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Pigments et colorants de l’Antiquité et du Moyen Âge

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Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes
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Centre de recherche sur les collections
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Équipe Étude des pigments, histoire et archéologie

Session C. Matériaux et traditions techniques : des données pour l'histoire de l'art, l'histoire des techniques, l'histoire économique et sociale

Textile and olive oil production in ancient Israel during the Iron Age period

David Eitam

Texte intégral

1In this paper I would like to investigate hypothesis pertaining to the existence of a textile manufacture, including dyeing process, in the olive oil industrial areas of the Iron Age settlements of ancient Israel.

2During the archaeological excavations of Tell Beit Mirsim in 1938, nine stone-cut installations were discovered in five rectangular rooms, two in each room (TBM III: 55-63). These installations - which W.F. Albright interperted as “dye-vats” - were carved out of blocks of chiselled lime-stone (about 70-90 cm. and the same in height). Identical installations have been found in other biblical towns as Beth Shemesh, Behtel, Tel e Nasbeh - Mizpah, etc.

Fig. 1. Map of the southern coastal plain of Israel with the five main Philistine cities: Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron and Safi.

3Almost all scholars agreed with Albright’s interpretation of the installations. Dalman (1964: 77-78) was the only one in his time who questioned this conclusion and suggested that they were olive presses.

4Albright’s interpretation stemmed from the discovery of “scores of basksetful” of doughnut-shaped clay objects which he identified as loom weights.

5Following my discovery, during the seventies, of the same kind of installations out in the rock in the Samarian Hills, I assumed that they served as oil presses and corroborated my assumption (Eitam 1979).

6Olive-oil manufacture became a mass-production industry in ancient Isreal during the 9th-7th centuries B.C. Great improvements were introduced to the manufacturing process of the installations which increased both in number (80% compared to the Late Bronze period) and in the quantities of oil produce (from 3 lt. oil per installation to 20 lt.). Organization-wise, the oil plants were integrated into the settlements, located in industrial areas which were an integral part of the over-all urban planning (Eitam 1987).

7In the Kingdom of Israel during the 9th and 8th Cent. B.C., industrial villages for the production of oil and wine were founded (like the ’Kla’ site in Mount Ephraim in the Samaria Hills - Eitam 1987).

8In provincial towns in the Hill-Country of Judea (the Shphelah region), industrial areas become part of urban planning (like Tel Beit Mirsim, Tel Beth Shemes and Tel Batash - the Biblical Timnah). Industrial plants were erected also in cities in the mountain region, like in Tel e Nasbeh - Mizpah and Bethel. Ekron - Tel Miqne in Philistine - became in the 7th Cent. B.C. an industrial city of unprecedented strength in the ancient Middle East.

9This picture has crystalized following to our field researches of the last ten years: The excavations of the ’Kla’ site, the research project of oil industry during the Iron Age at Tel Miqne, and the survey of the Agricultural Industry in Mount ’Manasseh in the Samaria Hills. Our main assumption is that this industry was the culmination of prior planning, founded and supervised by Royal Authorities.

  • * The research project is being conducted by us on behalf of the Israel Oil Industry Museum as part a (...)

10The first re-assessment of Albright’s theory had crystalized in 1985 during the first stage of the research project of the oil industry at Tell Miqne, the Philistine state-city of Ekron (Eitam & Shomroni 1987)*. The 105 oil press complexes found on the surface of the site during the survey and the 8 during excavation, probably reflect only a part of the industrial capability of the city in the 7th century B.C. This assumption is based on the fact that the excavations have exposed only 2% of the 300 dunams, the total area of the settlement.

Fig. 2. Reconstruction of an oil press complex at Tel Miqne: crushing basin, lever and weights presses.

Fig. 3. Plan and section of a loom weight.

Fig. 4. General view of oil press area (field III SE) : the Street and the gate area.

11The oil presses of Tel Miqne, and all the other Iron Age Oil Industries, functionned not more than 6 months a year following the olive harvest. That lead us to assume that the industrial area (that took up at least 20% of the vast city area) served other purposes in-between the oil extraction seasons. Furthermore, during the survey a number of items were discovered, which could not be tied up directly with the oil industry; wine presses, dozens of grinding stones and “loom weights” (fig. 2, 3 et 4). The latter were found also in the Iron Age oil plants at Tel e Nasbeh (Mizpeh), Tel Batash (Timnah) and Beth Shemesh. At Tell Beit Mirsim 97 “loom weights” were found near “short standing stones” that W.F. Albright interpreted as loom bases.

