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Archaeologists Uncover Evidence of a Minoan Presence Among Ancient Canaanites

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Lydia Dashner
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« on: April 12, 2011, 01:07:29 am »

Archaeologists Uncover Evidence of a Minoan Presence Among Ancient Canaanites

By Dan McLerran   Mon, Apr 11, 2011


Excavations at a large Middle Bronze Age Canaanite Palace in the western Galilee region of present-day Israel is revealing mounting evidence of an ancient Minoan cultural presence in ancient Canaan during the 17th century B.C.E.,
Archaeologists Uncover Evidence of a Minoan Presence Among Ancient Canaanites

A recent and ongoing excavation at the remains of an expansive Middle Bronze Age Canaanite palace in the western Galilee region of present-day Israel is opening a new window on the possible presence of ancient Minoans at an ancient Canaanite palace, revealing what may be the earliest known Western art found in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Known as Tel Kabri (located near its namesake kibbutz not far from historic Acco and the resort town of Nahariya on the coast of Israel), the site features an early Middle Bronze Age (MB I) palace dated to the 19th century B.C.E., making it, along with ancient Aphek and possibly Megiddo, the earliest MB palace discovered in present-day Israel. This conclusion was drawn as a result of excavations conducted there as recently as December 20, 2010 to January 10, 2011. But the tell-tale signs of an Aegean presence or influence at the site show up in a later developmental phase of the palace structure some 150 to 200 years later in the overlying MB II palace dated to the 17th century.  Reports Dr. Eric Cline of George Washington University and Co-Director of the excavations along with Assaf Yasur-Landau of Haifa University, "Excavations conducted by [Aharon] Kempinski and [Wolf-Dietrich] Niemeier from 1986 to 1993 at the site of Tel Kabri -- now identified as the capital of a Middle Bronze Age Canaanite kingdom located in the western Galilee region of modern Israel -- revealed the remains of a palace dating to the Middle Bronze (MB) II period (ca. 1700 - 1550 B.C.E.). Within the palace, Kempinski and Niemeier discovered an Aegean-style painted plaster floor and several thousand fragments originally from a miniature Aegean-style wall fresco."(1) The new excavations under the direction of Cline and Yasur-Landau have added to the discovery. Reports Cline, et al., "During the 2008 and 2009 excavations at Tel Kabri more than 100 new fragments of wall and floor plaster were uncovered.  Approximately 60 are painted, probably belonging to a second Aegean-style wall fresco with figural representations and a second Aegean-style painted floor."(2)   

Three other archaeological sites in the Middle East are known to have yielded Aegean-style frescoes and paintings: Tell el-Dab'a in Egypt, Qatna in Syria and Alalakh in Turkey.  The Tel Kabri fresoes and paintings are, however, the only evidence of Minoan or Cycladic-style artwork in present-day Israel (or among the ancient Canaanites) and they are dated as significantly older than those found at Tell el-Dab'a and Qatna. They are roughly contemporary with those at Alalakh, although, because it is still early in the investigations at Kabri and recent excavations have revealed an earlier palace structure 150 years older, the ultimate age relationship is still uncertain.
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Lydia Dashner
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« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2011, 01:08:16 am »

To be sure, identification of the painted plaster and fresco artifacts as distinctly Aegean in style hinges upon careful diagnostic analysis of the finds. Clear examination is blurred by thousands of years of time and the effects of their earthen environment context, including possible effects of their reuse by the ancient inhabitants for fill and floor patching during reconstruction or renovations by a later remodeling of the palace. But the process and features evident from physical examination alone point to unmistakeable conclusions that the artwork is Aegean. Aside from the style and colors of the fragments themselves, (closely resembling others found at the site of Knossos in Minoan Crete and on the Cycladic island of Santorini or ancient Thera, home to the ruins of Minoan Akrotiri), Cline emphasizes trademark Aegean or Minoan processes of production that are not normally found at typical ancient Canaanite sites.  "This technique of painting on a plaster wall while it is still wet is an Aegean technique," he maintains. "It is rarely found in the ancient Near East where they typically painted after the plaster was dry. Secondly, they applied a technique of using strings to help in the painting process. They took strings and just tightened them and, upon contacting the wet plaster, created a perfectly straight line. We have evidence of that in plaster. Another technique was to take a string and dip it in, for example, red paint, and then tighten it quickly against a surface to make a perfectly straight line. And we have found evidence of that here."  Another Aegean technique seen in Kabri was the use of knife marks to delineate the border of painted bands.

