Online Review Article

Domination and (In)visibility: Reading Power Relations at Tel Mor


Tel Mor: The Moshe Dothan Excavations, 1959–1960, edited by Tristan J. Barako, with contributions by Donald T. Ariel, Baruch Brandl, Jennie R. Ebeling, Nicolle Hirschfeld, Robert Maddin, Edward F. Maher, Mario A.S. Martin, James D. Muhly, David S. Reese, Steven A. Rosen, Tamara Stech, and Jacob Vardi (Israel Antiquities Authority Report 32). Pp. vii + 268, figs. 129, pl. 1, tables 45, plans 8. Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem 2007. ISBN 978-965-406-202-2 (paper).

Tel Mor presents the results of a six-month excavation conducted nearly 50 years ago, in 1959/1960, by the late Moshe Dothan. Prior to the publication of this lengthy volume, the excavation results had only been available as a few preliminary two- and three-page notes published by Dothan in IEJ, RBibl, and elsewhere during 1959 and 1960, as well as a two-page entry in the 1993 New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. Despite the lack of a final publication, the remains found at Tel Mor—which include several large buildings dating to the Late Bronze Age, as well as strata from the Iron Age and the Hellenistic period—have often been cited. Barako, the editor of this volume, had to overcome tremendous difficulties, including the rather archaic excavation methods used, in which each locus contained an entire area or a room without careful consideration as to phases and strata (6), as well as missing documentation (e.g., the lack of locus cards).

The publication of this volume as an Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) report now brings everything full circle, for the excavations at Tel Mor were originally carried out by Dothan on behalf of the (previously titled) Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums. Contributions to the volume are written primarily by young scholars representing the next generation of archaeologists working in Israel and neighboring lands: Barako, Martin, Hirschfeld, Ebeling, and Maher. However, there are also contributions by older, established scholars whose names frequently appeared on articles and final reports from other excavations in the past, including Rosen on lithics, Reese on shells, Brandl on glyptics, and the famous metallurgical team of Stech, Maddin, and Muhly that disbanded years ago. It is unclear how long ago some of these latter contributions were written, but the vast majority of all the chapters are excellent.

Tel Mor itself is a small site, measuring 6 dunams (2.5 acres, or just more than 0.5 ha) at the base and only 1 dunam at the eroded summit. Barako states that, despite its present location, 1 km from the Mediterranean, Tel Mor is thought to have once served as an anchorage for the nearby but harborless city of Ashdod, located slightly farther to the south (3).

Barako (probably correctly) interprets the large Late Bronze Age (LBA) buildings at the site as Egyptian garrisons. In the introduction, he states that the publication of these buildings, as well as that of the LBA and Iron Age pottery, will "help illuminate how Egyptian hegemony gradually gave way to newly emergent peoples, such as the Philistines, at a time when the entire Levant experienced major upheavals" (1). However, the situation at the site could have been more complex than this simple assertion implies, as will be seen below.

More than half of the volume is taken up with pottery studies, although they make up only four of the 13 chapters. These include one on potmarks by Hirschfeld, another on the Egyptian and Egptianizing pottery by Martin and Barako, and others on the Cypriot and Mycenaean pottery and the Canaanite and Philistine pottery by Barako himself. The chapters are thorough and full of numerous plates with profiles and descriptions, which may prove useful to future excavators and scholars seeking comparanda, although there are some problems noted below.

The longest chapter, on Canaanite and Philistine pottery (ch. 3), contains a typological analysis of the pottery using up-to-date comparative material. However, instead of the now almost universal practice in the archaeology of Israel—of first presenting the pottery according to find context (i.e., loci, rooms), thus showing complete deposits—Barako made the unusual decision to publish the pottery as a narrative accompanied by plates organized according to pottery types arranged chronologically (i.e., first bowls from strata XII–II, then chalices and tripods from strata XII–II, then kraters from strata XII–II). Curiously, a few plates showing complete deposits are presented in the concluding chapter (ch. 13), but these come too late to contribute to understanding the nature of the ceramic assemblage in chapter 3. Oddly enough, a single plate, including only five ceramic examples, represents the all-important strata VIII–VII (fig. 13.4). There are also some possible errors. Barako ascribes the ibex and palm tree motif on a krater shown in figure 3.16.7 to stratum III, although its best parallels come from Lachish strata VII and VI (which correspond to Tel Mor strata VII and VI rather than to stratum III). A second example of such a motif, but on a sherd from a storage jar, is also ascribed to Tel Mor stratum III but may well have strayed from an earlier level.

