageorghis 1982, 8; Keswani 1989b, 58-69. The evidence from Ugarit, does not support such a hypothesis.

137 The lid (cat. no. 50) and the part of a ring kernos (cat. no. 178), which are unique in the tombs, are, of course, exceptions to this pattern.

138 In the case of tomb VI in Minet el-Beida, only five of the thirty-five Mycenaean figurines found have been published; see Courtois 1979a, 1283. It is possible that a similar situation exists for the other tombs in the harbour town.

Mycenaean figurines played a special role in the funerary ceremonies for the owners of these four tombs.

The fact that virtually all the funerary cellars in Ugarit and its harbour town have been pillaged makes it impossible to analyse the tombs in terms of their wealth in finds. The fragmentary and selective publication of the funerary inventories, likewise, prevents any classification according to their wealth. What is certain is that the presence of Mycenaean pottery is not a reliable indicator for the status of the people buried in the funeral cellar. Tomb 50, in the Quartier Nord Ouest, for example, had a rich and varied inventory, but did not contain Aegean ceramics.139 On the other hand, the tomb in the royal palace, the top of Ugaritic society, did contain Mycenaean ware.140

In general, local Syrian pottery was much more abundant in the tombs of Ras Shamra than imported goods. This is true for the two tombs that have been found undisturbed,141 as well as for most other tombs from which the inventory can be reconstructed.142 An exception to this rule appears to be tomb 2698 in the Ville Sud, from which only the Mycenaean pottery, a local imitation of a Mycenaean stirrup jar and a Cypriot White Slip II bowl have been reported.143 However, it is possible that in this case the Syrian pottery has been left out of the publication. Cypriot pottery seems to have been at least as abundant in most tombs as Mycenaean wares. In several cases, Egyptian alabaster vases have been reported.144 Although the number of imports in most funeral cellars seem to be relatively small in comparison with local products, their occurrence in the majority of tombs indicates that they played a consistent role in Ugaritic funeral rites. The fact that Aegean pottery in funerary contexts almost always seems to be associated with other imports suggests similarities in appreciation.

With regard to their inventories, the tombs in Minet el-Beida constitute exceptional cases. Not only have they produced a wealth of finds, they are also the only tombs in which Mycenaean pottery seems the most abundant class of material. The large tomb VI in Minet el-Beida, which contained 282 Aegean pots and thirty-five Mycenaean figurines, also produced eighty-six pieces of Cypriot pottery, twenty-six specimens of local manufacture and some Egyptian alabaster vases.145 A krater of so-called Late Grey Minyan Ware, probably of north-western Anatolian origin, was also discovered in this tomb, just as a great number of faience flasks. From tomb III have been published eighteen specimens of Mycenaean pottery, eleven Cypriot and twenty-three local pots.146 Nineteen pieces of Aegean pottery are known from tomb IV, as are six Cypriot vases and ten local pots.147 Tomb V produced fifteen Aegean vessels. The amount of Cypriot pottery is unknown for tomb V, but three pieces of local pottery have been published.

139 Schaeffer 1938, 317-320.

140 Schaeffer 1951a, 7-8. Egyptian alabaster vases and an ivory pyxis were also part of the inventory.

141 Tomb 13 contained thirty Syrian flasks, bowls and jugs, four Cypriot Base Ring II jugs, one Cypriot WSII bowl; see Schaeffer 1936b, 121-123. Tomb 4253 produced forty-four local vases and six Cypriot WSII bowls; see L. Courtois 1969, 128-129.

142 See, for example, tomb 37 in the Chantier C, from which seven local vases, one Cypriot White Slip II

bowl and a Cypriot Base Ring II jug have been pub lished: Schaeffer 1949, 164-165. From tomb 29 on the

Acropole, a Syrian flask, lamp and dipper have been reported, but no Cypriot ware: Schaeffer 1949, 162-163. From tomb 22 on RS Acr. local and Cypriot pottery is known, while tomb 28 apparently produced only local ware: Schaeffer 1949, 162-163.

143 Courtois & Courtois 1978, 342-345..

144 See, for example, Courtois 1979a, 1283 (tomb VI); Margueron 1977, 178 (tomb at A6dNO); Schaeffer 1936b, 121-123 (tomb 13).

145 Courtois 1979a, 1283-1284.

146 Schaeffer 1949, 144-149.

147 Schaeffer 1949, 150-151.

According to Courtois, the tombs in Minet el-Beida distinguish themselves in the diversity of their inventories, in which a relatively large number of objects from the Aegean, Cyprus, Egypt and Anatolia are found.148 It is possible that the owners of these tombs wished to express foreign relationships in general and with the Aegean in particular in their funerary ceremonies.

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