The role of mycenaean pottery in the material culture of deir alla

Mycenaean ceramic vessels are the only imports at Deir 'Alla which can be identified as coming from the Aegean. In addition, three fragments of Cypriot White Slip II milk bowls have been discovered, while a fourth sherd is likewise labelled as Cypriot.31 A number of cylinder seals from northern Syria have been found, as well as a variety of objects from Egypt, such as seals, faience amulets, scarabs and a faience vessel.32 The spatial distribution of these imports at the tell is indicated in Table 7.2.33 From this table it is clear that, of all imports, Egyptian objects are most widely distributed, as they have been found in many rooms, as well as in the south-western area.34 In contrast, the Syrian, Mycenaean and Cypriot finds are concentrated at a few find spots. In terms of quantity, the imports from Egypt far outnumber those from other regions. Moreover, the variety of objects is larger as well: beads, seals, scarabs, amulets and faience and alabaster vessels have been reported as Egyptian objects, while from Syria only cylinder seals have been discovered and from the Aegean and Cyprus only ceramic vessels. It seems that the relations of Late Bronze Age Deir 'Alla with Egypt were particularly strong. This comparison with other imports suggests that the restricted use of Mycenaean vessels was comparable to other imports from far-away regions with which contact was infrequent. As was already suggested in reference to the difference in archaeological context between the original Aegean stirrup jars and the Levantine imitation, the origin of the vessels appears to have influenced their appreciation.

Investigation of the fabrics of the Levantine pottery found at Deir 'Alla has established that a substantial proportion of the vessels can be considered regional imports.35 These regional imports have

31 Franken 1992, 131, 134 Fig. 7-13 nos. 42-46. In addition, a WSII sherd was found in later levels; G. Van der Kooij, pers. comm.

32 Van der Kooij & Ibrahim 1989, 80.

33 After Franken 1992; Ibrahim & Van der Kooij 1997. Only objects of which the imported character is cer tain are included in this table. The Syrian objects are all cylinder seals. More seals have been found, in par ticular in Room 4, which may have a North-Syrian origin. If so, R4 should be added to the table as a find spot of Syrian objects.

34 Ibrahim & Van der Kooij (1997, 104 Fig. 10.2) report an Egyptian seal impression on a possible jar stopper.

35 Franken (1992, 105-114) distinguishes eight different wares, of which the groups C-H are definitely not produced locally, while this is possibly the case for group been found at many places at the site and can be considered as consistent elements in the material culture of Deir 'Alla.36 The regional wares and the pottery that was locally produced include a large range of vessel types, among which small containers for liquids are represented as well.37 From a functional point of view, therefore, the Mycenaean pottery does not stand out in the total ceramic repertoire of Deir 'Alla. From the perspective of the quality of the fabrics, however, the vessels produced in the Aegean are completely different. In the southern Levant, potters returned to using the slow wheel during the Late Bronze Age, whereas they had been using the fast wheel during the Middle Bronze Age.38 Towards the end of the Bronze Age, much of the art of potting was lost in the region of Deir 'Alla: painted decoration over one or two slip layers was no longer practised and light-weight pots with thin walls were no longer produced.39 In such a ceramic environment, the Mycenaean stirrup jars and flasks represented high-quality ceramic products.

The decline in the quality of local ceramics has been tentatively related to the influx of substantial quantities of Aegean and Cypriot ceramics by A. Leonard.40 The evidence of Deir 'Alla does not support this hypothesis, because the number of imported vessels from these areas is very low indeed. Rather, the decline in pottery technology may be related to a changing role of pottery in the societies in Palestine during the Late Bronze Age, because of which there was no widespread use for fine wares.41 For a religious institution such as the sanctuary at Tell Deir 'Alla, in which customs and traditions may have survived over a very long period,42 it may have become increasingly difficult to acquire fine ware vessels. The high value ascribed to the Mycenaean vessels at Deir 'Alla should perhaps be seen in this light.

At the end of the 13th and in the 12th centuries BC, there was a substantial production of Aegean-type stirrup jars in the southern Levant.43 Analyses of such vessels at Tell Nami (site no. 200) and Tell Miqne-Ekron (site no. 225) suggest that these vessels were involved in regional exchange. It is possible that the stirrup jar of Levantine manufacture discovered in Room 2 at Deir 'Alla arrived at the site through such regional trade. However, it is also conceivable that the high value of the imported stirrup jars stimulated local potters at Deir 'Alla to try and imitate them.

