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Jan Driessen

9. Pulp Fiction: The Sea Peoples and the Study of ‘Mycenaean’ Archaeology in Philistia1

Louise A. Hitchcock et Aren M. Maeir

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Introduction

  • 1 We are pleased to offer this contribution in a volume dedicated to Robert Laffineur who has done so (...)

1The sensational nature of the end of the Bronze Age in the Mycenaean world, the broader Mediterranean, and emergence of the Philistine culture has all of the elements of a work of pulp fiction. As noted by Cline (2014), the transition was a time of destructions of great cities, invasions, rebellions, murders, kidnappings, ransoms, and royal intrigue. It also included campily dressed antagonists, and an enormous cast of characters (Rameses II, Rameses III, the Trojan War saga, Goliath, etc.) in haunting and exotic locations (e.g. Said 1978). The purported causes of the collapse ranging from climate change to peasant uprising to a perfect storm of cataclysmic events (Cline 2014) make it the ultimate ‘whodunit’ mystery story. Getting beneath these tropes and keeping up with the rapid pace of recent publications of the archaeological evidence also make it an intriguing, layered, and labyrinthine topic of study. Yet, some of the recent (Yasur-Landau 2010) and even current (Faust & Lev-Tov 2014) scholarship on the Philistines continues to regard them as a product of migration and colonisation by Mycenaean elites. In contrast, the Mycenaean (and also Minoan) elements in Philistine culture are regarded by many Aegeanists as marginal or even non-existent (e.g. Dickinson 2006; Broodbank 2013). We agree that the migration narrative is largely characterised by a scholarly inertia that uncritically elevates the biblical narrative around the Philistines and privileges Mycenaean cultural elements in Philistia, while excluding and/or marginalising other cultural elements (Canaanite, Cypriot [but see Killebrew 2005; Meiberg 2011], Minoan, Anatolian). We further argue that the anti-migration narrative sets up a straw man, suggesting those who favour some kind of migration process rely on adopting a pots equal peoples approach and of applying theoretical models that fail to engage with the broader spectrum of archaeological evidence (e.g. Sherratt 1998; Middleton 2015; Knapp & Manning 2016). We propose that the narratives on both ends of the spectrum have not substantially taken into account evidence from recent excavations at Philistine sites nor have they considered alternative means of framing that evidence such as the use of the anthropological study of cross-cultural patterning, scientific analysis, and current interpretive approaches such as entanglement, appropriation, and transnationalism (Ross 2012; Hitchcock & Maeir 2013). We further propose that the issue of Philistine identity in the early Iron Age is inextricably linked to a couple of related issues. One is the construction of Cypriot identity as a mixed culture that is frequently placed within a simplistic narrative of Mycenaean migration (e.g. Knapp 2008). Another is a change in social organisation to the post-collapse formation of Mycenaean IIIC ceramic style producing cultures of the early Iron Age. Thus, our contribution provides a roadmap outlining a more nuanced approach toward considering Philistine identity and its Mycenaean connections (and lack thereof).

