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Early Iron Age radiometric dates from Tel Dor. Preliminary Implications for Phoenicia, and beyond

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Early Iron Age radiometric dates from Tel Dor. Preliminary Implications for Phoenicia, and beyond
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   © 2001 by the Arizona Board of Regents on behalf of the University of Arizona Near East Chronology: Archaeology and Environment. R ADIOCARBON , Vol 43, Nr 3, 2001, p 1343–1351 Proceedings of the 17th International  14  C Conference, edited by H J Bruins, I Carmi, and E Boaretto  1343 EARLY IRON AGE RADIOMETRIC DATES FROM TEL DOR: PRELIMINARYIMPLICATIONS FOR PHOENICIA AND BEYOND Ayelet Gilboa  Ilan Sharon Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem 91905, Israel. Corresponding author.Email: gilboaaa@internet-zahav.net. ABSTRACT . The absolute date of the Iron Age I and IIa periods in Israel, and by inference in the Southern Levant at large,are to date among the hottest debated issues in Syro-Palestinian archaeology. As there are no pegs of absolute chronologythroughout this range, conventional chronology had been established on proposed correlations of the material record withevents and social phenomena as portrayed in historical and literary sources, chiefly the Hebrew Bible. With the growingimpact of so-called “revisionist” notions in Biblical studies, which to various extents question the historicity of the Bible, itis imperative to try to establish a chronological framework for the Iron I–IIa range that is independent of historical and so forthconsiderations, inter alia in order to be able to offer an independent archaeological perspective of the biblical debate. The mostobvious solution is to attempt a radiocarbon-based chronology. This paper explores the possible implications of a sequenceof 22 radiometric dates obtained from a detailed Iron I–IIa stratigraphic/ceramic sequence at Tel Dor, on Israels Mediterra-nean coast. To date, this is the largest such sequence from any single early Iron Age site in Israel. Having been part of thePhoenician commercial sphere in the early Iron Age, Dor offers a variegated sequence of ceramics that have a significant spa-tial distribution beyond Phoenicia, and thus transcend regional differences and enable correlation with the surroundingregions. By and large, the absolute dates of these ceramics by the Dor radiometric chronology are up to a century lower thanthose established by conventional Palestinian ceramic chronology. The ramifications of the lower Dor dates for some Phoe-nician, Israelite, and Cypriot early Iron Age archaeological issues are explored. INTRODUCTION A few years ago Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University suggested that the chronology of largestretches of the Iron Age in Israel, the so-called Israelite period, should be drastically revised (e.g.,Finkelstein 1996; 1998a). In a nutshell, the claim was that absolute dates for (mainly) the late Iron Iand Iron IIa periods (conventionally 11th to 10th centuries BCE) should be lowered by 75 to 100years, i.e., 11th century archaeological strata and various material phenomena should be assigned tothe 10th, and 10th century ones to the 9th. The material record, claims Finkelstein, favors this lowchronology better than the higher conventional one.Acceptance of the low chronology would entail a revolution in our perception of nearly every aspectof Iron Age archaeology in Israel and in the Southern Levant at large, and, in their wake, of majorhistorical and historiographic issues—both Biblical and Classic. To provide just one example—per-haps the most bitterly contested one—assigning strata conventionally attributed to the 10th century,i.e. Davids and Solomons United Monarchy according to Biblical chronology, to the 9th century,would by and large “rob” the United Monarchy of material remains compatible with an organizedstate, much less an empire (see more on this below).In the background of this debate looms an even more fundamental dispute. In the course of the lasttwo decades, a very conspicuous by now group of “revisionist” Biblicists, so-called inter alia decon-structionalists, nihilists, and more, have suggested that the Hebrew Bible, in large parts or in itsentirety, be moved from the realm of history to that of myth. The United Monarchy, for example,was claimed to be a figment of late pre-exilic and/or post-exilic socio-political aspirations, andimagination (for a recent, albeit negative review of these suggestions, with extensive references, seeDever 1999). As Finkelsteins low chronology is perceived by some scholars as lending support forsuch notions, the archaeological debate, alas, assumed religious, nationalistic, and political over-tones.  