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The Interconnections between Egypt and the Levant in the first half of the Second Millennium B.C. based on relative Chronologies

Final Report Summary - EGYPT IN THE LEVANT (The Interconnections between Egypt and the Levant in the first half of the Second Millennium B.C. based on relative Chronologies)

The aim of the MC-project “Egypt in the Levant” (253671) was to synchronize relative stratigraphies of well stratified and still active excavations with the historical chronology of Egypt. The study also includes important older published sites. To achieve that goal, material remains of the period of the first half of the second millennium BC were combined with results from scientific analyses (14-C dating, pumice analyses). All aims of the projects were met. The site of Tell el-Dab‘a in the north-eastern Nile delta serves as the major link between the Egyptian and the Near Eastern chronologies. Its stratigraphy covers the time span from the early Middle Kingdom till the second half of the 18th Dynasty, a period of nearly 600 years. Due to its geographical position at the easternmost of the Nile branches and the settlement of carriers of the Middle Bronze (MB) culture during the late 12th Dynasty at this site, the cultural mixture of Egyptian and MB remains is ideal to act as an intermediary between the Egyptian and the Near Eastern chronologies. The sites used for this study are Ebla, Tell ‘Arqa, Byblos and Sidon in the northern – and Tel Kabri, Tel Dan, Ashkelon and Tell el-‘Ajjul in the southern Levant. The main focus was placed on the occurrence of imports to these sites from Cyprus, Crete and Egypt. Before this study, the occurrence of Egyptian pottery in the Levant was completely ignored. For this reason material stored in various museums and in the store rooms of relevant excavations was checked and if necessary redrawn.

The beginning of the Middle Bronze (MB) I period in the northern Levant is based on 14-C dates from the site of Tell ‘Arqa (Fig. 1). These fall between dates available from the Phases N and M from Tell el-Dab‘a and thus support a start of this period between the reign of the kings Amenemhat I and II of Egypt. It seems that this cultural period started slightly earlier in the northern than in the southern Levant. While in the tombs of the nomarchs at Beni Hassan dating to the reigns of Amenemhat I and Senwosret I Early Bronze (EB) IV weaponry is still depicted, the ones dating to the reign of Senwosret II show already MB-weapons, thus giving a terminus post quem for the shift from EB to MB after the reign of Senwosret I. Finally, textual as well as archaeological evidences for direct contacts between Egypt and the carriers of the MB I cultures come from the period of Amenemhat II. At the sites of Tell el-Dab‘a and Lisht early Levantine Painted Wares were found in contexts assigned to this king, while early 12th dynasty pottery and scarabs appeared in the earliest phase of Sidon. It is known from written records that Egypt was politically active in the northern Levant during the reign of Senwosret III. Again Egyptian pottery found at Sidon support this connection. During the later reign of his son Amenemhat III foreigners from the Levant settled at Tell el-Dab‘a in Egypt and probably resumed the maritime trade of Egypt with the Eastern Mediterranean. The varieties and amount of imported Canaanite storage jars to Tell el-Dab‘a during this period and the first half of the 13th dynasty suggest a wide trading network supplying Egypt with foreign goods during this time. A similar pattern found at the earliest preserved MB I layers at Ashkelon dating to the second half of this period, show that this city-state took part in this intensive exchange of goods. Impressions of Egyptian scarabs found on local clay sealings at Ashkelon allow us to draw the conclusion that at least by this time Egyptian administration customs have found their way into the world of the MB I culture. Indirectly, they attest that the trade along the Levantine coast was dominated, if not organized, by Egypt and its demands for wood and other foreign commodities. The generally richer equipped burials of this period found at Tell el-‘Ajjul, Tel Kabri, Sidon and far north in Ebla might attest for an increased wealth, which may have resulted from this trade.
During this last phase of the MB I period the first imports of Middle Cypriote pottery reach Egypt as well as the Levantine coast (Ashkelon, Tell ‘Arqa) possibly indicating the beginning copper trade with Cyprus, resulting from a decline in the mining of copper on the Sinai by a dying Middle Kingdom. Based on ceramic material from Tell ‘Arqa it became evident that the shift from MB I to MB II in the northern Levant happened slightly earlier than in the south. It is very likely that the contemporary collapse of the Middle Kingdom during the middle of the 13th dynasty accelerated this process in the cities along the Levantine coast.
The transitional MB I/II period, very prominent in the southern Levant, seemed to be a very short time span in the north. The loss of the hinterland of Egypt and the resulting loss of exchangeable goods after the collapse of the Middle Kingdom led to a drastic decline of imports for Tell el-Dab‘a. This affected noticeably also the city-states along the Levantine coast at the beginning of the MB II period. At Ashkelon the amount of imports dropped by half and led to a re-orientation from a maritime trade to one concentrating on its hinterland, which in the following resulted in a slight increase of its trade. For Tell el-Dab‘a the decline continued. It seems that the collapse of the Middle Kingdom and thus the lack of any responsible authorities in Egypt brought about a lucrative trade of goods looted from the necropolis of the Middle Kingdom particularly during the second part of the 13th Dynasty. It is possible that the traders of Tell el-Dab‘a acted as intermediaries in these transactions. Stolen objects appear in early MB II tombs at Tell el-Dab‘a, Sidon and Byblos. At this point in time Egyptian religious beliefs must have infiltrated the life and death of the carriers of the MB-culture already to such a point that they were essential for their own concept of after-life. Obviously with the collapse of the MK objects necessary for this after-life (i.e scarabs) failed to arrive and subsequently a local production for Egyptian objects developed, visible in Egyptianizing objects found in the royal tombs of Byblos and in the first appearances of Canaanite scarabs and stone vessels. It seems that many a ruler of these areas saw the chance to fill in the political and economic vacuum the decline of Egypt left behind in the Near East. They seized the opportunity to establish themselves as a significant political entity. This can be seen at its best in the royal tombs of Byblos, which must be dated due to their ceramic material into the first half of the MB II period, but also in the use of Egyptian hieroglyphs as well as titles for their insignia of power, as can be seen not only in a Byblian seal-impression found in Tell el-Dab‘a (Fig. 2), but also in the mace of Hotepibra found in the tomb of the “Lord of the Goats” in Ebla or the Egyptianizing wall paintings of Tell Sakka. The newly proposed dates for the Tombs I, II and III of Byblos as well as the cross-connections of Yalkin-Ilu and Yantin-Ammu of Byblos with the Phases G/4 and G/1-3–F of Tell el-Dab‘a resulted in a line of succession for the rulers of Byblos from the late MB I till the advanced MB II period as followed: Yalkin-Ilu – Yantin-Ammu – Abi-šemu – Ipi-šemu-Abi – owner of Tomb III.
Although Egyptian pottery was found at Sidon and Ashkelon also in the second half of the MB II, synchronisations between Tell el-Dab‘a and all Levantine sites was much more difficult for this phase. The two main factors responsible for this phenomenon are the above mentioned decline in imports of these regions to Tell el-Dab‘a and a separate development of locally produced MB pottery at Tell el-Dab‘a.
The end of the MB II period in the northern parts of the Levant happens to be slightly earlier than in the southern ones. By means of scarabs, local pottery, 14-C dates and written sources the destruction of MB II-Ebla should be dated into the last Hyksos phase of Tell el-Dab‘a, consequently putting the end of Alalakh VII slightly earlier. This fits well with the first appearances of Late Cypriote wares (LC) in Phase VIA of Alalakh (see Fig. 3) and the shift from MB to LB at this site. The suggested date of the Ebla destruction, dated by P. Matthiae early into the reign of Muršili I is seen as the first expansion of the Hatti empire culminating in the destruction of Babylon. This proposed date would also explain the rushed military intervention of the kings of the early 18th Dynasty in the northern Levant. Towards the end of the Hyksos period an increased trade with Cyprus is visible in the pottery material of various sites in the Levant and at Tell el-Dab‘a. In the last Hyksos phase the first Late Cypriote (LC) wares in the shape of Bichrome and Proto White Slip vessels reached Tell el-Dab‘a. While at Tell ‘Arqa this early LC pottery is associated only with Late Bronze I (LB I) pottery, at Sidon and Tel Kabri it appears still with MB material. In addition the last MB layers at Sidon, Tel Dan and Ashkelon provided early 18th Dynasty material, thus leading to the conclusion that at these sites the MB period ended during the early New Kingdom. The LC ware groups of White Slip I, Base Ring I and Red Lustrous Wheelmade appear in Egypt only from the reign of Thutmosis III onwards. The lack of these in the last MB layers of Sidon and Ashkelon and for the time being, the absence of only LB I material at these sites, suggest that they come to an end sometimes before the reign of Thutmosis III. Finally, based on the appearance of early 18th Dynasty and LC pottery found in Palace I together with MB pottery at Tell el-‘Ajjul, an early New Kingdom date for its destruction is proposed. Since the local pottery found in Palace I marks not the last stage of the MB there, it is possible that the MB lasted at Tell el-‘Ajjul till the reign of Thutmosis III.
Tell el-Dab‘a, Ashkelon and Tell el-‘Ajjul provided pumices, of which none, ascribed to the eruption of Thera, was found in a level dating prior to the reign of Thutmosis III. The results of available 14-C dates (published and unpublished) from Tell ‘Arqa, Sidon and Ebla were compared with the ones from Tell el-Dab‘a and match well with the synchronized stratigraphies.