12The first question which should be posed concerning the existence of a textile manufacture should be whether the so-called loom weight served as a weight hung at the end of a warp of a vertical loom.

13These clay objects, found in almost every Iron Age excavated site in Israel, weighed 200-400 gr measuring 5-8 cm (height), 6-10 cm (diameter). The objects were also found in many Bronze Age sites in Israel and other mediterranean countries (Young 1962: 165). We strongly believe that they served as loom weights, an assumption which was proved experimentally by Sheffer (1981: 81-83; see also Weir 1970, Roth 1918). The fact that the loom weights were found in different locations, no in situ, but in heaps, does not contradict the assumption. (Curel 1986: 169-186). It only serves to prove the fact that they were stored for the next weaving season.

14If accepting this interpretation, we should question the scale of the textile manufacture, bearing in mind the fact that the season of treating wool and linen could be congruent to the olive harvest season. It is possible that olive-baskets were weaved in such looms. The olive pulp was loaded into these baskets and placed upon the surface of the press. Rectangular baskets, woven from goat’s wool were still in use during the forties in Israel. Such twin-baskets were loaded on donkeys’back, transporting the olives from the fields to the plants.

15On the other hand, flax can be cultivated in the region of Tel Miqne, Five distinct terms pertaining to flax are mentioned in the stories of Samson who was active in this exact geographical regions (Jadges 15: 13-14; 16: 7,9,13). Oil was used during that textile processing for cleaning and thickening the freshly woven cloth (wool) and for oiling the threads (possibly linen) on the loom in order to ease the weaving (Forbes 1955: 196; Melena 1975: 92). There is a theoretical possibility that the crushing installation in the oil plant - a rectangular basin (volume of 300 lt.) - may have served as a bath for washing or dyeing the textile.

16Textile manufacture in Ancient Israel during the Biblical period was a common phenomenon. Its existence was proved by the historical documents of the Ugarit archives (Ribichini & Xella 1985), in the Bible and by archaeological excavations (direct proofs - Briand & Humbet 1980, Sheffer 1987; indirect proofs-Sheffer 1976).

17If indeed the Iron Age oil press plants were put to use for weaving cloths in between the olive harvest seasons, it is probable that the dyeing process took place there as well. In the oil press plants at Tel Beit Mirsim, W.F. Albright found slaked lime in holemouth jars. One of the jars which was located in the vicinity of an oil press, was found full of “light gray ashes” which the excavator identified as the remains of potash (TBM III: 59). Despite the fact that no laboratory analysis has been done to corroborate this suggestion, yet bearing in mind our hypothesis, this find may guide us in our future research.

18Our research at this stage may permit us to raise some points concerning the reconstruction of a textile industry conducted in the oil press plants of Tel Miqne.

19The hundreds of loom weights that were found in the excavated oil press plants (Gittlen 1985), were gathered in heaps in a front room adjacent to the oil press room. There, we can reconstruct at least eight vertical woop weighted looms (around 40 weights for one loom). Those looms were leaning against the outer walls and on both sides of the inner wall. In the same room a square shallow basin was found with a drainage system connected to the nearby street (fig. 5 et 6).

20It seems that after the spinning process, the threads of wool or flax were treated or washed in the olive crashing basin and in the other shallow basin. In the latter, the dyeing process could also take place.

21The main textile industry in Ugarit was royal property (Ribichini & Xella 1985). In Egypt it was controlled by the temples as part of the state economy (Jannssen 1979). There are hints in the Bible pointing out the importance of the textile manufacture and its links with the Temple (Kings II: 23, 7). In the Talmudic period the dyeing of textiles became one of the occupations of the priests (Megilah: 24, 72).

22In the Middle Assyrian Kingdom, special clerks were put in charge of treating the wool, cloths and garments which were kept in the king’s treasury (Ebeling 1933: 1,7,11,13). This special “wardrobe” treasury - meltahah - were a common phenomenon in the Kingdom of Israel, at the Samaria Temple (Kings II: 10,22) and in the palace of the Judean Kingdom in Jerusalem (Jeremias: 38,11; Ehrlich 1912: 340). According to the list of the surrender taxation issued by Hezekiah, King of Judea, his meltahah (wardrobe) included bir-mu (coloured cloths), linen garments and most valuable wool, coloured with True purple and Blue violet.

23The above-mentioned textile products were probably of local origin. The question which should be posed is whether they were a product of the Royal industry or were produced elsewhere.

24In the excavated Oil press plant of Tel Miqne, a four-horned altar was found in situ (more then ten altars have been found in different locations in the 7th cent. BC. city). It should be mentioned that the altar was erected in the same room where the loom weights and the dye (?) installation were found.

