Online Review: Book

Ceramics and Change in the Early Bronze Age of the Southern Levant [and] The Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic Periods in the Southern Levant: New Data from the Site of Teleilat Ghassul, Jordan

Katherine I. Wright

111.2

Ceramics and Change in the Early Bronze Age of the Southern Levant, edited by Graham Philip And Douglas Baird (Levantine Archaeology 2). Pp. xi + 427, figs. 144, tables 28. Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield 2000. £60. ISBN 1-84127-135-7 (cloth).

The Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic Periods in the Southern Levant: New Data from the Site of Teleilat Ghassul, Jordan, by Jaimie L. Lovell (BAR-IS 974; Monographs of the Sydney University Teleilat Ghassul Project 1). Pp. viii + 259, figs. 102, pls. 38, table 1, maps 3. Archaeopress, Oxford 2001. £35. ISBN 1-84171-263-9 (paper).

Lovell’s The Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic Periods in the Southern Levant is an important work that synthesizes information from one of the most significant Chalcolithic sites in the southern Levant, Teleilat Ghassul in south Jordan, the type-site that defined the Ghassulian period in the southern Levant. In this era (the fifth and early fourth millennia B.C.E., uncalibrated), Neolithic societies began to develop into more complex social formations. Ghassul was originally excavated in the 1920s. Some decades later, the University of Sydney began to explore this site again, and after another pause, further explorations have continued in recent years under the direction of Stephen Bourke. Lovell’s book, based on her doctoral dissertation from the University of Sydney, presents data from the most recent excavations, in particular a useful synthesis of the architecture, stratigraphy, and ceramics. Since most of the information on this key site has previously appeared in scattered reports of varying ages and approaches, this synthesis is very welcome.

Chapter 1 presents the history of research at the site and pulls together some information on the environmental context. It also outlines the history of thought about the transition from the Late Neolithic to the Chalcolithic period in the southern Levant.

Chapter 2 presents an overview of the modern regional environment close to the Dead Sea, and combines this synthesis with an overview of what we know about subsistence economies in the Chalcolithic period. Some important resources found in this area, such as salt, bitumen, and copper, are also discussed. This chapter is weaker than the others simply because environment, economy, and resources are topics that are too large for such a brief treatment.

Chapters 3 and 4 contain the most important elements of this book. Chapter 3 considers the stratigraphy of area A, the focus of recent work. This is a clear and readable account of a complex stratigraphic situation affected by earthquakes. The presentations of stratigraphic sections and Harris matrices are extremely welcome, since most previous accounts of this site mainly showed plans. Plans from the newer excavations are somewhat uninformative, since only parts of buildings were exposed in many cases, and more details are needed. Perhaps ancient earthquake damage affected excavation strategy.

Chapter 4 considers the ceramic sequence. This is usefully introduced by a discussion of how ceramic typologies for the Near East developed, based on material from older excavations. The ceramics are presented in a number of ways, starting with technology and fabrics and including forms and sequence, phase by phase. This is followed by a brief discussion of special topics such as materials, chemical composition, and sourcing, all of which deserve more exploration. Lovell concludes this section with a brief discussion of the extent of standardization and specialization.

Chapters 5 and 6 consider the material in connection with the wider regional chronology, with special emphasis on the implications of the Ghassul data for problems surrounding the Late Neolithic to Chalcolithic transition. This is important because we have much more data on this period from Israel than we do from Jordan.

I have only two mild criticisms of this site report, and they concern brevity of analysis of the data and missed opportunities for interpretation. Since the main goal, and key contribution, of this report is to try to sort out some questions of chronological sequence and typological development in ceramics, the format chosen is a traditional one—stratigraphy, phases, phase assemblages. This is fine and, in the case of this site, very much needed. However, of the 259 pages in this volume, 53 pages are text and the remainder are illustrations. Although the primary data presented here are certainly welcome, the book would have been stronger with more in-depth discussion of them. For example, it would have been excellent if the mineral-chemical characterization of the ceramic materials had included a discussion of sourcing.

As for interpretation, I think site reports these days should also try to go a bit further, considering questions about social life and chronological change that are raised in the wider world of archaeological method and theory. Obviously, one cannot do everything in one site report, but for those who work in the region it is easy to get so involved in the complex local sequences that we do not take enough time to look beyond these concerns to a wider world of thought on (for example) such topics as ceramics and social identity, craft specialization, household archaeology, and early complexity. Some of these issues are discussed, but only very briefly. We can, I imagine, look forward to more interpretive discussions of these data by the author, who perhaps is saving such discussions for publication elsewhere.

Philip and Baird’s Ceramics and Change consists of a number of papers concerning ceramics from the Early Bronze Age of the southern Levant (i.e., Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories). It grew out of a workshop on this topic whose object was to try to sort out issues of terminology, chronology, and sequence. As a result, most of the papers are descriptions of materials from individual sites. Thus, the emphasis in most papers is firmly on nomenclature, typology, chronological sequences, and comparisons.

Some of the papers are, however, of particular interest because they push beyond the space-time systematics, addressing such issues as ceramic technology and sources and exchange. Particularly useful are Goren and Zuckerman’s discussion of the Early Bronze I gray burnished ware, and Fischer’s study of the Early Bronze Age at Tell Abu Kharaz in the Jordan Valley and the relationship between the southern Levant and Egypt during Dynasties 0–2. Also of special interest is Chesson’s article on ceramics and daily life in the Early Bronze Age household, with emphasis on Tell Handaquq South in Jordan.

As with Lovell’s volume, the main audience for this set of papers would be those who are specialists in the period and area. There is little discussion of the kinds of theoretical issues that are of concern to many archaeologists working outside this region. That is not necessarily a criticism of these papers as a group, because of course we need detailed studies of individual data sets to make sense of what is still not a clear development of ceramic types. Still, I rather wish that more papers had gotten away from aspects of typology and sequences and delved more deeply into issues such as social implications and technology—as do the papers by Chesson, Fischer, and Goren and Zuckerman.

Of special importance is the inclusion of papers by Jordanian archaeologists, such as the discussion of Early Bronze Age pottery from Abu Thawwab in northern Jordan by Douglas and Kafafi. Many volumes concerning the archaeology of the southern Levant include papers by European, American, and Israeli archaeologists, with too few contributions from Jordanian and Palestinian archaeologists working on these same issues. Practical issues (e.g., ease of travel) have often contributed to this situation in the past. Fortunately, though, this is changing, and stronger efforts are being made by researchers of all nationalities to try to make such conferences and volumes as inclusive and diverse as possible. In a similar vein, this book also gives equal space to research on sites located not only west of the Jordan Valley but also on the eastern side. Such balance can only improve our overall knowledge of the period in this area.

Katherine I. Wright
Institute of Archaeology
University College London
31–34 Gordon Square
London WC1H 0PY
United Kingdom
k.wright@ucl.ac.uk

Book Review of Ceramics and Change in the Early Bronze Age of the Southern Levant, edited by Graham Philip and Douglas Baird, and The Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic Periods in the Southern Levant, by Jaimie L. Lovell

Reviewed by Katherine I. Wright

American Journal of Archaeology Volume 111, Number 2 (April 2007)

Published online at www.ajaonline.org/online-review-book/493

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1112.Wright

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