1. Summary of migrationist approaches

2Philistine migration from Greece by Mycenaean colonists remains frequently assumed as a given based on a historically simplistic approach to this issue (Killebrew & Lehmann 2013). The Philistines are associated with the Peleset, one of a number of tribal ethnonyms mentioned in Egyptian New Kingdom texts as originating in islands and collectively referred to under the modern term ‘Sea Peoples’ (coined by Maspero in 1881, see Adams & Cohen 2013; Killebrew & Lehmann 2013: 1; Cline 2014: 45). Their early association with Mycenaean Greeks was linked, over a century ago (Welch 1900) to the finding of Philistine ‘Bichrome’ pottery at Philistine sites and its similarity to Aegean pottery, the association of these sites with the Philistines as mentioned in the Bible, the aforementioned origin of ‘Sea Peoples’ tribes coming from islands, and in the biblical association of the Philistines with Caphtor (Crete). For much of the last one-hundred years, the narrative about Philistine culture as a product of migration by Mycenaean colonists remained dependent on a pots equal people approach, which privileged Mycenaean style ceramic remains and biblical accounts of the Philistines as an accurate historical narrative situated against a backdrop of European expansion and colonialism (Silberman 1998). As Philistine sites (Fig. 9.1) began to be excavated at Ashdod, Tel Qasile, Tel Miqne-Ekron, and Ashkelon (for various reports see the Qedem series, the Ashkelon series and the publications of the Israel Exploration Society, Israel Antiquities Authority, Hebrew University Press, and the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research), other types of evidence began to be marshaled to support this narrative in popular formats as in the journal Biblical Archaeology Review and in books written for general and student audiences by Nancy K. Sandars (1978), Trude and Moshe Dothan (Dothan 1982; Dothan & Dothan 1992), and Michael Wood (1985). Thus, by the 1980s, the Aegean colonisation narrative had not just crystallised, but ossified. For example, Faust & Lev-Tov (2014: 2) (wrongly) observe that “the foreign origins of the Philistines are still accepted by almost all”. The most often cited examples of other evidence for an Aegean presence in Philistia included hearths, bath tubs (e.g. Karageorghis 1998; 2014), pig bones, vague architectural similarities, the famous ‘Ashdoda’ figurines, ambiguous inscriptional evidence (see now Davis et alii 2015), and animal head cups (e.g. Hitchcock 2011; Meiberg 2013).

Fig. 9.1. Map of Early Philistine Sites and Cypriot Sites Mentioned in the Text (map by J. Rosenberg)

3One problem is that in scrutinising this slightly broader range of evidence the stylistic resemblances that were elevated were superficial (e.g. Press 2012: 12), and other cultural material such as Canaanite and Anatolian, and regional differences among Philistine sites were either minimised or ignored. By focusing on hearth construction techniques, we have shown that there was quite a bit of regional distinction in Philistine hearth construction (round and rectangular clay construction, key-hole with sherds, and pebble construction). Philistine hearths bear no constructional relation to Mycenaean hearth construction, but they do seem to share connections with Cypriot hearths at Maa-Palaeokasfro (Maeir & Hitchcock 2011) and at Pyla-Kokkinokremos (Kanta 2014a: 12-13, figs 1.18-1.19) as well as with a recently discovered keyhole hearth constructed of pebbles dating to LM IIIB2-IIIC at the Anetaki plot near Knossos in Crete (Kanta 2014b: 116-117, fig. 3.8). In addition, some objects identified as Aegean such as bronze stands, bimetallic knives (an iron blade with a bronze rivet), Cypro-Minoan inscriptions (e.g. Cross & Stager 2004; Davis 2011) and notched scapulae were more indicative of Cypriot influence. The scholarly weight of the colonisation/migration narrative continued to influence the interpretation of Philistine remains with the commencement of the modern scientific excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath (Maeir 2012). Although published too early to make thorough use of the remains being published from Tell es-Safi/Gath, Yasur-Landau’s 2010 book on the Philistines set out to systematically examine the evidence for a Mycenaean migration and colonisation by carefully analysing material from both the Aegean and the Levant, and by using contemporary migration theory. The book’s main weakness, however, is that it sets out to prove what it treats throughout the book as a given, namely Mycenaean colonisation. The study of Late Bronze and early Iron Age Cypriot material culture followed a similar pattern, also often being characterised as the product of Mycenaean colonists or refugees (discussed below).

