Books in Brief
Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East
(New York: Facts on File, 1990) 238 pp. + 53 maps, 468 illustrations (342 in color), $45
Michael Roaf’s superb Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia continues a tradition of popular world histories initiated by British presses in the 1970s, such as Elsevier Phaidon’s Making of the Past, the Times Books’ atlases and earlier volumes in the Facts on File Cultural Atlas series. Trademarks of these publications are excellent maps, brief focused sections on individual sites or topics and high-quality color illustrations interspersed throughout the text. The authors have consistently been chosen from among experts in the field, on the correct assumption that accounts for the general public are best written by scholars.
Roaf’s contribution maintains the genre’s high standards, and indeed demonstrates the past decade’s efforts to improve upon them, particularly in the quality and sophistication of the graphics. His assignment, moreover, involved one of the most ambitious survey projects for the ancient world, since he was to cover 10,000 years of archaeological remains spanning the entire Near East, from Anatolia and the eastern Mediterranean to eastern Iran. His sober and legible account begins with the earliest settlements of the Neolithic ninth millennium B.C., and proceeds with admirable clarity and well-balanced detail through the later prehistoric phases, to the kingdoms of the third and second millennia B.C., and the empires of the first. Two-page entries on individual sites and on specific topics (“Science,” “Technology,” “The Royal Art of Hunting” and 21 others) allow the author more precise explanations beyond the cultural and historical themes of his main text. Charts, fine maps, reconstructions of ancient monuments and a glossary allow the uninitiated to follow the complexities of the ancient Near East without confusion. Finally, by including material from excavations of the past five years (such as proto-Neolithic Qermez Dere in northern Iraq and the Assyrian queens’ tombs at Nimrud), Roaf’s publication supersedes all previous general books of this scope.
The general reader will first be drawn to The Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia because of its pictures, as will instructors bent on mining the book for illustrated class lectures. Both will later benefit from attentive reading to discover, among other rewards, Roaf’s humor occasionally slipped into the captions and the text. Michael Roaf’s Cultural Atlas is a tour-de-force: a work of scholarship for the general public and, for the specialist, a cogent synthesis of the latest discoveries and interpretations of the ancient Near East.
Excavations in Jerusalem 1961–1967, Volume II. The Iron Age Extramural Quarter on the Southeast Hill
H. J. Franken and M. L. Steiner
(Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990) 134 pp., $55.00
Between 1961 and 1967, the eminent British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon directed excavations in Jerusalem, centering about the ancient City of David, the oldest inhabited part of the city. Her excavation ended with the Six-Day War when Jerusalem was captured by the Israelis; she would not, it is said, dig under the Israelis.
At the time of her Jerusalem dig, Kenyon was at the height of her career, having excavated Jericho (1952–1958) to the acclaim of the scholarly world. She was admired most, however, for the archaeological method that bears her name—the Wheeler-Kenyon method—which, in one form or another, was, and is, used in almost all Near Eastern excavations. At her death in 1978, she was widely regarded as the world’s greatest field archaeologist.
The Wheeler-Kenyon method, which she developed with Sir Mortimer Wheeler at Roman sites in Britain, consists of laying out 5-meter squares with 1-meter catwalks (called balks) between the squares, thus forming a grid. The 5-meter squares are excavated, but the balks are not—at least initially, for they form a record of the various strata that formerly lay within the excavated squares. As developed and applied by Dame Kathleen (she was “knighted” toward the end of her life), this method requires slow, careful excavation, detailed field records and frequent drawing of stratigraphic sections that record the various levels revealed in the balks.
At her death, at age 72, Kenyon had not completed the final report of Jericho or Jerusalem. With the best of intentions, she unfortunately left this to her colleagues. They have, however, performed magnificently—with dedication, care and, with it all, a considerable amount of creativity.
From Jericho we now have Excavations at Jericho in five volumes—the first three were co-edited by Kenyon with Thomas A. Holland, who completed the series (London: British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, 1960–1983).
The first volume of the final report on Jerusalem was published in 1985a and covered Jerusalem sites outside the City of David—on Mt. Zion and at the so-called Third Wall.
Volume II covers a site in the City of David, north of Kenyon’s famous Trench A. (In Trench A, Kenyon correctly established the relationship between the Jerusalem city wall from the Middle Bronze Age [c. 1800 B.C.E.b] and the Gihon Spring outside the wall; the spring could be entered from the city via Warren’s Shaft in case of a siege.) The site described in Volume II consists of several squares outside the city wall north of the Gihon Spring. This volume is written by the distinguished Dutch archaeologist Henk J. Franken, assisted by his Dutch colleague Margarete L. Steiner. Franken excavated with Kenyon at Jericho, but not at Jerusalem.
