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A Bridge to Canaan: Tell el-Daba (Egypt) in the Late Middle Kingdom, ca. 1820 to 1720 B.C.

Final Activity Report Summary - BRIDGE TO CANAAN (A Bridge to Canaan: Tell el-Daba (Egypt) in the Late Middle Kingdom, ca. 1820 to 1720 B.C.)

The project focused on the archaeology of a settlement of the late Middle Kingdom in the north eastern Nile Delta at Tell el-Daba-Avaris, dating to about 1820 to 1720 BC. The site was excavated between 1966 and 1980. The geographic position of the site at the periphery of Egypt and close to the Levant via the Sinai peninsula led to the development of a centre of contacts and interconnections between Egypt and the Levant. It is likely that this development was not a by-product of chance but that the foundation of Avaris (around 2000 BC) was led by a desire to create such a hub. By the late Middle Kingdom the central administration of Egypt was in decline due to short reigning pharaohs. This loss of power as well as the special position might have favoured a unique development of the settlement not observed in the rest of Egypt. The biggest difference to other Egyptian settlements is the construction of graves in the settlement, which contained Egyptian and Levantine objects as burial goods (weapons, jewellery, ceramics). Such a combination is unique within Egypt. The human remains were analysed by physical anthropologists in the 1970s by means of cranial measurements. Cluster analysis suggested they were most similar to the population of Iron Age Lebanon. This result seemed to prove that the inhabitants of Tell el-Daba were immigrants from the Levant.

Since then physical anthropology has made great progress in methodology. Thus, methods such as cranial measurements are not convincing anymore, and the archaeological evidence for migration and ethnicity, two notoriously difficult themes in archaeology, needed review, because the human remains are not available for re-analysis. The analysis of the settlement, however, showed that the inhabitants mostly used Egyptian material culture. A large proportion of the ceramic material found (20-40% in each context) was imported to the site and must be attributed to trade activities. Quantitative analysis and analysis of the raw material allow an estimate of trade volume and trade partners. The presence of a small amount (2-3%) of local imitations of imported ceramics (small jugs for small amounts of liquids (precious oils), a special kind of cooking ware, and some dishes) is the only hint towards a presence of immigrants from the Levant. Even more so, because the manufacturing technique seems the same as in the imported material, which suggests specialist knowledge. The difference between grave and settlement contexts can be attributed to a almost total assimilation of immigrants in the realm of the living, while they seemed to have only adapted within their original burial customs. This interpretation shows a differentiated outcome of acculturation processes at work in the Ancient World that not necessarily always arises but represents one result of a complicated system with many determinants.

The biggest scientific achievement is the presentation of a large amount of objects found within an Egyptian non-elite settlement combined with quantitative data and resulting interpretations and a description of the development of artefacts. Such an undertaking is still rare within Egyptian archaeology, where mainly funeral or elite contexts are in the focus of research.