2. Summary of anti-migrationist approaches

4Proposals that the ‘Sea People’ phenomenon did not exist or even occur fall along a range of views. The so-called mercantile phenomenon approach might be viewed as a non-migration approach (Sherratt 1998). This can be summarised as viewing the various tribes of ‘Sea Peoples’ as vaguely understood ethnicities that were involved in a decentralised economic system that circulated ceramics, textiles, oil, and recycled metals around the region – particularly Cyprus and the Levant. This argument was easily dispatched by Barako (2000) noting that this argument doesn’t explain the phenomenon of locally produced Mycenaean style pottery in Philistia, the lack of a substantial amount of imports, or the introduction of a new cultural package to the region such as pork consumption and hearths. Most significantly the decline of trade is cited as evidence that the ‘Sea Peoples’ were not a mercantile phenomenon. Neither position is exactly accurate. While trade, and particularly international trade declined, the existence of trade – even in a reduced form – at the start of the Iron Age has not been seriously addressed, and would make a worthwhile dissertation topic. Foods such as fish were still being circulated regionally within Philistia as indicated by fish remains at inland sites (Hitchcock et alii 2015), as was pottery (Cross & Stager 2004), as were the raw materials needed to produce iron weapons. Although the mercantile phenomenon is not accepted by most scholars working outside of the Aegean, Sherratt (1998: 293) raises several issues such as the serious problems in pinpointing ‘Sea Peoples’ homeland that accompanies the traditional tendency to see all of them as Mycenaean peoples from the Aegean. Finkelstein (2002: 148-150) took the unique view that biblical associations of the Philistines with the Mycenaean world are anachronistic and in fact refer to Greek mercenaries of the Persian period (7th c. BC). This view does not hold up. As Maeir (2012: 41, n. 40) has pointed out, the Old Testament preserves historical memories of non-Semitic, Aegean and/or western names (such as Goliath and Achish) deriving from Philistine Gath, which ceased to be a Philistine city in the 2nd half of the 9th c. BC – long before the period Finkelstein is referring to.

5The alternative view against migration is that the ‘Sea Peoples’ as a phenomenon that contributed to the collapse of centres at the Bronze Age either did not exist or if the various tribes did exist then they were not a contributing factor (e.g. Middleton 2015). Alternative explanations for the collapse include climate change, famine, earthquake storms, plague, or a combination of these (for summaries, see Cline 2014; Knapp & Manning 2016). However, it has also been acknowledged that these causes alone can’t account for the role of human agency in destruction or for changes in settlement patterns, as emphasised by Nowicki (2000). It also doesn’t account for the local production of Mycenaean style pottery and corresponding changes in social routines, changes in cuisine, the introduction of new architectural elements such as hearths (even if they are not Mycenaean in style), part of a trait list that has been well-rehearsed by proponents of migration/colonisation (e.g. Dothan 1982; Yasur-Landau 2010).

3. Problems in Cypriot prehistory

6As Sherratt (1998: 294) notes, the identity of Cypriots at the end of the Bronze Age is inextricably linked to issues connected with Philistine identity, and the other tribes of ‘Sea Peoples’. Cypriot identity is also linked to the Mycenaean colonisation narrative (e.g. Leriou 2007) as for a considerable time, colonisation by Mycenaeans served as a convenient mechanism to explain the presence of Mycenaean chariot kraters on Cyprus. These were later shown by scientific analysis to come from the Argolid (e.g. Papadopoulos 2011 with further references). A similar argument was made for the appearance of ashlar masonry on Cyprus, although the Cypriot ashlar technique of drafted margins is distinct and widespread by the 13th c. BC (LC IIC) as detailed by Hitchcock (2008). Knapp (2008) has carefully detailed how hybridisation processes resulted in a culture that was mixed both before and after the collapse of the 12th c. BC (also Hitchcock 2011; Hitchcock & Maeir 2013). However, in the publication of the recent re-excavation of the short-lived transitional site of Pyla-Kokkinokremos (inhabited for approximately fifty years at the end of the 13th/ beginning of the 12th centuries BC) in Cyprus there remains a failure to engage with the mixed nature of the material culture. Cypriot material culture at Pyla as at many Cypriot sites includes a broad variety of cultural traditions. Among these are Cypriot style architecture, Canaanite storage jars, locally produced Mycenaean-style ceramics, Cypro-Minoan inscriptions, and Minoan heirloom decorated jars, yet the report continues to interpret the site as founded by refugees from the Aegean (Karageorghis 2014: 155).