25We can sum up our assumption and point out the possibility that the Royal Authorities, during the Iron Age II period, utilized the oil and wine state industrial areas for textile production.

26Nevertheless, further clues were not discovered in the excavated oil plant at Tel Miqne (Gittlen 1985) to corroborate the existence of textile and dyeing processes (colours or mordant). It seems that more information concerning the nature of the manufacture may be achieved by tackling the issue with the aid of an interdisciplinary team - including a botanist, textile expert and chemist - the Industrial Archaeology method of research (Eitam 1987).

Fig. 5. Plan of the excavated oil press plant in Tel Miqne (field III SE): in front, tow dye (?) basins with drainage installations; in red, heaps of loom weights; in the back room, the oil press complex.

Fig. 6. Reconstruction of an oil and textile plant in Tel Miqne; in red, the reconstructed looms in the front room.

Bibliographie

References

– BRIAND, & HUMBERT, J.B., 1980, Tel Keisan (1971-76), une Cité Phénicienne en Galilée, Paris.

– CUREL, Z.C., 1986, Avances de Estudios Cuantitativos y Localización de Pondera en Asentamientos Peninsulares, Arqueologia Espacial.

– DALMAN, G., 1964, Arbeit und Sitte in Palastina, Gutersloh 1928 - 1942, vol. 5 (reprint Heldesheim 1964). Arbeit

– EBELING, E.E., 1933, Urkunden des Archivs von Assur aus Mittel-ssyrischer ZeitMAOG VII, Helt 1.

– EHRLICH, A.B., 1912, Randglossen zur hebraishen Bible, IV, Leipzig.

– EITAM, D. 1979, Olive Pressers of the Israelite Period, Tel Aviv vol. 6: 146-155.

– EITAM, D., 1987, Olive Oil Production during the iron age, in HELTZER M. & EITAM D. (ed.) Olive Oil in Antiquity, Conference, Haifa: 16-37.

– EITAM, D., & SHOMRONY A., 1987, Research of the Oil Industry during the iron age Period at Tel Miqne, Olive oil in Antiquity, Conference, Haifa: 37-57.

– GITTLEN, B.M., 1985, Report of the 1984 Excavations, field III SE, in Gitin S. (ed), Tel Miqne - Ekron, Jerusalem.

– JAMSSEN, J.J., 1979, The Role of the Temple in the Egyptian Economy during the New Kingdom, in LIPINSKI E. (ed), State and Temple Economy in the Ancient Near East, Vol. II. Leuven.

– RIBICHINI, S., & XELLA P., 1985, La Terminologia di Tessili nei Testi di Ugarit, Collezione di Studi Fenici. 20, Roma.

– ROTH, H.L., 1918, Studies in Primitive Looms, Halifax.

– SHEFFER, A., 1976, Comparative Analysis of the “Negev Ware" Textile Impression from Tel Masos, Tel Aviv Vol. 3, No. 2: 81-88.

– SHEFFER, A., 1981, Use of Perforated Clay Balls on the Woop-Weighted Loom, Tel Aviv, Vol. 8, No. 1, 81-83.

– SHEFFER A., 1987, Textiles from “En Boqeq”, Erez Israel, XIX, 160-168.

– T.B.M. III - W.F. ALBRIGHT, The Excavations of Tell Biet Mirsim III, BASOR XXI-XXII.

– WEIR, Sh., 1970, Spinning and Weaving in Palestine, London.

Notes

* The research project is being conducted by us on behalf of the Israel Oil Industry Museum as part and in cooperation with the Joint Ekron - Miqne Expedition directed by Prof. T. DOTHAN and S. GITIN.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 1. Map of the southern coastal plain of Israel with the five main Philistine cities: Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron and Safi.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/8184/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 40k
Légende Fig. 2. Reconstruction of an oil press complex at Tel Miqne: crushing basin, lever and weights presses.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/8184/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 100k
Légende Fig. 3. Plan and section of a loom weight.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/8184/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 9,5k
Légende Fig. 4. General view of oil press area (field III SE) : the Street and the gate area.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/8184/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 92k
Légende Fig. 5. Plan of the excavated oil press plant in Tel Miqne (field III SE): in front, tow dye (?) basins with drainage installations; in red, heaps of loom weights; in the back room, the oil press complex.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/8184/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 104k
Légende Fig. 6. Reconstruction of an oil and textile plant in Tel Miqne; in red, the reconstructed looms in the front room.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/8184/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 33k

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