1344  A Gilboa, I Sharon The particulars of Finkelsteins archaeological arguments, and those of his opponents, cannot bereviewed here (for the former see e.g. Finkelstein 1996, 1998a, 1998b, 1999; for the latter, see e.g.Mazar 1997; Zarzeki-Peleg 1997; Ben-Tor and Ben-Ami 1998; Cahill 1998). The crux of the matter,however, is that, as Finkelstein claims (and as most archaeologists would concur, though not alwaysexplicitly admit), for the entire debated chronological range there are no pegs of absolute chronol-ogy whatsoever—no stratified objects bearing kings names and the like. Absolute dates, Finkel-steins included, rest on conjectured correlations of the material record with political events anddemographic and socioeconomic processes as portrayed in the Bible. In “revisionist” eyes, this ren-ders the interpretation of the archaeological record of Iron Age Israel totally irrelevant for assessingtheir views, based as it is, according to them, on correlation with fiction.Finkelsteins low chronology has won some approval, but has failed to convince many. A fair assess-ment would be that the first round of chronological controversy ended with a tie or rather a stale-mate. Neither traditional nor a lower chronology can really be proven and neither can be establishedindependently of historical, literary, and other such considerations.This tail chasing begs to be halted by some other means. One likely possibility is to revert to archae-ologys bread and butter—establishing detailed and accurate relative sequences of artifactual assem-blages—coupled with radiometric dates. This paper unfolds one such attempt based on EphraimSterns excavations at Tel Dor on Israels Carmel coast. THE TEL DOR SEQUENCE After two decades of excavations Dor offers the most extensive exposures and the fullest stratigraph-ical sequence of the early Iron Age on the northern Levantine coast. All in all, within the Iron I–IIacontinuum there are to date seven stratigraphical phases distinguishable both architecturally andartifactually, each probably of relatively short duration. (For principal overviews of the Iron Age atDor, and interpretations, see e.g. Stern 1990, 1991, 1999, 2000: 85–148, including references to thepreliminary stratigraphic reports; Sharon and Gilboa 1997; Gilboa 1998.) Three excavation areaswere chosen for this study as they offer the most detailed stratigraphical sequences and the mostabundant and well-stratified ceramic assemblages: Area B1 on the eastern fringes of the tell, AreaD2 on its southern perimeter, and Area G in its center (see map in Stern 2000: Figure 244). The cor-relation between the disparate sequences in these three areas is presented in Tables 1A and 1B.Radiocarbon dates were obtained to date only from the latter part of this sequence—from fourphases we termed “late Iron Ia”, “Iron Ib”, “transitional Iron I/IIa” and “Iron IIa.” The very begin-ning of the Iron Age is, thus, beyond the scope of this presentation. The labels assigned to these hori-zons at Dor do not per force conform to conventional ones, but it is not labels that count here butceramic contents.The general pottery repertoire of Iron Age Dor, as everywhere else in this period, is a very localizedone and as an assemblage can accurately be correlated only to sequences in the very immediateregions (different facets of this assemblage have been presented in Gilboa 1998, 1999a, 1999b). Thispaper, thus, deals with only two classes of pottery, which have a significant spatial distribution out-side Phoenicia and are of a wider chronological bearing: decorated Phoenician containers and Cyp-riot ceramics.The late Iron Ia ceramic horizon at Dor (Phase 12 in Area B1, Phase 9 in Area G) constitutes anextension of the Late Bronze Age pottery tradition (e.g. Gilboa 1998: Figures 1 and 6). By and large,the only vessels bearing any decorations are small containers—flasks and strainer-spouted jugs that   Early Iron Age Radiometric Dates from Tel Dor  1345were employed in overseas trade. They are decorated with monochrome-red concentric circles, andoccasionally other designs (Gilboa 1998: Figure 3: 4–14).The Iron Ib assemblages (Phases 11 (?) and 10 in Area B1; 11–9 in D2; 8 (?) and 7 in G) evolve fromthe former. This is the phase that witnesses the emergence in abundance of the famed PhoenicianBichrome containers, still alongside the monochrome ones. That this is indeed the initial occurrenceof Phoenician Bichrome containers is deduced not only by the fact that they simply do not occur ear-lier, but by our ability to follow, in sealed contexts of this horizon, their evolution from the mono-chrome containers, both morphologically, and in their decoration. Generally, the monochrome con-tainers start exhibiting the very distinct decorative syntax that will soon become the hallmark of Bichrome—the wide band enclosed by narrow ones and other compositions of Cypriot derivation.