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Egyptian-Type Pottery in the Late Bronze Age Southern Levant

Egyptian-Type Pottery in the Late Bronze Age Southern Levant

By Mario A.S. Martin (DenkschrWien 69, Contributions to the Chronology of the Eastern Mediterranean 29). Pp. 440, figs. 121, b&w pls. 68, tables 117. Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenshaften, Vienna 2011. €138. ISBN 978-3-7001-7136-2 (paper).

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The work under review discusses for the first time in a single volume Egyptian and Egyptian-style pottery found in Late Bronze Age Canaan. The book is published in the well-known series Contributions to the Chronology of the Eastern Mediterranean, devoted to the results of the long-term research project Synchronisation of Civilizations in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Second Millennium BC (SCIEM 2000) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

The aim of this book is “to study Egyptian and local imitations of Egyptian vessels to establish chronological lines from Egypt of the New Kingdom to the region of the southern Levant during the Late Bronze Age” (13). Although the scope of the SCIEM 2000 project was purely chronological, the present work discusses the chronological value of Egyptian pottery for synchronizing the southern Levant with the Nile Valley but also includes detailed discussions on fabrics, formation techniques, decoration, and spatial analysis and deals also with the question of the physical presence of Egyptians based on pottery.

The book is divided into four parts. Part 1 discusses the classification of Egyptian-style pottery, the typological framework, and the respective pottery types found in the southern Levant, including a full list of comparanda from Egypt. Part 2 deals with fabric analysis, styles of decoration, and formation techniques, where the color photographs for each fabric type are especially welcome. Part 3 presents the Egyptian and Egyptian-type pottery site-by-site, including detailed introductions to the archaeology of each location. Part 4 summarizes the conclusions. Sixty-eight plates depict drawings of the Egyptian and Egyptian-type pottery discussed in the text, including tables with further information such as register or museum numbers, locus numbers, strata, references, and identification of fabric (where examined).

The term “Late Bronze Age” as used throughout this book is dated to ca. 1500–1130 B.C.E. The author is aware that the start of the Late Bronze Age is disputed and differs from region to region but argues that ca. 1500 B.C.E. might be a fair estimate (17). The time from ca. 1175 to 1130 B.C.E., usually referred to as Iron Age IA in the Levant, is included in this book, since, as Martin argues, from an Egyptological point of view, it could be seen as the final part of the Late Bronze Age, here termed Transitional Bronze–Iron Age.

Late Bronze IA is dated from ca. 1500 to 1450 B.C.E., covering the early 18th Dynasty down to the Battle of Megiddo; Late Bronze IB is dated from ca. 1450 to 1390 B.C.E., covering the late reigns of Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, and Thutmose IV. Late Bronze IIA is dated from ca. 1390 to 1300 B.C.E., covering the reign of Amenhotep III and the Amarna period, while Late Bronze IIB, ranging down to ca. 1175 B.C.E., is associated with the 19th Dynasty. The Transitional Bronze–Iron Age is dated from 1175 to 1130 B.C.E. and covers the reign of Ramesses III to the end of the Egyptian hegemony in Canaan. Although this chronological scheme reflects common scholarship, an explanation of which arguments this synchronization is based on would have been very welcome.

Especially for early Late Bronze Age strata, Cypriot pottery is often used as a fossile directeur, and Martin sometimes uses the occurrence of White Slip or Base Ring Wares to argue for certain dates, using the first appearance of these wares at the site of Tell el-Dab’a (Egypt) as a reference. It has to be noted, though, that recent radiocarbon dates from this site turned out to be about 120 years older than expected, and that, accordingly, the archaeological dates for individual strata at the site of Tell el-Dab’a should at least be treated with caution (Kutschera et al., “The Chronology of Tell el-Daba: A Crucial Meeting Point of ¹⁴C Dating, Archaeology, and Egyptology in the 2nd Millennium BC,” Radiocarbon 54 [2012] 407–22).

