You are here

Sea Peoples of the Northern Levant? Aegean-Style Pottery from Early Iron Age Tell Tayinat

July 2019 (123.3)

Book Review

Sea Peoples of the Northern Levant? Aegean-Style Pottery from Early Iron Age Tell Tayinat

By Brian Janeway (Studies in the Archaeology and History of the Levant 7). Pp. xi + 197. Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Ind. 2017. $49.59. ISBN 978-1-57506-950-0 (cloth).

Reviewed by

The volume under review is part of an ongoing effort to fill an evidentiary lacuna in the Late Bronze Age–Early Iron Age transition and the Early Iron Age in the northern Levant. This monograph, which incorporates new data unearthed by the Tayinat Archaeological Project (TAP), seeks “to amend the rather dismal state of Early Iron Age ceramic research in the Amuq Valley” (11) by addressing Aegean-style ceramics both diachronically within the Tell Tayinat corpus and synchronically in comparison with sites around the eastern Mediterranean. The larger research goal is to gain an understanding of the internal development of the Aegean-style pottery sequence—to which the author refers interchangeably as Late Helladic (LH) IIIC and Mycenaean IIIC—including its sources and internal development. The former question is pursued, in the author’s words, “on the assumption that this pottery was the result of local industry and reflects an intrusive western culture otherwise alien to the region” (115).

Each of the volume’s five chapters is meticulously organized and makes use of numerous subsections. First is a brief overview of the LH IIIC tradition in the eastern Mediterranean, including a review of the typology and chronology of Helladic- and Aegean-style pottery with particular commentary on the applicability of Furumark’s systems of typology, which the author elects to employ. This is followed by a summary of the challenges surrounding everything from identification to terminology. This background discussion is critical to the rest of the volume; after all, as Harrison notes in the foreword, “few ceramic traditions have generated more attention, and contentious debate, than the Aegeanizing LH IIIC (or, alternatively, Mycenaean IIIC) pottery found in ever increasing quantities at Early Iron Age sites throughout the Eastern Mediterranean” (ix).

The following two chapters are similarly brief. Chapter 2 is a survey of Early Iron Age sites the author sees as relating to Tell Tayinat. These include sites outside the Amuq Valley that display Aegeanizing ceramics and whose “chronological and stratigraphic context” can help “establish contemporary parallels for the Tayinat assemblage” (13). While acknowledging the vast distribution of Aegean-style pottery in the eastern Mediterranean, the author requires fewer than 30 pages to cover sites from the southern coastal plain of Canaan to the Lebanon, coastal and inland Syria, Cyprus, and Anatolia. Chapter 3 addresses the history of survey and excavation in the Amuq and the material culture of sites in the area. Of particular note are the lack of uniformity in the transition from Late Bronze Age to Iron I, and the continuation of Bronze Age pottery well into the 12th century B.C.E. at several sites, including Çatal Höyük (Amuq, not the site of the same name in Anatolia), Tell Atchana (Alalakh), and Tayinat, which suggests that “the advent of the Iron Age, marked by the appearance of Aegean-type pottery, might not have occurred until relatively late in the region” (44).

The lengthy fourth chapter provides a stylistic analysis of the Aegean-style assemblage from Tell Tayinat, including open forms (deep bowls, shallow angular bowls, and kraters), closed forms (amphoras and jars), and those deemed “miscellaneous” because of the low quantities in which they have thus far been found. While skyphoi, or bell-shaped bowls, are the most common Aegean-style vessels at Tayinat, Aegean-style cooking pots—potentially a sign of the deep change one would expect to see from an immigrant population—make up less than 5% of the assemblage and are thus consigned to the “miscellaneous” section. Amphoroid, bell, and carinated kraters seem to have been produced locally; however, the process lacked standardization, and many of these vessels were, perhaps surprisingly, left undecorated. Of particular interest among decorated kraters from Tell Tayinat are those featuring pictorial scenes, two of which depict fish, one a bird, and one a human figure. The latter is pictured in silhouette and features the “feathered headdress” or “spiky hair” known from the land and naval combat scenes at Medinet Habu, a seal and ivory game box at Enkomi, and numerous LH IIIC pictorial pottery scenes from mainland Greece, the Cyclades, the Dodecanese, and western Anatolia. The author situates the representation within this wider Aegean and eastern Mediterranean context, thus highlighting the significance of its status as “the only ‘self-portrait’ of an Aegean-type individual yet discovered at the site, and the first and only such depiction found anywhere in the northern Levant” (91).