There are additional points relating to editing. Barako's name is missing from the titles of chapters 1–3, 5, and 13 in the table of contents, although it appears in the headers of these chapters' pages. The bibliography at the back of the book (249–58) seems to go with chapters 1–5 and 13 but does not include articles and books referred to in chapters 6–12 or appendix 1. These latter (on potmarks, glyptics, metals and metallurgy, lithics, groundstone objects, faunal remains, marine shells, and a stamped amphora handle and Herodian coin) each have separate bibliographies. Important articles are missing from the main bibliography, including Dan Master's article on the chronological sequence of Ashkelon and Stager's latest reevaluation of the Ashkelon excavations.1 Notwithstanding these minor points, the main part of our review addresses several of Barako's central arguments, including the nature of the Egyptian and Philistine presence at Tel Mor.

The Nature of the Egyptian Presence at Tel Mor

Chapter 4, on the Egyptian and Egyptianizing pottery at the site, is one of the strongest in the book. It is coauthored by Barako and Martin, the latter who has by now established a serious record of publishing and processing Egyptian and Egyptianizing pottery from the key sites of Beth Shean, Ashkelon, Aphek, Dan, and Megiddo.

After a meticulous comparative study of the imported Egyptian and locally made Egyptianizing pottery in strata XI–VI, Barako and Martin argue that "[t]he significant amount of Egyptianized pottery in strata VIII–VII associated with an Egyptian-style building (B) strongly indicates an Egyptian presence at Tel Mor in the thirteenth century BCE" (149). This is a compelling argument, based upon the presence of Egyptian behavioral patterns at the fort, including food consumption and preparation practices (especially the use of Egyptian-style beer bottles and straight-sided bowls, all made using Egyptian potting techniques). However, the Egyptian assemblage does not include all functional groups; for example, there are no Egyptian storage vessels. Martin and Barako are also justifiably puzzled by the lack of any Egyptian cooking vessels and ovens (159). They suggest that bakeries may have been placed outside the settlement, thereby explaining why no baking vessels were found at the site.

However, while Egyptians were no doubt responsible for building the strata VIII–VII fort at Tel Mor, and some were indeed present during its use, the Egyptian pottery at Tel Mor cannot be disconnected from the rest of the pottery found in the same strata. In order to understand the part, one must decipher the meaning of the whole. Indeed, the ceramic assemblage of strata VIII–VII may indicate that most of the behavioral patterns in the fort could be seen as Canaanite rather than Egyptian.

From a statistical point of view, Egyptianizing pottery (n=110) (150) represents only about 7% of the total number of registered sherds in strata VIII and VII at Tel Mor (n=1,523) (8). This is a very different ratio from the approximately 50% ratio of Egyptianized to local Canaanite pottery found in the 20th-Dynasty Egyptian garrison in stratum S2 at Beth Shean (53).2

Furthermore, from a behavioral point of view, all storage at Tel Mor seems to have involved Canaanite amphoras (figs. 2.23, 2.24), and cooking seems to have been carried out exclusively in Canaanite cooking pots (fig. 3.19). Food and drink were also served mostly in non-Egyptian bowls and kraters (figs. 3.7, 3.14). While most of the groundstone implements from Tel Mor (Ebeling [ch. 10]) lack direct stratum assignation, a handstone from stratum VIII and a fragmentary basalt groundstone from stratum VII (226–27) further suggest that in the strata VIII–VII fort, domestic-type food-processing activities took place in a distinctive Canaanite style. Therefore, there is no need to explain away the lack of Egyptian-style baking by a missing bakery (as per Barako and Martin), for there is solid evidence for Canaanite-style baking in stratum VII in the form of tabuns found immediately outside the fort: one in Room 108 (25 [fig. 2.21]) and another in area 80 (20 [plan 2.4]).