Nevertheless, it is generally problematical to use Cypriot pottery and its occurrence in Egypt for dating purposes in the southern Levant. Martin argues on the basis of White Slip II Ware in stratum R-2 at Beth Shean and the occurrence of the same type of pottery in stratum C/2 at Tell el-Dab’a that the transition from R-2 to R-1b “should be dated to the later part of Tuthmosis III’s reign at the earliest” (135). Also, the author’s Late Bronze IA date for stratum XII at Tel Mor, previously dated to Middle Bronze IIC, is based on Cypriot pottery (Base Ring I Ware) and its occurrence in Tell el-Dab’a stratum C/3 (189). The same holds true for the Fosse Temple at Lachish (219). However, for using Cypriot pottery to synchronize Canaanite sites with Egypt, one would have to assume that (1) Cypriot wares came to the Levant and Egypt at exactly the same time (which remains to be proven); (2) the stratigraphy of the reference site, in this case Tell el-Dab’a, is beyond doubt (which it is not); and (3) the synchronization of the archaeological phases in the southern Levant with the historic/dynastic chronology of Egypt is reasonably secure (which is not demonstrated in the present work). Thus, one should treat dates based on Cypriot pottery and its occurrence at Tell el-Dab’a with caution (see also S.W. Manning and B. Kromer, “Radiocarbon Dating Archaeological Samples in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1730 to 1480 BC: Further Exploring the Atmospheric Radiocarbon Calibration Record and the Archaeological Implications,” Archaeometry 53 [2011] 413–39, esp. 429–34; F. Höflmayer, “The Date of the Minoan Santorini Eruption: Quantifying the ‘Offset,’” Radiocarbon 54 [2012] 435–48, esp. 442–43).

A most important issue is the question of Egyptian involvement in the southern Levant during the early 18th Dynasty and the nature of the sudden rise of Egyptian material culture during the 19th and 20th Dynasties. There is still no consensus about the nature and extent of Egyptian involvement in the southern Levant during the early 18th Dynasty. Minimalists such as Redford (Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times [Princeton 1992]) argued for a very limited Egyptian involvement, while other scholars such as Morris (The Architecture of Imperialism [Leiden 2005]) proposed that some kind of Egyptian empire was already erected during the first kings of the 18th Dynasty. Based on the Egyptian and Egyptian-type pottery that is virtually lacking aside from Tell el-‘Ajjul and a few dispersed vessels here and there, Martin convincingly argues that “it appears that in this early period no attempt at the establishment of a permanent military or political authority over Canaan had yet been made” (18). It is only from the time of Thutmose III onward (after ca. 1450 B.C.E.) that Egyptians seem also to be present physically at certain key sites such as Beth Shean.

Martin also demonstrates that the majority of the Egyptian and Egyptian-type pottery is locally produced daily household ware that would have been produced in Nile clay in Egypt (20–1; 91–107) and that there is no reason to suggest that Egyptian troops were using Canaanite material culture (pottery) and leaving no trace in the archaeological record (Morris [2005] 18–19). Also, the sudden increase in Egyptian material culture in Canaan during the 19th and 20th Dynasties is reflected in Egyptian and Egyptian-type pottery, and Martin points out that this most probably also reflects an increased physical presence of Egyptians in the southern Levant: “As opposed to the Eighteenth Dynasty, the increased physical Egyptian presence in the southern Levant in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties is clearly indicated by the archaeological data” (19).

The present volume is therefore of utmost importance for the archaeology and history of Egyptian-Levantine relations. It will surely serve as a reference work in many respects and should definitely not be missed in archaeological and Egyptological libraries.

The Oriental Institute
University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois 60637

Book Review of Egyptian-Type Pottery in the Late Bronze Age Southern Levant, by Mario A.S. Martin

Reviewed by Felix Höflmayer

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 1 (January 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1181.Hoflmayer

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