4. Did they or didn’t they?

7What is present in many of the arguments that privilege the narrative of Mycenaean colonisation is a corresponding privileging of Mycenaean or Aegean-style evidence and a neglect of the broad spectrum of evidence and varying site formation processes at Cypriot and Philistine sites, which is quite complex. We believe that the way out of some of these controversies is to abandon the simplistic binarism that the ‘Sea Peoples’ were colonising Mycenaean migrants versus the view that they did not exist, and adopt a more nuanced approach.

8There is a long history of varied approaches with regard to the way Mediterranean peoples are regarded in the Aegean. It begins at least as early as the Darwinian diffusionist scheme favoured by Evans (1921; see also Silberman 1998: 270-271) who often linked Minoan objects and architectural forms to those in other cultures stretching from Libya to Europe in order to trace their development back to an original form. Influenced by the isolationist paradigms of processual archaeology and reacting to V. Gordon Childe, Renfrew (1972; 1986: esp. 6; also Clark 1966; critiqued in Bernal 1991: 155 and passim) and others swung the pendulum regarding cultural interaction in the opposite direction, treating every cultural development as isolated instances of indigenous development. Despite the many shortcomings, well summarised in Pounder (1992), of the flawed Black Athena project (Bernal 1987; 1991), Bernal’s assertions that Classics and Classical Archaeology deliberately excluded the study of interactions between Greece and the Near East promoted a return to a middle ground. Thus, interest returned to the study of cultural exchange, interaction, and cultural mixing from the late 1980s onward (e.g. Crowley 1989; Cline 1994; Cline & Harris-Cline 1998). Intense interest developed in these issues for the classical period as well with the Mediterranisation approaches promoted by Horden & Purcell (2000), Morris (2003), and Malkin (2011).

9By the early 21st century, Maeir (2004), Ben-Shlomo et alii (2004) and Killebrew (2005) suggested looking at the Philistine phenomenon as a socio-linguistic perspective, seeing their emergence as a process of creolisation that lead to a blended culture. Creolisation, defined by Killebrew (2005: 201, 253) as cultural mixing, was seen as a ‘middle ground’ between the hyper-diffusionist colonisation model and the other extreme, which viewed the appearance of the Philistines as a mercantile phenomenon (Sherratt 1998). Killebrew (2005: 199, 201; 2008) further attributes cultural transmission and change to stimulus diffusion, a form of limited diffusion, whereby the transmission of information, ideas, and artifacts occurs over the long term through trade and/ or small-scale migration. In this instance, the long-term she refers to is not that long, but begins with the production of Mycenaean IIIB (ca. 13th c.) pottery in the Eastern Aegean and Cyprus. As Colburn (2008) has shown, interaction between the Aegean and the East in obtaining exotic raw materials and metals easily goes back to the Early Bronze Age, and intensifies with the Minoan adoption of the deep-hulled ship with mast as shown by Broodbank (2000: 342-343, fig. 115). Yasur-Landau (2010: esp. 170) has used modern studies of migration to point out that a pre-condition for migration usually includes a familiarity with the destination based on decades and perhaps more of prior trading and other relationships. While we agree with Yasur-Landau (2010) that some form of migration activity took place at the end of the Bronze Age, we have argued (Hitchcock & Maeir 2014; in press; Maeir & Hitchcock in press) that it was limited and was not composed of Mycenaean aristocrats engaged in a large scale, planned colonisation effort. In addition, we have resisted the idea of trying to pinpoint a Philistine homeland, and in fact we believe that no such thing exists. Rather, we have used historical and anthropological modeling of cultural patterns to promote the idea that the different tribes collectively known as the ‘Sea Peoples’ took the form of culturally mixed tribes of pirates. Cultural mixing among the Philistines and other ‘Sea Peoples’ can account for the mixed cultural facets among them as well as the adoption of particular Aegean-style symbols as markers of their identity.

