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Monday, November 10, 2008

Excavating Tel Kabri: The Aegean Connection

Did the Minoans walk the ancient land of Canaan? No one can say with certainty, but new evidence is emerging that further supports the possibility. Directors Eric Cline of the George Washington University and Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of California, Santa Cruz, will be leading an excavation this summer that will shed new light on this, and many other questions about the ancient inhabitants who once occupied the site of Tel Kabri.

Located in the western Galilee region of modern Israel, Tel Kabri was the center of a Canaanite polity during the Middle Bronze Age. Excavations conducted by Aharon Kempinski and Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier from 1986-1993 revealed the remains of a palace dating to the Middle Bronze period (ca. 2000-1550 BCE). Tel Kabri has now been revealed to be a large site (more than 200,000 sq. m.) with a continuum of strata from the Neolithic Period to the Iron Age. Most significant are the Middle Bronze Age remains, which include massive fortifications (Area C), residential architecture and tombs (Areas B and C), and a large palace (Area D), as well as an Iron Age fortress with imported Greek pottery and additional evidence for the presence of Greek mercenary soldiers which was partially excavated at the highest part of the Tel (Area E).

A rare discovery was made within the palace at Tel Kabri: a floor and walls decorated with paintings done in Aegean style. The painted floor was found within a ceremonial room and was decorated with floral and marbled motifs. The approximately 2,000 fragments from one or more wall frescoes included boats, griffin wings, and houses that bore much resemblance to the miniature frescoes found on the Greek island of Santorini. Kabri is one of only four sites in the Eastern Mediterranean to have such Bronze Age Aegean-style paintings and may well be the earliest. Such evidence for artistic connections between the Aegean culture of ancient Crete and the Cyclades with the Canaanites and other inhabitants of the ancient Near East is unique in Israel. It is also very rare elsewhere, existing outside the Aegean only in Egypt at Tel el-Dab’a, the capitol of the Hyksos, and at the sites of Alalakh and Qatna in Syria.

The 2009 Season

The 2009 season will focus on continued excavation of the palace, with the goal of investigating its life cycle, from its humble beginnings to its destruction three centuries later.

In Area D-West, the team plans to re-initiate the excavation of the core of the MB II palace primarily within Room 1433a. It was this room that, along with Room 740, Kempinski and Niemeier thought might have served as a throne room, but it was left unexcavated by them. In addition, since we now know that the Aegean-style miniature frescoes were found only in secondary contexts at Kabri, i.e. used as filling material for the thresholds of the Middle Bronze Age building in its final phase, the will attempt to excavate the threshold fillings at the entrances to certain rooms, all of which were renovated during the latest use of the building and are thus prime candidates for the presence of additional fragments of Aegean-style paintings.

In Area D-North, they will continue to excavate and expose the plaster floors of the Middle Bronze Age palace, seeking to determine whether any of them were painted in an Aegean style.

In Area D-South, excavation will continue down to the floors and then below the courtyard area of the palace, in order to determine whether it was preceded by an earlier court or by different structures. During 2005 excavations in this area, they also encountered the corner of an additional, and monumental, Middle Bronze construction which is very likely a Syrian-style entrance complex. They plan to further expose this complex.

Directors Cline and Yasur-Landau are now calling for students and volunteers to help continue the discovery process this summer. If you are interested in being a part of this cutting edge research, go to digkabri.wordpress.com for more information. It may well be an experience you will never forget.

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