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Map of Iron Age I Sites.  Ancient names are in italics; modern names are in roman.
Map of Iron Age I Sites.
Click for a larger view.
The conventional chronology dates this event of the Sea Peoples defeated in year 8 of Ramesses III. to 1190BC. This in fact coincides with the beginning of the Iron Age. Thus in that chronology any destructions found at the end of the Late Bronze Age are either due to the advance or defeat of the Sea Peoples or the settling of the land by the Children of Israel because the Iron Age is in conventional terms the time of the Judges.

We would expect therefore that any archaeological finds in the first Iron Age strata to be completely different from the preceding age all over Canaan. So as not to present a false picture of what is actually found, I will quote extensively from THE text book of pottery of the area "Ancient Pottery of the Holy Land" by Ruth Amiran and Amihai Mazar's "Archaeology of the Land of the Bible 10,000 - 586 B.C.E." the latter being the reference work in the Anchor Bible Library dealing with this issue.

Ruth Amiran writes:

" The Philistine Pottery: (p. 266) The problems of the Philistines and of the pottery attributed to them has engaged the attention of scholars, historians, archaeologists, and philologists for many years, and has been discussed repeatedly, not only within the framework of Palestinian archaeology, but also within that of the Aegean cultures. In fact, the Philistine problem in Palestine was 'discovered' by archaeologists who had worked mainly in Cretan-Aegean archaeology (Welch, 1900; Thiersch, 1908). Mackenzie, in particular, investigated the problem during his excavations at Beth Shemesh in 1911-1912, he determined correctly the stratigraphic relationship of the pottery and defined it as "Philistine," and as related to the cultures of the Aegean world. Ethnic association of any pottery class is rarely as justified as in this case. The historical and philological aspects of the Philistine phenomenon are beyond the scope of this book, though they are almost inseparable from the ceramic aspect, which we have to analyze.

The ceramic aspect includes, of course, both form and decoration.

a) Form: The repertoire of types in Philistine pottery falls generically into two categories:

1) forms of Mycenaean character, and

2) forms of local Canaanite character.

1) Mycenaean character: the krater with two tilted horizontal handles (Nos. 1-4, Photo 269); the stirrup-jar (No. 10, Photo 270); the elongated pyxis (Nos. 6 and 7).

2) Local Canaanite character: jugs in several variations (Nos. 5 and 9, Photo 271), including the one designated as 'beer-jug' (No. 11, Photos 272-274); juglets, even the 'waisted' example (No. 8), which recalls the 'waisted' variants of the local pyxis imitations, (cf. Plate 57:4, 5); the pilgrim flask (Nos. 12 and 13, Photo 275); and jar No. 14, if our assumption that its decoration is a simplified version of the Philistine style is accepted.

b) Decoration: The salient characteristics of the painted decoration may be defined as follows: the decoration covers the upper and middle parts of the body, i.e. the shoulder and the central zone. Each of these, usually the central zone, is a frieze of the metopic order: the triglyphs consist of straight or wavy lines, enclosing sometimes a vertical row of semicircles with a dot in each. The metopes may contain a geometric pattern, like spirals, concentric circles enclosing a cross, checkerboards, lozenges, or, most characteristically, a bird-motif. The bird is shown in two postures - generally the head is turned backwards, with the beak thrust under the wing-feathers, but sometimes the bird looks straight ahead. Generally this decoration is black and red on a white slip, but it occurs also in one color, with or without the slip.

Philistine pottery This style of decoration occurs on all the types enumerated above in the two groups of forms. A very interesting point should now be emphasized: representatives of the types in group I were imported into Canaan as early as in the Late Bronze (cf. for krater - Plate 57:12; for stirrup-jar Photo 191 and Plate 57: 10; for pyxis - Photos 181, 199, and Plate 57: 1). Even more important is the fact that these very types, among others, were not only imitated by local potters (Plate 57), but were absorbed into the local culture, and continued to develop together with the other more native elements making up the pottery repertoire. They became part of the local culture to such an extent that it could reasonably be suggested that the three types enumerated in group I came down to Iron I as direct descendants of the Late Bronze repertoire, in itself a complex amalgamation. In other words, the stirrup-jar was already a native though a 'naturalized' one, when the decorated stirrup-jar started to be made by the newcomers - the Philistines, who decorated it in the style customary in their Aegean homeland.

This suggestion has been brought forward merely to illustrate the complexity -of the problems involved, although the ethnic connotation of this pottery seems to be satisfactorily settled."

The general conclusion is that there is little change in the shapes and style of pottery from Late Bronze II.

Making things even more difficult for the conventional chronology, Mazar states:

"At Beth Shemesh , some 7 km farther east (of Timnah), a single Iron Age I level (Stratum III) contained abundant Philistine pottery, Beth Shemesh appears in the Bible as an Israelite town during the period of the Judges (see particularly 1 Samuel 6:9-15), but the material culture at the site is indistinguishable from that of its Philistine neighbor, Timnah. This phenomenon exemplifies the difficulties of defining ethnicity on the basis of material culture. ( Archeology of the Land of the Bible : Amihai Mazar p. 312)

So now we have a situation where there doesn't seem to be much change after the invasion from before and there doesn't seem to be much evidence that what is termed Philistine ware was restricted to the area generally accepted to be Philistia.

There is one site however in which all such problems should be resolved. At Tell Qasile which is now in the area of Tel Aviv and 2 kilometers from the sea, the Philistines built on virgin soil. Here at least there should be clear evidence that newcomers had arrived in the area, bearing in mind of course that here were Sea Peoples according to the accepted view.

Mazar writes:-

"Other sites settled by the Philistines in the Yarkon region are Aphek and Tel Gerisa. But they appear to have been only partially settled and of little significance. Jaffa, the most natural port in the area south of the Yarkon, was surprisingly unimportant during this time, but at nearby Azor, a cemetery was exposed which indicated the existence here of a substantial Philistine settlement." ( Mazar p. 311)

Neither he nor anyone else wants to comment as to why these "Sea Peoples" built a completely new city inland when the most natural port in the whole area was left empty.

He goes on:-

"The three temples at Tell Qasile are different in plan even though they belong to the same culture and were built within a relatively short time span of some 150 years. Such variations in temple architecture are unprecedented within the Canaanite sphere, in which temples retained their basic form for lengthy periods. It seems, therefore, that the Philistine population - as was the case with the Myceneans - did not have a crystallized tradition of religious architecture." (Mazar p. 322)

Plan of the Philistine temples at Tell Qasile Again this doesn't seem to ring warning bells as it did with Aharoni, that something is terribly wrong with the scenario that a strange people arrived in the area at the beginning of the Iron Age.

Next week we will look more closely at the link between Cypriot pottery and that of the Philistines and see how the archaeology of the Iron Age better fits the time of the divided Kingdom than that of the Judges,

Any Questions?

Michael S. Sanders

Monday, July 06, 1998

Irvine California


  1. Ancient Pottery of the Holy Land: Ruth Amiran (ISBN: 0813506344 )
    Out of Print. Amazon will search.
  2. Archaeology of the Land of the Bible 10,000-586 B.C.E. : Amihai Mazar (ISBN: 038523970X)
  3. The Archaeology of the Land of Israel: Yohanan Aharoni (ISBN: 066424430)
    Out of Print. Amazon will search


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