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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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Exciting news at Ashdod

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Ashdod is an important biblical site that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves.

As with many of the major archeological sites in Israel, Ashdod’s history begins in the Bronze Age (circa 3000 to 1200 BCE) with the Canaanites. It was during the Middle Bronze Age (circa 2000 to 1500 BCE) that Ashdod was founded and had its initial golden age. A major city gate dating to the last phase of the Middle Bronze Age period was found by a joint Israeli-American excavation in the 1960s and early ’70s, which was headed by the well-known Israeli archeologist Moshe Dothan and the legendary American biblical scholar David Noel Freedman.

Ashdod was a major commercial centre in the Late Bronze Age. Its port, Tel Mor, became a focal point of international trade on the southern coast of the Levant. The city had commercial relations with the eastern Mediterranean area and the Aegean region, which was inhabited by the Mycenaean Greeks whose pottery was found at the site. The eastern Mediterranean was amply represented by Cypriot pottery. By this time, Cyprus was becoming a centre of Mycenaean activity.

The excavators also found what they thought was indigenous “Palestinian” bichrome ware dating from the early part of the Late Bronze Age (circa 1550 to 1475 BCE). Amazingly, Michal Artzy, of Haifa University, found that “Palestinian” bichrome ware is not Palestinian. Using neutron activation analysis, a new scientific method of determining provenance, Artzy proved that the clays used to make this unique style of pottery originally came from Cyprus and that many of its motifs were Aegean in origin. All of this served to highlight the international nature of Ashdod and its close connections to the Mediterranean world.

By the end of the Late Bronze Age and the beginning of the subsequent Iron Age, shortly after 1200 BCE, Ashdod was conquered by the well-known but enigmatic Sea Peoples. Moshe Dothan, and especially his wife, Trude, were recognized authorities on the Sea Peoples. Many scholars believe they originated in the Aegean and had close affinities with the Mycenaean Greeks. Amazingly, the latest Mycenaean pottery was virtually identical to the earliest pottery of the Sea Peoples, in particular the pottery made by the branch of the Sea Peoples that we know as the Philistines, who had settled along the southern coast of Israel.

However, with recent research and excavations, the Aegean origin of the Sea Peoples is being questioned. The southeastern coast of Turkey is currently being looked at as their homeland. One of the most prominent excavations in this area is directed by Prof. Timothy Harrison, chair of the department of near and Middle Eastern civilizations of the University of Toronto. He is also a recent recipient of a major research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Also exciting is the fact that the University of Toronto may be about to become involved in the excavations at Ashdod, seeking to unlock the secrets of the eastern Mediterranean at a crucial time in its history.       

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