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Lydia Dashner
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« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2011, 01:08:52 am »



Plaster fragments excavated at Tel Kabri, showing signs of fresco painting technique and style characteristic of Minoan fresco art found at ancient Akrotiri on the island of Santorini (ancient Thera) and at Knossos on Crete. Courtesy Tel Kabri Excavations Project.
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Lydia Dashner
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« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2011, 01:09:35 am »



Fresco of blue monkeys from the excavations of bronze age Akrotiri on the Greek island of Santorini (ancient Thera). The style depicts a typical white-and-blue color scheme found throughout ancient Minoan fresco paintings. Some fragments recovered at Tel Kabri depict the same color scheme and style. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.
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« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2011, 01:10:03 am »



Fresco of Dolphins from the excavations of Knossos on the greek island of Crete, showing the typical white-and-blue color scheme. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.
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« Reply #5 on: April 12, 2011, 01:10:23 am »

Additionally, the excavations during the summer of 2009 and the winter of 2010/2011 have revealed emerging clues of a possible Minoan influence on the architecture of the site. A stone structural feature unearthed outside of the northern wall of the palace in 2009 shows a configuration characteristically attributable to Minoan construction. "It's only one level of stones thick," says Cline. "But it zig-zags. You usually see that on Crete, where it is a ceremonial walkway around a palace. It is either a walkway or the bottom of a wall......I think it is a roadway or walkway and that it may well be going around the palace. This roadway may be headed toward the missing west entrance to the palace."

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Lydia Dashner
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« Reply #6 on: April 12, 2011, 01:11:28 am »



Excavated portion of a stone structure that may possibly be a ceremonial walkway or roadway. Courtesy Tel Kabri Excavations Project.
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« Reply #7 on: April 12, 2011, 01:12:32 am »




Excavating a "corridor" feature of the MB palace. Courtesy Tel Kabri Excavations Project.

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The excavations at Tel Kabri are still young, but the finds to date have set the stage for much more to come. All indications thus far point to the probability that more frescoes will be found, further supporting the Minoan connection. Looking at the larger picture, researchers hope to be able to reconstruct the life-cycle of the Canaanite palace, determine its actual size, and find answers to a host of new questions that have emerged as the investigations have progressed.

"It's like no other site I have seen because it [the palace] is so huge yet it was really only occupied during the Middle Bronze Age," says Cline. "There is a lot more to learn. I think that we've only just begun to scratch the surface."

 

How to Get Involved

Are you interested in digging at Tel Kabri in the coming seasons?  Go to http://digkabri2011.wordpress.com for more information.


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(1) "New Fragments of Aegean-Style Painted Plaster from Tel Kabri, Israel," American Journal of Archaeology, Volume 115, No. 2. p. 245.

(2) "New Fragments of Aegean-Style Painted Plaster from Tel Kabri, Israel," American Journal of Archaeology, Volume 115, No. 2. p. 245.

Cover Photo: Aerial view of the Tel Kabri excavation site. Courtesy Tel Kabri Excavations Project.

More detailed information about the Tel Kabri excavations and discoveries can be found in Volume 115, No.2 of the American Journal of Archaeology, published by the Archaeological Institute of America, and through an extended interview of Dr. Eric H. Cline, as published in the June issue of Popular Archaeology Magazine.

By Dan McLerran

Dan McLerran

As Managing Editor of Popular Archaeology Magazine, Dan is a freelance writer specializing in archaeology.  He studied anthropology and archaeology in undergraduate and graduate school and has been an active participant on archaeological excavations in the U.S. and abroad.  He is the creator and administrator of Archaeological Digs, a popular weblog about archaeological excavation and field school opportunities.  He is also the creator and administrator of ArchaeologyNet, a business-oriented social network for archaeologists, students, volunteers, and educators.

http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/april-2011/article/archaeologists-uncover-evidence-of-a-minoan-presence-among-ancient-canaanites
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