The results of this project change the basic chronological framework for the reconstruction of the history between Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean during the first half of the second Millennium B.C. They will help to understand political and economical occurrences during a period where written sources are still scarce and history relies mainly on material culture. The framed cross-references, backbones of the various chronologies in the Near East, allow a connection to the Egyptian chronology prior to the New Kingdom. Evidences from Sidon and Ashkelon demonstrate, that the network of trade existing in the Eastern Mediterranean was much denser than previously thought. It became obvious that an exchange of ideas and ideologies accompanied this trade, which changed and shaped both cultural spheres (i.e. transfer of technology to Egypt and religious concepts to the Levant). This study showed that the economical and political collapse of one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful state in the Eastern Mediterranean caused enormous economical consequences for its bordering countries (i.e. economy of Ashkelon) and cleared the way for the rise of other political and/or economical entities in this area (i.e. Byblos, Tel Kabri). New protagonists like Cyprus enter the scene and gain important economical influence.
During this study, co-operations for future projects were forged between the researcher and members of internationally renowned institutions (i.e. M.I.T. BU, AUB). A closer co-operation between the two host institutions (Harvard University and Austrian Academy of Sciences) was achieved. Scientific knowledge acquired during this project was transmitted over difficult political borders and thus became known to a wider community of researchers. The results of this study will be interesting not only for researchers working in the field of Egyptian archaeology, history and chronology but also for all scientists studying this period in countries along the Eastern Mediterranean coast. Hopefully, in a broader sense these results will be integrated into literature for non-professionals interested in the past of the Near East and Egypt and inform them about “who was actually dealing with whom” in the period of the Middle Bronze Age in the Eastern Mediterranean.