(For a summary of these issues, see Gilboa 1999a, esp. Figures 1, 2, 4–7; see Stern 2000: Plate IX:5.)During Iron Ib, Cypriot imports start occurring (Gilboa 1999b: Figures 1, 2) typologically reflectingan early to mid-Cypro-Geometric I horizon (and on the opposite shore—the profile of the Phoeni-cian decorated containers of this phase is attested to in Cyprus in mid-Cypro-Geometric burial con-texts).The assemblages termed at Dor “transitional Iron I/II” (e.g. Gilboa 1989: Figures 1–3; 1998: Figure2: 6–20) continue to evolve from the Iron Ib ones. The Bichrome style is now canonized on the com-mercial containers and is employed on a larger variety of forms (Gilboa 1999a: Figures 10, 11);monochrome practically disappears.The numerous Cypriot imports (e.g. Gilboa 1999b: Figures 4, 5: 1– 6) reflect a Cypro-Geometric Ib/ II horizon (and the Phoenician containers of this phase, in turn, are mirrored in CG IB/II assem-blages in Cyprus). This is the period, in which the first (very rare) Greek imports are attested, of Euboean Mid/Late Proto-Geometric types (N Coldstream and I Lemos, personal communication;see Stern 2000: Plate IX: 4).Not a single sherd of the very conspicuous Black-on-Red (so-called “Cypro-Phoenician”) potterycould be attributed to this horizon. This is a crucial fact and requires some elaboration. ThoughBlack-on-Red is never really abundant at Dor, its absence in the “transitional” phase is not acciden-tal. Typologically, Black-on-Red, of whatever srcin, is a Cypro-Geometric III phenomenon, andthus would be out of place in contexts where the rest of the Cypriot assemblage is typologically ear-lier.Black-on-Red at Dor appears, as it should, in the immediate next phase, of the “classic” Iron IIa,along various other Cypro-Geometric III imports (e.g. Gilboa 1999b: Figure 8). RADIOMETRIC DATES AND PRELIMINARY REPERCUSSIONS This ceramic sequence is anchored by the largest yet sequence of  14 C dates for this period in Israel.Samples were taken only from secure contexts that also produced abundant ceramic assemblages,mostly in-situ ones and a few other sealed deposits.Our main focus, contrary to usual practice, was to date the transitions   between the different hori-zons, rather than the horizons themselves. This was achieved by a mathematical treatment dubbed“transition dating” (Sharon 2001; the dates and the nature of the samples are presented in Figure 1and its legends). A different mathematical approach—Bayesian inference using the Oxford Calibra -  1346  A Gilboa, I Sharon tion package (Bronk Ramsey 1995) was also employed and produced very similar results. Our pointof departure here are the transition dates obtained (Table 1B, column 5).By and large, for the entire sequence we investigated these dates are about a century later than onewould expect based on conventional local ceramic chronology (compare columns 4 and 5 in Table1B). The three archaeological-historical test cases surveyed below illuminate this discrepancy andsome concomitant implications. The Beginning of Phoenician Expansion Overseas and the Transmission of the Alphabet toGreece One of the problems confronting scholars for many decades now is the discrepancy between theancient Greek and Latin literary sources, that place the initial Phoenician colonization immediatelyfollowing the Trojan war (the 12th century BCE) and the archaeological record that implies a muchlater Phoenician impact in the west, probably not earlier than the 8th century. Determining theproper historical context is, of course, a prerequisite of any attempt at interpreting the stamina of thisprocess.There are currently three major schools of thought as to the formation of the Phoenician diaspora inthe west. Some, indeed, date it on archaeological and epigraphic evidence as late as the 8th and 7thcenturies, with possibly a limited preamble in the 9th century in Kition in Cyprus (e.g. Muhly 1970).An intermediate chronology (based mainly on biblo-historical considerations) dates the initialexpansion to the 10th century—the days of Solomon and Hiram of Tyre (e.g. Albright 1950:175;Aubet 1993:170–172).In the last decades, however, it seemed as if evidence in favor of “early” (i.e. 11th century) expan-sion has been accumulating. This evidence was of dual nature. First, new Phoenician epigraphicfinds in the