Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Early Bronze Age

Today I attended a lecture at Tel Aviv University called "Maritime Trade and Northern Israel in the Early & Middle Bronze Age." The speaker was Ezra Marcus of the University of Haifa. The sponsor was an organization that Janet belongs to, which puts on a series of English-language archaeology lectures and field trips for non-students.

To get to Tel Aviv University campus, I decided to avoid driving in traffic and take the train. This was a somewhat adventurous undertaking. The 8:00 AM train was very crowded with commuters and young soliders in uniform, some with their uzis slung over their shoulders. The university is not far from the station, but the route involves a walk up around 4 flights of stairs. The train arrives at the bottom of a sort of escarpment and the campus is on top. Security is in evidence, including a search upon entry and sniffer dogs within the station.

In his lecture, Marcus discussed trends in the Eastern Mediterranean from around 3300 until around 175o BCE. He summarized the trade and geographic factors that created a network of shipping and goods exchange. The trading partners were Egypt, Caananites on the coast of Israel, cities of the Levant and Anatolia, Crete, and other places in the Aegean. The coastal ports served traders in paddled boats and later similar sail-equipped boats from Egypt.

Products from the highlands of Israel included olive oil, wine, and timber products -- Egyptians especially valued wood for shipbuilding and resin for many uses. Tin for making bronze came first from Turkey, later from Afghanistan, which also produced lapis lazuli, prized for Egyptian jewelry. Egyptian trade goods included faience beadwork. Pottery vessels were traded and also used to contain agricultural products. Trade in metal weapons and precious metal goods was also important. Northern Israel was at a midpoint of the trade routes, so ports there profited from service to traders as well as from buying and selling products.

The middle of this era saw a drastic decline in the sea trade, as the unified governance of Egypt dissolved and then reformed. The causes, whether due to climate, economy, war, or politics, are not well understood. Before and after this decline, Egyptian and Aegean artisans and colonists seem to have lived in the cities of northern Israel. For example, excavations at the site of Kabri, a port on the Israeli coast, has yielded Levantine, Aegean and Egyptian artifacts such as wet-plaster frescos and pottery.

Marcus supplied many interesting maps of ancient northern Israeli roads and cities, drawings and photos of pottery and other archaeological finds, and diagrams explaining his material. Habitual lecture-goers told me I was lucky to have attended one of the best lectures of the series.

After the lecture we had an enjoyable lunch at the apartment of Janet's friend, who lives in downtown Tel Aviv. As Janet was driving us past the city hall and the famous Rabin Square, I was surprised to see a junk collector driving a horse-drawn wagon full of scrap metal through the heavy traffic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I noticed that no one has made a comment yet on your blog, so I thought I would let you know that we are enjoying reading about your travels. Do say hello to the Mukamel and Safran families, if you run across them, from the Desai side of your family!
Aparna + Joel