The author concludes by synthesizing the data in the study and providing a framework for interpretation. This includes contextualizing the “political and social matrix . . . of relative decentralization and fragmentation” (122) within which the initial 12th century settlement was established, as well as making a case for immigration to the Amuq Valley, rather than import substitution, as the best explanation for the intrusive Aegean-style material culture. As the author notes, “in the Amuq, there was very little to emulate, given the absence of evidence for commercial exchange in the valley during the thirteenth and twelfth centuries” (118). While the later Iron Age is outside the scope of the volume, the author also draws a direct line from this initial settlement to the first millennium kingdom of Palastin and its ruler Taita—known from Luwian inscriptions found at Tell Tayinat, Arsuz, and Hama—and finally to the Syro-Anatolian state of Patina (Unqi), which persisted until the eighth century B.C.E., when it was destroyed by Neo-Assyrians.

The picture that emerges from Sea Peoples of the Northern Levant is one of a settlement that came into being in the last quarter of the 12th century B.C.E. and persisted in its initial form into the late 11th century B.C.E. (in Aegean terms, the LH IIIC Middle or Late through Sub-Mycenaean periods), and that demonstrates some Aegean affinities in its material culture. Harrison notes (x) that these relative dates have been largely corroborated by radiocarbon data. Much remains open to interpretation, as is the case with the wider eastern Mediterranean at this time. For example, the nature of the relationship between Early Iron Age newcomers and the indigenous population remains unclear, as does just how “Aegean” some of these new elements—and those who employed them—really were. An example is cylindrical, unbaked clay spools that have long been associated with an intrusive Aegean presence in general, and with “Sea Peoples” groups in particular (cf. 23, 26–7, 47, 123). Despite their “Aegean-type” appellation, the appearance of these “loomweights” in significant numbers at sites like Tiryns, Thebes, Mycenae, Asine, and Lefkandi dates to the LH IIIC and is thus simultaneous with (or slightly later than) their appearance in the southern Levant and cotemporal with their appearance at northern Italian sites like Cetona and Porto Perone. This is hardly a picture of the straightforward transference of a Helladic domestic implement from the Aegean to the Levant.

The language of the study is weighted heavily toward mainland Greece, partly because of the “visible and significant Mycenaean influence” (46) seen in the Tayinat assemblage and partly because of what the author characterizes as “the well-established evidence for trade and commerce between the two regions” (116). The latter, though, is a complex issue, as the evidence for connections between Mycenaean Greece and the Near East, which is primarily driven by the proliferation of LH IIIB pottery around the eastern Mediterranean in the 13th century B.C.E., does not unquestionably support direct, long-distance contact. For example, as the author notes, the closest affinities to the skyphoi from Tell Tayinat, which are the most common Aegeanizing vessels in the assemblage, are found in Cyprus (levels IIIB Late and IIIC at Enkomi and Floors III–I at Kition). The same is true of the LH IIIC bowl assemblage as a whole. Indeed, based in large part on the ceramic record, which reveals a “hybrid” (9, 117) style that fused Aegeanizing shapes and motifs with local traditions, Janeway concludes that the earliest Iron I occupation at Tell Tayinat most likely consisted of a combination of immigrants from around the eastern Mediterranean (the Aegean, Cyprus, and western Anatolia) and elements of the indigenous population, who may themselves have been immigrants from other settlements around the Amuq Valley, including neighboring Tell Atchana.

In Sea Peoples of the Northern Levant, Janeway ably navigates the complex context within which these data must be historically and archaeologically situated and provides a first look at the Aegeanizing ceramics from the Tell Tayinat assemblage that is both comprehensive and invaluable. Readers will appreciate the volume’s organization and straightforward presentation, with applicable parallels being presented alongside the data, and with historical synthesis and subjective (though well-articulated) conclusions being presented in a separate, final chapter. Ultimately, Sea Peoples of the Northern Levant stands as an effective monograph-length opening statement from the TAP. For researchers and scholars working within the complex material and historical tapestry of the Late Bronze–Early Iron Age transition in the eastern Mediterranean, this volume is highly recommended.

Jeffrey P. Emanuel
Harvard University

Book Review of Sea Peoples of the Northern Levant? Aegean-Style Pottery from Early Iron Age Tell Tayinat, by Brian Janeway

Reviewed by Jeffrey P. Emanuel

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 123, No. 3 (July 2019)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1233.emanuel

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.