Clearly, daily life in the strata VIII–VII fort at Tel Mor mostly corresponds to overwhelmingly Canaanite tastes. This appears to directly contradict Barako's a priori assumption that residents at the site were all Egyptian male soldiers and administrators (152). It is quite possible that some of the soldiers in the Tel Mor garrison may have been of local Canaanite/Shasu, rather than Egyptian, origin. Shasu mercenaries are seen as bodyguards of Ramses II at the battle of Qadesh, and their presence in the Tel Mor fort would certainly account for some of the Canaanite food preparation and serving practices at the site.

In fact, at least one burial (no. 152) at Tel Mor is distinctively Canaanite, as Barako himself notes (17–19). It contains a drinking kit of two deep bowls (the Canaanite kos),3 a Canaanite amphora, a flask, a dagger, and four imported Cypriot vessels. Barako assigns this Canaanite burial at Tel Mor to stratum IX, but this is problematic, for it contained two Cypriot Base Ring II juglets. In our opinion, the burial could be dated to stratum VIII—and the period of the Egyptian fort—rather than to stratum IX, for there are no Base Ring II finds in the settlement at Tel Mor prior to stratum VIII (figs. 5.3: 17, 19, and possibly also 8, 9, 13, 14). If so, the burial could belong to an ethnically local member of the garrison. This is by no means the only Canaanite-style burial found near an Egyptian fort; as Barako notes, similar Canaanite burials appear in the cemetery of the Egyptian garrison at Deir el Balah (19).

There is also no need to think that women and children were excluded from the site. The bone spindle whorl from stratum VII is of distinctive Canaanite shape (230 [fig. 11.1]), possibly indicating that spinning, an activity closely connected with female identity in Canaan and certainly a nonmartial activity,4 may have been performed even within the fort. We also note Martin's suggestion that the exclusive use of Canaanite cooking pots at Beth Shean, Aphek, and Tel Sera', identical to the situation at Tel Mor described above, may be explained by the presence of Canaanite women in the garrisons.5 Furthermore, in the cemetery of the Egyptian garrison at Deir el Balah, the anthropoid coffins always contained more than one person and included not only the remains of adult males but also a child, a juvenile, a woman, and old adults, suggesting that family groups existed in connection with soldiers manning a garrison.6

Little attention is paid to the fact that the fort was not the only structure at Tel Mor in strata VIII and VII; rather, it was encircled by flimsy structures of vernacular construction. We suggest that it is also possible to understand the interaction between the Egyptian garrison and these flimsy structures through research exploring the role of extramural remains in both Iron Age II and Roman fort sites in Israel.7 Rather than the residence of squatters, such extramural neighborhoods have been interpreted as an integral part of life at Iron II forts in the Negev by Thareani-Sousseli: "Considering the military and administrative nature of the sites, it seems reasonable that the extramural remains were used either as dwellings for the soldiers' families, initiated by a central or local authority, and/or as a marketplace where locals and foreigners interacted."8

We note that a similar, but larger, extramural settlement was also found outside the 19th-Dynasty Egyptian fortress at Deir el Balah.9 The site, named "the Artisans' Village" by the excavators, included kilns, molds for producing clay plaques, and a hoard of bronze fragments for recycling. The presence of women is clearly indicated by the many spinning bowls found, indicative of the production of linen, an activity associated almost exclusively with women in both Egypt and the Levant.

In sum, Barako is undoubtedly correct in seeing Tel Mor during strata VIII and VII as a fort containing a small Egyptian garrison of 50 men or less, commanded by a petty officer (241–42). His narrative is heavily influenced by the language of power projected by architecture; he interprets and understands Tel Mor through a lens that focuses on the official military architecture of the Egyptian imperial system as well as on the Egyptianizing pottery, although it represents a small minority in the overall assemblage. However, rather than simply imagining a group of Egyptian male soldiers and administrators at Tel Mor, it is also possible to see the population composed of both ethnic Egyptians and ethnic Canaanites/Shasu, and made up of both the garrison soldiers and their families who resided in the extramural structures. Although further investigation is beyond the scope of this review, we suggest that a more thorough investigation of the role of the Canaanites, rather than just the Egyptians, at Tel Mor might result in a more innovative understanding of the complex interaction between Egyptian colonial power and the local Canaanite population.