Despite the numerous imports, the material record of Deir 'Alla suggests that the settlement was under the control of population groups living in Transjordan.44 The abundance of Egyptian imports indicates that the site should be interpreted in the context of trade between Egypt and Gilead.45 The evidence from the regional pottery imports suggests that Deir 'Alla was the focal point for a number of regional exchange networks. At such a point, products from Transjordan could be exchanged with regional traders from Palestine and Egypt.46 The Mycenaean, Cypriot and Syrian objects found at

36 Franken 1992, 108-109.

37 Franken (1992, 164) reports twenty-one small jugs among the registered pottery. In addition, pilgrim flasks, one of which with pictorial decoration, have been found in Rooms 4 and 6 and in the cella, see Franken 1992, 55 no. 28; 29 no. 11; 64 nos. 10-11.

38 Knapp et al. 1988; Franken 1992, 149-152; Van der Steen 1997, 89.

39 Franken 1992, 152.

40 Leonard 1981, 91.

42 Soundings in the cella have determined that the first building phase of the temple should be dated in the first phase of the Late Bronze Age, which means that the building must have been in use for at least four centuries.

43 Leonard et al. 1993, 119; Killebrew 1998, 161-163.

44 Franken 1992, 174-175.

45 Van der Steen 1996, 66; Franken (1992, 178-179), who interpreted the site as a free-standing sanctuary, goes so far as to suggest that it was founded through

Egyptian initiative.

46 Franken 1992, 178.

Deir 'Alla can be interpreted as objects from international exchange networks, which had entered these regional systems.

A number of sites with Late Bronze Age remains have been identified on the East Bank of the Jordan river.47 The site nearest to Deir 'Alla from which Mycenaean pottery has been reported is Tell es-Saidiyeh (site no. 191). The architecture and burial customs at this site indicates that it was under Egyptian control during the later part of the 13th and the earlier part of the 12th century BC.48 In this respect, it may be compared to the site of Beth Shean (site no. 187) some 30 km to the north, which was the location of an Egyptian military garrison.49 Mycenaean finds from Tell es-Saidiyeh derive from the tombs at the lower tell, as well as from the settlement remains of stratum XII at the upper tell.50 Evidence of Egyptian influence is also clear at Pella (site no. 190), where a so-called 'Governor's Residency', as well as sarcophagi tombs have been found; Mycenaean pottery has been reported from the floor of this 'Residency', as well as from Late Bronze and early Iron Age layers elsewhere on the site. 51 In addition, some Late Bronze Age tombs have produced such vessels.

Further to the east, where Egyptian influence was less strong, Mycenaean pottery has been found in a sanctuary context at the Amman Airport site (site no. 194). Hankey estimates that a total of fifty to sixty Mycenaean pots were found at the Amman airport site.52 Even though the religious nature of the square building has been contested,53 the large number of imported objects and burned bone make it clear that the Mycenaean pottery was used in situations of a highly symbolical nature. Moreover, the fact that Mycenaean sherds in LH II style were found in this building which is thought to have been used for a short period in the 13th century BC only suggests that the Mycenaean vessels were specially selected to be brought to the building.54 All this points to a special significance for Mycenaean ceramics, which is in agreement with the conclusions for this type of pottery found at Deir 'Alla.

At other places in Transjordan, Mycenaean pottery has mainly been reported from funerary contexts. In Tell Irbid (site no. 189), Madaba (site no. 197) and Umm ad-Dananir (site no. 193) such ceramics were found in tombs.55 As for settlement contexts, Mycenaean vessels have been reported from Sahab (site no. 195) in association with a city wall, probably dating from the end of the thirteenth century.56 The evidence from Sahab, as well as from Deir 'Alla, suggests that the paucity of Mycenaean finds from settlement contexts in Transjordan is due to the absence of large-scale excavations of settlement sites. It is as yet unclear whether the special significance of Mycenaean pottery evident from Deir 'Alla can be parallelled at other settlements in Transjordan.

49 James & McGovern 1993, 235-248.

50 Hankey 1967, 129; Pritchard 1980, 4-5; Tubb 1990; 1997. Stratum XII is dated to the 12th century BC.

51 Hankey 1967, 128; McNicoll et al. 1992, 67, 87; Bourke 1997, 108.

52 Hankey 1974, 133; 1995b; McGovern 1992, 180.

53 Fritz 1971; Herr (1983) argues for a function as a cre matorium.

54 Hankey 1974, 131; according to Van der Steen (1996, 57), the local pottery suggests a date in the transitional period from the Bronze to the Iron Age, e.g. in the 12th century BC.

55 Dornemann 1983, 21 (Tell Irbid); Harding & Isserlin 1953, 32 (Madaba); McGovern 1986, 13-16; Koehl 1986, 194-198 (Umm ad-Dananir).

56 Ibrahim 1997, 451. At least some of these sherds appear to have been Levantine derivatives of Mycenaean ware.

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