10Examining the full-range of Philistine culture exhibits significant evidence for the continuity of local Canaanite cultural facets such as the use of lamp and bowl foundation deposits (Bunimovitz & Zimhoni 1993), the continued use of Canaanite style chalices, and pottery motifs such as the palm tree and the ibex (Dothan 1982; Yasur-Landau 2012), alongside the newly appearing foreign facets. These foreign facets included not only Aegean style ceramics, but also pork consumption with imported pigs (with European haplotypes) appearing in the 12th c. BC (Meiri et alii 2013), importation of non-local plants and accompanying new agronomic traditions (Frumin et alii 2015), possible Anatolian titles (seren from Luwian tarwanis [Hitchcock & Maeir 2014]) and personal names (Alyattes/Wylattes from Lydian, e.g. Maeir et alii 2008) (Fig. 9.2), animal head cups with Anatolian stylistic features (Meiberg 2013), seals with Egyptian and Canaanite stylistic features; and from Cyprus, possible Cypro-Minoan inscriptions (Cross & Stager 2004, but see Davis et alii 2015) and the practice of notching animal scapulae (Zukerman et alii 2007). Meiberg (2011) has detected three specific Cretan prototypes for iconographic elements on Philistine pottery: the reserve outline consisting of a single row of dots, the use of dots as a framing outline on birds, and the undulating line extending from the head of a bird. These examples are not meant to be exhaustive, but rather they are meant to be illustrative of the current trend in studying Philistine identities.

Fig. 9.2. Tell es-Safi/Gath ostracon bearing inscription ALWT and WLT, Late Iron I/Early Iron II (courtesy of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project)

11Continuity in the form of Philistine culture peacefully integrating with the preceding Canaanite culture requires a reconsideration of site formation processes at Philistine sites and a consideration of regionalism. Barako (2000: 520-521) argues for the presence of destruction levels between Canaanite remains of the Late Bronze Age and the establishment of Philistine settlements. Destruction levels have been documented at both Tel Miqne-Ekron and at Ashdod, but at Ashdod they are not wide spread and at Tel Miqne-Ekron the Philistine settlement at 20 hectares is substantially larger than the preceding area that was destroyed: At Ashkelon, it appears that there was a brief period of abandonment between the final Late Bronze Age phase at the site (Phase 21) and the earlier Philistine remains (Phase 20), with no clear cut evidence of a destruction at the end of the Late Bronze Age phase (Stager et alii 2008: 256-57). Hitchcock & Maeir (2013: 53; also Maeir 2012: 18-19) have suggested that destruction of earlier Canaanite levels at Philistine sites may have been limited to elite zones. No destruction level has been detected in the transitional era at Area A at Tell es-Safi/Gath, the largest horizontal Philistine exposure at the site. In fact, in Area A, a Philistine pebbled hearth dated by the presence of a Philistine II or Bichrome sherd at its base was embedded in a pebbled and cobbled surface provisionally dated by ceramics of the Late Bronze Age. A pig jaw found at a lower level within this Late Bronze Age surface, suggests the possibility pre-existing cultural relationships between the Canaanites and the mixed settlers at Tell es-Safi/Gath already in the 13th century, resulting in the Philistine culture appearing as an outcome of cultural mixing, conforming to models advanced in modern migration studies (see also Asscher et alii 2015). In contrast, a large, elite Canaanite structure in Area E directly to the east of Area A was violently destroyed, suggesting a combination of violent overthrow and peaceful integration.

12We (Hitchcock & Maeir 2014; Hitchcock & Maeir in press; Maeir & Hitchcock in press) have tried to re-image the long-standing view on the ‘Sea People’ as neither Mycenaean colonists or as non-entities by regarding them as multi-ethnic tribes that formulated pirate cultures. As targets for plunder in the Mediterranean decreased and new followers joined the pirate tribes through rites of integration, settlement in various parts of the Mediterranean became an attractive prospect. Pirate culture is historically multi-ethnic, for example, as with English members of the Barbary pirates taking on Arabic names, Islamic religion, and adopting a creolised language known as the lingua franca (e.g. Tinniswood 2010). Conceiving of the ‘Sea Peoples’ as multi-ethnic groups embracing Mycenaean and other Aegean symbols makes it possible to understand the multi-cultural traits in their archaeological remains that are neither Mycenaean nor Canaanite, yet include both. In terms of understanding the role of material culture within Aegean, Philistine and Cypriot settlement contexts we have employed more nuanced interpretive models including transnationalism, transculturalism, appropriation, and entanglement.