Between the Egyptian and Philistine Presence at Tel Mor: Continuous Habitation or Hiatus?

With regard to the nature of the end of the Egyptian presence and the beginning of the Philistine presence at Tel Mor, Barako argues that the last Egyptian stronghold, Building F of stratum V, contained Egyptian and Egyptianizing pottery of the 20th Dynasty, as well as local pottery datable to the Iron Ia period. He believes that this stronghold was replaced, without a break, by an unfortified settlement in stratum IV, which yielded Philistine Bichrome pottery datable to the Iron Ib period—essentially the 11th century B.C.E., according to the middle chronology (244–46 [table 13.2; here table 1]).

Table 1. Comparative Stratigraphy of Ashdod and Tel Mor (Barako 2007, table 13.2).

Barako argues that the Egyptian garrison of stratum V at Tel Mor was contemporary with the early Philistine settlement of Ashdod stratum XIII, despite the lack of Philistine Monochrome pottery at Tel Mor—a pottery type that marks the initial settlement of the Philistines at Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, and Gath. To him, this supposed contemporaneity can be presented as evidence against Finkelstein's historical reconstruction (and the basis for the "low chronology"), which argues that the Philistines settled only after the end of the Egyptian administration in Canaan, that is, after the days of Ramses IV and perhaps later (245).

However, it seems unlikely that Tel Mor, with its 13 x 13 m fortification (basically a watchtower), would have been able to exist as an absolutely isolated spot of Egyptian presence at the northern boundary of Philistia at the same time that the cities of Lachish and Ashdod, as well as the Canaanite town at Ekron, had already been conquered by the Philistines. Furthermore, if stratum V really existed to the very end of the 12th century as per Barako's scenario, Tel Mor would become the longest-lasting Egyptian stronghold in Canaan, holding its connections with Egypt later than Megiddo (last 20th-Dynasty Pharaonic name found: Ramses VI), Beth Shean (Ramses IV), Lachish (Ramses IV), and Tel Sera‘ (possibly Ramses III).10 This again seems unlikely, at least to us, for such a reconstruction of a long-lasting Egyptian presence has no parallel elsewhere in Philistia. At Ashkelon, on top of the Egyptian fortification wall of phase 21, phase 20 includes early Philistine Monochrome ware,11 and at Ashdod, the Egyptian-style Governor's Residency is refitted during stratum XIIIb and has deposits of very early Philistine Monochrome pottery. In other words, at both Ashkelon and Ashdod, Philistine Monochrome pottery immediately follows Egyptian and Canaanite remains that may be dated to the 20th Dynasty. The situation at Tel Mor is quite different, however, for there is no Philistine Monochrome pottery at the site.

In fact, the Tel Mor report illustrates only seven pieces of Philistine pottery that could have originated in stratum IV. All belong to the third, or ripe, phase of Philistine pottery (fig. 3.32: 4, 5, 7, 12–15), with parallels at Ashdod strata XII–XI, Tel Miqne/Ekron strata Via–Vb, and Ashkelon phases 18–17. None shows any connection to the Monochrome traditions. The Philistine pieces ascribed to stratum III at Tel Mor belong mostly to the "debased" Philistine style of the very late 11th century B.C.E., characterized by careless execution of the spiral and triglyph motif and the return to decoration in one color (see esp. fig. 3.32: 3, 6, 8).

Moreover, conspicuously missing from the Tel Mor assemblage is not only the Philistine Monochrome pottery of Ashdod stratum XIIIb, Ashkelon phase 20, and Tel Miqne/Ekron stratum VII (as noted above) but also pottery from the following phase, as seen in Ashdod stratum XIIIa, Ashkelon phase 19, and Tel Miqne/Ekron stratum VI.12 This latter phase is characterized by the coappearance of Philistine Monochrome and early Bichrome decorations and by the occurrence of bird designs different from the later canonical "Philistine bird" (e.g., the birds of the Aitun jug and the Tel Miqne/Ekron stratum VI bird).13

The pottery sequence from Tel Mor and the nature of the transition from stratum V to IV at the site, plus stratigraphical evidence from nearby sites, all suggest a significant hiatus between the end of stratum V and the beginning of stratum IV (table 2). This hiatus will have lasted throughout most of the 12th century B.C.E. and perhaps even into the early 11th century, during the very period of the arrival of the Philistines to the Pentapolis sites and the first two occupation phases of the Philistines at those sites. In favor of this suggestion is the additional fact that the circumstances of the end of stratum V at Tel Mor are not violent but are more indicative of an abandonment followed by a hiatus. Indeed, Barako himself notes that "it is best to assume that its buildings, particularly Building F, simply fell out of use" (32).

