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Jebel Khalid on the Euphrates. Vol. 3, The Pottery

Jebel Khalid on the Euphrates. Vol. 3, The Pottery

By Heather Jackson and John Tidmarsh (MeditArch Suppl. 7). Pp. xxxi + 554, figs. 199, b&w pls. 36, tables 25. Mediterranean Archaeology, Sydney 2011. $160. ISBN 978-0-9580265-3-6 (cloth).

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The third volume of the Australian Mission at Jebel Khalid on the northern Euphrates River is dedicated to the ceramics from the Housing Insula, attributed to two major phases of occupation divided by radical rebuilding. Phase A (only partially excavated) dates from the late third to the first half of the second century B.C.E.; phases B and B+ date ca. 150–70 B.C.E. A cursory glance reveals an extraordinary range of types of closed and open vessels in tableware and cookware, utilitarian pottery for food preparation, storage, and transport, as well as imported fine wares. Basically a one-period occupation with post-Hellenistic activity only within the temple precinct, the rich assemblage is substantial evidence for the daily living conditions of the site’s inhabitants. The settlement fulfilled a military function for guarding a crossing point on the Euphrates and was systematically abandoned in the late 70s or early 60s of the first century B.C.E.

The report is divided into five chapters, followed by three appendices in which results of geochemical analyses are presented, including comparisons with material from Antioch-on-the-Orontes and Pella. Chapters 1, 4, and 5 are written by Jackson, chapter 3 is by Tidmarsh, and Garnett and Watson contribute to chapter 2 and the appendices. Chapter 1 presents the common wares from the Housing Insula. The introduction summarizes technical data with a focus on fabric observation and the aims of typology. The material is broken down into the two categories of open and closed vessels, followed by miscellanea, conclusion, and catalogue. Within the category, the vessels are introduced shape-by-shape, including descriptions and discussions of basic forms and variants, parallels, and dates, as well as statistical calculations. Careful consideration is given to functional aspects, throwing light on the inhabitants’ eating and drinking habits. Thus, the small number of kraters for mixing wine and water and table amphoras is explained as possible preference for larger metal kraters, which the settlers took with them when leaving the site or as indication that social gatherings with drinking parties did not take place within the families and the houses. In the cookware, a limited range of shapes can be observed, with the globular pot predominant, and the casserole, a “Greek” feature, missing.

In chapter 5, Jackson presents a summary of the economic and social conditions in each of the two major occupation phases, examining the categories of imports, drinking, eating, food preparation, cooking, storage, and transport and personal vessels. It is the interaction of the seemingly dry and technical pottery study, the drawing of conclusions relating to the vessels’ function and the settlers’ behavior, and the inclusion of valuable material from Levantine sites that makes the report an unparalleled reference work for any future research.

The catalogue comprises 88 figures; in the description, special attention is paid to define each item’s fabric texture with regard to hardness and inclusions (fine, medium-fine, medium, medium-coarse, coarse). Curiously, in the introduction, medium-fine is described as semi-fine and semi-fine tableware is mentioned several times (7–9, 104). Associating the term with the “Phoenician semi fine ware” from the region of Tyre, which Andrea Berlin has coined, the use of medium fabric texture is less misleading.

The thorough study of the common ware (ch. 1) is equaled by Tidmarsh’s presentation of the imported fine wares (ch. 3) and Jackson’s discussion of the green-glazed wares (ch. 4). Most of the imported fine wares were retrieved in the Acropolis (“Governor’s”) Palace and in the Housing Insula. Since every sherd was inventoried individually, the catalogue is placed after the detailed discussion of each ware; the figures follow at the end of the chapter. Among the 10 ware categories present at the site, Eastern Sigillata A is dominant; there are a few fragments of Cypriot Sigillata and a single mid first-century C.E. piece of Italian-type sigillata from the area of the temple. Black-glazed and gray-burnished wares and moldmade bowls are also well represented. The latter were manufactured in the region of Antioch with no Athenian and few “Ionian” imports; a local production is attested by a mold. West Slope Ware and other painted wares are much less common, while imports from the western Mediterranean comprise a few Pompeian Red Ware dishes and Campana B plates. In this respect, Jebel Khalid does not differ from other Levantine sites. However, the amount of West Slope Ware is surprisingly high at Jebel Khalid when compared with other (even coastal) sites. Together with Athenian and Pergamene products, those of the Ivy Platter Group have been retrieved. The thus-far-unidentified place or places of manufacture were located somewhere along the southern coast of Asia Minor or the Syrian-Lebanese coast. Although the group is well attested in present-day Israel, local production has not been considered likely. Finds from Marissa and Beth Yerah in the style of the Ivy Platter Group, however, point to the existence of a workshop. In any case, the inhabitants—soldiers and settlers—established a network of trading, and the imports left their imprint on the local pottery production. In phase A, local potters copied Greek tableware shapes, yet the surface treatment was entirely non-Greek. In phase B, they developed their own motifs of decoration on jars and coarse kraters, making cooking pots and kitchen bowls in their traditional style in both phases. The green-glazed ware, discussed in chapter 4, was imported from an unknown production center, probably on the Euphrates close to Dura Europos; here the significant contribution is the well-dated Hellenistic corpus of shapes.

The authors are to be congratulated for their excellent report and meticulous treatment of the finds, which shows their superb familiarity with the material from key Levantine sites. In summary, it is a treasure trove of information not solely for the north Syrian region. No doubt, it is one of the indispensable basic reports for everyone researching the material culture of the Hellenistic Near East.

Renate Rosenthal-Heginbottom Grossolt

Book Review of Jebel Khalid on the Euphrates. Vol. 3, The Pottery, by Heather Jackson and John Tidmarsh

Reviewed by Renate Rosenthal-Heginbottom Grossolt

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 117, No. 2 (April 2013)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1172.Rosenthal

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