13For example, the ivory bowl (Fig. 9.3) found in a 11th century foundation deposit at Tell es-Safi/ Gath was the ultimate transnational artifact type, as a type of luxury item that could circulate around the Aegean and Mediterranean for hundreds of years, be rendered in an international style, and evoke memory and wonder (e.g. Maeir et alii 2015). The particular style of the Tell es-Safi/Gath bowl with engraved lotus rosettes, bar handle, and close association with the Megiddo ivories indicates an origin in a Canaanite workshop. Its final deposition in a Philistine foundation deposit references Aegean practices where foundation deposits did not follow a particular pattern of artifact selection. Thus, a single category of meaning for the object did not predominate, suggesting an entangled status for the bowl. In their different functions, ivory objects could be appropriated, re-appropriated and entangled in different cultural practices. Stockhammer (2012: 46-48) defines ‘relational entanglement’ as a process where new meanings become attached to a foreign object, which may even be transformed into a personal possession, and ‘material entanglement’ whereby a newly created object combines the familiar with the foreign, and may become appropriated and entangled with foreign social practices as well as local ones. He uses a combination of his ideas on entanglement and anthropological analogy with Africa to explain how Mycenaean kraters unaccompanied by kylikes may have been culturally re-appropriated for use as beer jars rather than wine containers.

Fig. 9.3. Tell es-Safi/Gath ivory bowl, Late Bronze Age, photographs and drawings (courtesy of the Tell es-Safi/ Gath Archaeological Project)

Conclusions: the past remains a foreign country

14This contribution has considered the relationship between studying Mycenaean and Philistine archaeology, outlining the historical and recent treatment of this relationship. We conclude that the binary views that the Philistines were Mycenaean colonists or alternatively had no connection with the Mycenaeans still reify long held, polarised narratives, while also mirroring the interaction between archaeologists working in Philistia and in the Aegean. With a handful of notable exceptions, many archaeologists work in one place or the other and remain immersed in the literature of one place or the other. In addition, scholars working in their respective areas tend to find what they are looking for. We suggest that the pathway out of these extreme models, one which over-simplifies the Aegean evidence and the other which treats it as meaningless, can be achieved by conceiving the different tribes of ‘Sea Peoples’ as already mixed and entangled cultural entities that had pre-existing connections with various parts of the Mediterranean and shared an affinity for particular Mycenaean symbols and once arriving in the Levant, further intermixed with local Canaanite elements. Understanding the complex relationship between Mycenaean and Philistine archaeology requires a broad familiarity with Mediterranean archaeology, scholarly collaboration, methods situated in the study of transcultural and transnational identities, attention to context – looking closely at how the objects were used – and a healthy dose skepticism about what one is looking for in order to separate fact from fiction.

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Notes

1 We are pleased to offer this contribution in a volume dedicated to Robert Laffineur who has done so much to promote the study of Aegean-Near Eastern interconnections through many volumes and articles published in the Aegaeum series.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 9.1. Map of Early Philistine Sites and Cypriot Sites Mentioned in the Text (map by J. Rosenberg)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6622/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 22k
Légende Fig. 9.2. Tell es-Safi/Gath ostracon bearing inscription ALWT and WLT, Late Iron I/Early Iron II (courtesy of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6622/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 22k
Légende Fig. 9.3. Tell es-Safi/Gath ivory bowl, Late Bronze Age, photographs and drawings (courtesy of the Tell es-Safi/ Gath Archaeological Project)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6622/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 36k

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