The Nature of the Philistine Presence at Tel Mor

We believe that the fact that the earliest Philistine pottery at Tel Mor is to be dated to the 11th century B.C.E., after what appears to be a hiatus in occupation, is far from a coincidence. During the same period, Philistia expanded to the north of Ashdod, reaching all the way to the line of the Yarkon River, complete with the founding of sites such as Tel Qasile, Aphek, and possibly Tel Gerisa, with the ultimate aim of enlarging the agricultural hinterland of the Pentapolis sites.14 In our opinion, the rural and unfortified nature of Tel Mor in stratum IV and the lack of any imports in this or the following stratum may indicate that it was one of the small settlements founded at Philistia's northern frontier.

However, while Tel Mor was certainly a site in Philistia, we must wonder how Philistine the site truly was. Barako notes that Philistine pottery makes up about 6% of the overall registered pottery saved from strata IV and III. He also notes, though, that "given that the excavators appear to have collected all decorated body sherds, this percentage is probably inflated" (69). As it stands, then, more than 94% of the ceramic assemblage consisted of Canaanite forms. A mere 16 sherds belong to the Aegean-inspired Philistine Bichrome style (fig. 3.32:1–16). These could have simply been rare dinnerware imported from nearby Ashdod rather than an indication of the foodways of the local populace. The three Aegean-style cooking jugs found in stratum III also do not indicate Philistine cuisine, since by the 11th century, following the expansion of Philistia to the north, Aegean-style cooking pots were used also by local populations north of Ashdod, resulting in the incorporation of some of their features into the Iron II standard closed cooking pot.15

At the same time, cooking at the site of Tel Mor was apparently dominated by the continuity of Canaanite traditions, with four Canaanite cooking pots for every Aegean-style cooking pot (fig. 3.20). The only cooking installation found at Tel Mor in this period is a Canaanite-style tabun (plan 2.6; Tabun 10A), while Aegean-style hearths found at other sites such as Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, and Tel Qasile in 11th-century strata are missing from Tel Mor. Also missing at Tel Mor are other Aegean- or Cypriot-inspired material culture traits that characterize Philistine settlements, such as nonperforated loom weights, dozens of which were found at Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Tel Miqne/Ekron, and manifestations of Philistine cultic practices, such as incised cow scapulae and the "Ashdoda" or "Mourner" figurines. None of these was recovered at Tel Mor.

In our opinion, Tel Mor in stratum IV and III was not likely to have been an outpost of the bellicose Philistines, finally vanquishing the last stronghold of imperial Egyptian presence in Canaan, but was rather a small community that humbly resided close to the bustling city-state of Ashdod. Its lack of luxury items and miniscule amount of fineware pottery indicates, moreover, that Philistine Tel Mor was very humble indeed and had little share in Ashdod's prosperity at that time.


The world has waited nearly half a century for this material to be published. Was it worth the wait? The answer is yes. However, almost ironically, the publication of Tel Mor, with its stated aim of addressing questions of geopolitics and power relations between Egypt and the Philistines, may unintentionally have illuminated more subaltern narratives of the later second millennium B.C.E., namely the lives of people residing outside the walls of the Egyptian fort of the 19th Dynasty and their interaction with the possibly predominantly nonethnic Egyptian garrison inside the fort, on the one hand, and the life of a small rural community in the hinterland of Philistine Ashdod, on the other.