History has not been kind to Kathleen Kenyon. Many of the conclusions she reached concerning Jerusalem and which she published in two popular books1 have been proven wrong by later excavations.”c And her vaunted archaeological method has also been criticized, sometimes severely. The principal criticism of her archaeological method has been that it requires such detail and care that the amount of excavated exposure is inevitably too limited. In the words of William Dever, a leading field 006archaeologist of this generation, Kenyon’s methods “are so tedious and demanding in application that scarcely ever is a single building completely cleared, let alone a building complex large enough to give us an adequate exposure on which to base our understanding of the material culture of the period.”d
In the words of Israeli archaeologist Yigal Shiloh, who dug in the City of David after Kenyon and who also died (at age 50) before completing his final report, “Kenyon thought once she took an area and, like a checkerboard, put down four small squares, perforating the area, that she had finished her work.”e
A younger generation of British archaeologists has also been critical. Jonathan Tubb of the British Museum recently remarked, “Kenyon became obsessed with sequential minutiae. The section or balk became almost an artifact, and the drawing of it, the raison d’être for digging the site in the first place.f
The present volume is also critical. It not only takes issue with Kenyon’s conclusions but, worse still, tells us that she miserably failed to apply her own standards of care and attention to detail.
The authors state almost apologetically that they have “made explicit what we thought had to be done archaeologically,” but they have “refrain[ed] from apologetics against the critics of Kenyon”:
“We want to state clearly that those who have attacked the Kenyon method of digging up Jerusalem have forgotten that incompatibilities should not be compared…What is the point for those who know all they want to know to criticize or even despise those who prefer a more laborious approach to the discovery of secrets of the past? What indeed.”
The authors try not to be critical, but they inevitably are. Kenyon’s Jerusalem dig, they explain,
“was a far more strenuous enterprise than Jericho had been. Clearly as a result of this, site supervisors were often left to their own devices for too long and it is probably this lack of sufficient guidance in the field that accounts for the fact that the quality of the field documents is less than one would wish for. There was little continuity in the many squares during the successive seasons of the excavation and, in addition, some crucial plans and sections were either not 009produced or have disappeared.
“After a preliminary study of the field documents we had to decide to omit from the text all those stratigraphic descriptions for which the exact position could not be established…We have based our text solely on reliable stratigraphic information, and this means that there are no references to those parts of the total stratigraphic content of each excavated square that we considered obscure.”
Unfortunately, even the location of some squares “has remained slightly uncertain. Plans made in successive years give a somewhat different location for these squares.”
Moreover, the occupation levels of the squares at the foot of Trench A “could not be correlated with the phases of the other squares. Therefore their scant remains will be described separately.”
Another deficiency: “It is regrettable that technical descriptions of walls and floors are completely lacking in the field notebooks, and therefore in this study as well.”
As for the section drawings that did exist: “Indications of absolute height were often lacking in the section drawings and had to be deduced from the plans. Some deviations from the real values cannot be excluded.”
The principal site discussed in the volume is designated A/XXII, formed by four contiguous squares. As noted above, it is located outside the city wall; it includes a structure of several rooms, with adjacent caves dug into the hillside. Kenyon interpreted the structure as a “sanctuary” or “ceremonial structure.” She found a niche in one wall of the building. She interpreted a plaster bowl found in one room as an “altar.” Two monolithic pillars in another room had no structural functions, according to Kenyon; she therefore interpreted them as cultic pillars, or massebot. The clinching evidence for Kenyon was the contents of Cave I, adjoining the building. It contained 87 fragments of broken figurines, apparently deliberately broken (they were often found next to complete bowls). The figurines were of horses and riders (21), birds (7), miscellaneous animals (38) and humans with pillar bases (16). In addition, the cave included 16 inscriptions, mostly names scratched on pots. A total of 1,300 objects, mostly ordinary household pottery, was also found in the cave. While there were 43 animal bones, there were no human bones. Some of the animal bones were found in bowls.
Another adjoining cave, Cave II, also contained considerable pottery, but no figurines and no inscriptions.
Kenyon interpreted both these caves as favissae (singular, favissa), that is, repositories for used cultic artifacts, often deliberately broken to ensure that they were not thereafter returned to a profane use.