west, chief among which are the Nora fragment (not the Nora stele) and the Tekkebronze bowl in Crete, both dated by Joseph Naveh and Frank Moore Cross (two of the most promi-nent Semitic paleographers of our times) to the 11th century (e.g. Cross 1980:15–17; Naveh 1982:40–41; see also Peuch 1983:390). And second, the abundant Phoenician Bichrome pottery uncov - ered in the cemetery of Palaepaphos- Skales in western Cyprus (Karageorghis 1983) dated, as is con-Table1AThe Dor Iron Age I-IIa stratigraphic scheme PerioddesignationArea B1Area GArea D2LB | Iron IMissingPhases 12, 11(Unexcavated)Late Iron IaPhases 13, 12Massive city wall andadjacent store roomsPhases 10, 9Residential quarter-“cottage industry”(Unexcavated)Destruction Destruction (Unexcavated)Iron Ia | bPhase 11Phase 8 Phase 12Late Iron IbPhase 10Humble residential structuresPhase 7Attempts to repair and re-build the quarter alongthe previous plan. Roomof cultic naturePhases 11-9Monumental construction-three massive structures of obviouslypublic nature: “Monumental StoneBuilding;” “Bastion;” “Brick Building” // Destruction (?) // Iron I | IIPhase 9Domestic (?) quarterPhase 6bResidential quarterPhase 8c “Brick Building” disused;smaller stone structure built over itIron IIa Phase 8City wall built and newdomestic structuresPhase 6aContinuation of residences;possible cult roomPhase 8bUpper floor in smaller stone structure   Early Iron Age Radiometric Dates from Tel Dor  1347ventional, to the 11th century (Bikai 1983). The latter was considered as exemplifying the earliestoverseas Phoenician ventures, a small, but decisive step on the trail leading west (e.g. Bikai 1994:31).Sass has recently questioned the paleographic hypotheses, arguing for a lamentable inability of Semitic paleography to pinpoint any date within the 11th-9th century range (Sass 1991:3, 96–97).The earliest Phoenician Bichrome pottery in Cyprus is no less problematic. Contrary to commonwisdom, it probably does not embody the first move in the Phoenicians westbound enterprise (seeNegbi 1992:611, note 83; Gilboa 1998:423). But, for those who would insist, at Dor a date after 975BCE is suggested for the initial occurrence of Phoenician Bichrome on the mainland. Unless onechooses to date its appearance in Cyprus earlier than its supposed srcins, the first occurrences of Phoenician Bichrome overseas should be interpreted in the context of the mid-10th century BCE,rather than in the 11th.On the other hand, the first hints of a genuine burst of east-west commercial activity are evident inthe chronological horizon that parallels Cypro-Geometric II in Cyprus, and the transition from Mid-dle to Late Proto-Geometric in Euboea, in northeastern Greece   (for a convenient summary of theseissues, see Coldstream 1999) . According to the absolute chronology of Dor, this horizon, to benearly overly prudent, cannot antedate the turn of the 10th century, at the very earliest.Table1BThe Dor Iron Age I-IIa chrono-typological scheme PerioddesignationMain featuresof typological horizonForeign corollariesConventional(Comparative) date 14 C date atDorLB | Iron INot defined in detail yet**(has only been excavated inthe last two seasons)Philistia: “MycIIIC?”“Post Late Bronze Age im-port?”Late Cypriot IIC? IIIA?Egyptian importsLate 13th(?) / early12th c. BCE?Late Iron IaCanaanite; containers deco-rated with monchrome red cir-cles;pithoi of both “Collared Rim”and “Wavy band” varieties;a few “Philistine Bichrome”sherds’PhilistineBichrome’?(early phases)Late Cypriot IIIB? (jug inLC IIIB style)Egyptian imports12th to mid-11th c.BCETill 975 BCE(at least)Iron Ia | bSame as above, changes inundecorated assemblageEnd of LC IIIB and earlyCGI??Late Iron IbThe earliest types of “Phoeni-cian Bichrome” evolve frommonochrome predecessors;a period of overlap of the twostyles.Gradual Changes in the rest of the assemblage.Cypro-Geometric impact onmonochrome and BichromeproductionEarliest Cypro-Geometricimports: early or mid-CG I.“Philistine Bichrome”?(late phase)Egyptian importsSecond half of 11th / early 10th c. BCEc. 975–880BCEIron I | II“Phoenician Bichrome”reaches its zenith, incorporat-ing new classes of vessels.Monochrome nearly extinct.Cypriot impact continues.Gradual changes in undeco-rated assemblageCypro-Geometric importreaches its zenith, CG IB/IIRare Greek imports,Mid/Late Euboean Proto-GeometricRare Egyptian importsEarly 10th c. BCEDavidic?c.880–c.850BCEIron IIa Bichrome expands further.First occurrences of red-slipped pottery.Undecorated assemblagehardly alteredCypro-Geometric IIIimport including firstoccurrence of Black-on-Red10th c. BCESolomonicAfter 850BCE
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