While we may debate some of the interpretations, quibble with the assignations of specific sherds, vessels, and motifs, and suggest alternative scenarios for the occupational history of the site, the fact that we can do so is in itself a testament to the mountain of data in this volume, which is sufficiently accessible to allow others already to debate the presented analyses and interpretations. Overall, this is an extremely thorough report, with numerous plates, figures, tables, and maps to supplement the in-depth analyses. The editor and the individual authors are all to be commended and congratulated. Moshe Dothan would be pleased.

Department of Classical and Semitic Languages and Literatures
The George Washington University
Washington, D.C. 20052

Department of History
University of California
Santa Cruz, California 95064

Works Cited

Arensburg, B., and P. Smith. 1979. "The Human Remains." In Excavations at the Cemetery of Deir el-Balah, edited by T. Dothan, 92–7. Qedem 10. Jerusalem: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Institute of Archaeology.

Dothan, T. 1982. The Philistines and Their Material Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Dothan, T. 2008. Deir el-Balah: Uncovering an Egyptian Outpost in Canaan from the Time of the Exodus. Jerusalem: Israel Museum.

Dothan, T., and A. Zukerman. 2004. "A Preliminary Study of the Mycenaean IIIC:1 Pottery Assemblages from Tel Miqne-Ekron and Ashdod." BASOR 333:1–54.

Faust, A. 1995. "The Rural Settlement in the Land of Israel during the Period of the Monarchy." M.A. thesis, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan. (In Hebrew.)

Finkelstein, I. 2007. "Is the Philistine Paradigm Still Viable?" In The Synchronization of Civilisations in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Second Millennium B.C. III: Proceedings of the SCIEM 2000–2nd EuroConference Vienna, 28th of May–1st of June 2003, edited by M. Bietak and E. Czerny, 518–23. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Gadot, Y. 2006. "Aphek in the Sharon and the Philistine Northern Frontier." BASOR 341:21–36.

Gadot, Y., and A. Yasur-Landau. 2006. "Beyond the Finds: Reconstructing Life in the Courtyard Building of Level K-4." In Megiddo IV: The 1998–2002 Seasons, edited by I. Finkelstein, D. Ussishkin, and B. Halpern, 583–600. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University.

Martin, M.A.S. 2004. "Egyptian and Egyptianized Pottery in Late Bronze Age Canaan." Egypt and the Levant 14:265–84.

Master, D.M. 2005. "Iron I Chronology at Ashkelon: Preliminary Results of the Leon Levy Expedition." In The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating: Archaeology, Text and Science, edited by T.E. Levy and T. Higham, 337–48. London: Equinox.

Stager, L.E. 2006. "New Discoveries in the Excavations of Ashkelon in the Bronze and Iron Ages." Qadmomiot 39(131):2–19 (Hebrew).

Thareani-Sousseli, Y. Forthcoming. Desert Outsiders: Extramural Neighborhoods in the Iron Age II Negev.

Yasur-Landau, A. 2005. "Old Wine in New Vessels: Intercultural Contact, Innovation and Aegean, Canaanite and Philistine Foodways." Tel Aviv 32(2):168–91.

Yasur-Landau, A. 2007. "Let's Do the Time Warp Again: Migration Processes and the Absolute Chronology of the Philistine Settlement." In The Synchronization of Civilisations in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Second Millennium B.C. III: Proceedings of the SCIEM 2000–2nd EuroConference Vienna, 28th of May–1st of June 2003, edited by M. Bietak and E. Czerny, 609–20. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

  • 1. Master 2005; Stager 2006.
  • 2. Martin 2004, 278.
  • 3. Yasur-Landau 2005.
  • 4. Gadot and Yasur-Landau 2006.
  • 5. Martin 2004, 280.
  • 6. Arensburg and Smith 1979; Dothan 2008, 49–50.
  • 7. Faust 1995, 85–7; Thareani-Sousseli (forthcoming).
  • 8. Thareani-Sousseli (forthcoming, 208–9).
  • 9. Dothan 2008, 72–87.
  • 10. Finkelstein 2007; Yasur-Landau 2007.
  • 11. Master 2005; Stager 2006.
  • 12. Dothan and Zukerman 2004; Master 2005; Stager 2006.
  • 13. Dothan 1982, pl. 62; Dothan and Zukerman 2004, fig. 19.2.
  • 14. Gadot 2006.
  • 15. Yasur-Landau 2005.

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