Franken and Steiner reject Kenyon’s interpretation of the structure, the caves and the function of the complex. They interpret the structure as a kind of guest house in the ninth to eighth centuries B.C.E.
As for the pillars, Franken and Steiner conclude that they “are not very exceptional” in terms of height or distance between them. And the room in which they were found has ordinary dimensions: “No cult site has to be introduced to account for the presence of pillars, a plastered basin or a niche behind a wall.” The pottery found on the floors of the rooms did not give a “hint at a cult function for the complex.”
Most of the pottery found in Cave II “is connected with cooking and serving of food.” A layer of soot implied that the vessels had actually been used for cooking:
“All in all the content of the cave reminds one most of the kitchen inventory of a restaurant or guest house. The pots were probably kept on shelves along the walls.”
The quantity of cooking and serving ware in the cave was far too much for an ordinary house. “The caves were cupboards where pottery was stored that would be used at dinnertime” by those staying at the guest house, according to the authors.
Located near the city gate, the guest house 010was probably part of an extramural suburb of artisans and small traders who made their living by buying and selling at the city gate. “The finds indicate that certainly no wealthy people lived here.”
But what about the contents of Cave I—the figurines and inscriptions? Franken and Steiner note that even here Kenyon did not find the “rich assemblies that one would expect as gifts to a sanctuary…No ornaments, gold, scarabs or imported pottery were present in the cave.”
Yet the repertoire of finds from Cave I was hardly what one would expect from an ordinary household, or even an ordinary guest house. In addition to the broken figurines and inscriptions, there were bowls and cooking pots containing animal bones, rattles, chalices and a large incense stand. All this presupposes some cultic function, but not, say Franken and Steiner, a favissa “A favissa presupposes the presence of a temple, and this has not been found in this area.”
The cave was, however, a cult center of some kind, they concede, surrounded by a guest house. This “people’s” cult center was apparently added to the guest house in the second half of the eighth century B.C.E.:
“Nothing is known about the rituals that were performed in Cave I, the exact nature of the offerings, or the person who was in charge of the cave: prophet or prophetess, magician, healer or seer, woman or man; but the cave fits in with the general picture of popular religion in that period. This is especially so because of its situation outside the town near the gate.”
Franken and Steiner cite Jeremiah 7:17–18:
“Don’t you see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather sticks, the fathers build the fire, and the mothers knead dough, to make cakes for the Queen of Heaven, and they pour libations to other gods, to vex Me.” (see also Jeremiah 44:17.)
The Queen of Heaven is probably a reference to Asherah, the Canaanite goddess.
According to Franken and Steiner:
“It is likely that henotheism, the concept that there is only one god in one’s own country and that other countries and peoples have other gods in their own right, prevailed among the tribes of Israel and Judah. The kingdom of Judah under King Solomon could therefore introduce foreign deities into the state temple on the basis of international treaties. Such a treaty may have been the occasion when Astarte or Asherah was formally introduced in Jerusalem” (see 1 Kings 11:5).
On the lower level of daily life, the peasantry probably related to these names as affecting their own fortunes. “And this was not considered to be ‘unorthodox’ by religious leaders of the time.”
As a scholar appropriately named T. Canaan has noted (as paraphrased by Franken and Steiner):
“Psychologically, [there is] no conflict in this respect even with the monotheistic concepts of Christendom, Islam or Judaism. On the one hand there is only one God, but on the other hand the world of natural phenomena is allowed to be dominated by Christian and Moslem saints: spirits of light or darkness, male or female. [Canaan] has shown that in the mind of the believer monotheism goes together well with polytheism in the form of magic, sorcery, exorcism, curses, offerings, telling of futures and so on, all connected with the existence of numerous local numina.”
It is in this light that we must understand the cave with the figurines:
“Whether any rituals took place inside the cave is not clear. The religious intermediary, a prophet or prophetess, may have lived in the adjacent rooms or on a second storey where he or she received the visitors.”
While this review has focused on the site and its interpretation, the book itself also devotes major space to a study of the pottery. The authors totally reject Kenyon’s classification system. Kenyon saved only rims of vessels. Her registration system for these rims included only types with which she was already familiar from her previous excavations. As the authors note, “Since there were only rim sherds, and no complete shapes of pottery vessels, some important aspects of the tradition cannot be properly described.”
Accordingly, the authors undertake a statistical study of the pottery, its ware and method of manufacture that will be of considerable interest and importance to specialists.2
Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East
(New York: Facts on File, 1990) 238 pp. + 53 maps, 468 illustrations (342 in color), $45