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Egyptians at Early Bronze Age Megiddo

Analytical Study of Early Bronze Egyptian Pottery Assemblage from the Temple Compound 

An intriguing assemblage of Early Bronze Age pottery from Megiddo, discovered during the 1996 excavation season, has been subjected to an analytical petrographic study in order to ascertain its provenance. Petrographic analysis aims to identify the geographic region from which a given object comes by identifying its mineral content, then matching the results to the known geological composition of likely regions of origin.

The assemblage represents some type of squatter activity within the abandoned monumental EBI (fourth millennium B.C.E.) temple compound. The approximately 20 vessels were found bunched together in an area of about one square metre, indicating that they were deliberately placed there, likely as offerings.
 
 

Rachel Paletta of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University carefully restores the 'Egyptianizing' pottery vessels found in the EBI temple complex.

The Early Bronze Age I is a period that witnessed an increasing Egyptian interest in Canaan. Egyptian architecture and artifacts, including mainly pottery, but also flint and stone tools, have been found at many sites dating to this period, especially in the southern part of the country (the northern Negev and the Shephela). 

The nature and motives for the interaction between Egypt and Canaan are the subjects of a long-lasting debate. There are basically two interpretations of the phenomenon. One attempts to relate the Egyptian aspects of material culture to physical Egyptian presence in southern Canaan by way of military conquest. The other attributes the remnants to peaceful trade relations between them. 

Analytical examinations of the Egyptian pottery from sites in southern Canaan, such as Tel Erani, En Besor and Arad, were made during the 1980s by Naomi Porat, then with the Geology Department of Hebrew University. These investigations revealed that some of the more common Egyptian pottery shapes were produced in southern Canaan using techniques that imitated those employed in Egypt. As a result of her conclusions, Porat coined the term 'Egyptianizing pottery' for those vessels which apparently had been made by Egyptian potters who had settled in southern Canaan, together with traders or administrators. 

So far, Egyptianizing pottery has been found only in the southern parts of the country, as far north as Azor, near Tel Aviv. The finds at Megiddo push this limit a further 100 kilometres northward.

Our examinations of the Egyptian pottery from Megiddo, carried out in the laboratory of Tel Aviv University's Institute of Archaeology, revealed that it too was made in Canaan rather than Egypt.
The 'Egyptianizing' pottery from Megiddo's EBI temple complex.
However, many minerals and rock fragments that were found in its clay (e.g. basalt) indicate that it was produced locally at Megiddo, not in southern Canaan. In terms of technology, this pottery also attempts to imitate Egyptian techniques and raw materials. Thus, it is easily distinguishable from the common Early Bronze Age local wares. 

This unexpected data opens new possibilities for interpretation of the Egyptian presence in Canaan. First, if the initial interpretation of the Egyptianizing pottery is acceptable, it means that Egyptian settlers colonized some locations in the more northern parts of the country as well, perhaps within the Canaanite populations of the larger settlements. Second, it shows that, contra the popular view that the initial Bronze Age urbanization process in Canaan arose under the impetus of Egyptian stimulation, Canaan, or at least Megiddo, was already fully urbanized, or even declining from its first urban cycle, when the first Egyptian civilization, as shown in the material remains of Megiddo, was influencing Canaan. Finally, if indeed the vessels were brought to the temple as some type of offering, it shows an, until now, undetected cultural syncretism between the Egyptian element and their Canaanite hosts.

Yuval Goren,
Institute of Archaeology, 
Tel Aviv University