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SEA PEOPLES ABANDONED?

Researcher casts doubt on sea peoples theory

The ancient city of Lachish was one of the 16 sites re-examined in the research project. Image: Mark A. Wilson/Wikimedia commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The ancient city of Lachish was one of the 16 sites re-examined in the research project. Image: Mark A. Wilson/Wikimedia commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

University of Tübingen doctoral candidate Jesse Millek has been honoured for his research, which questions the controversial theory of the “sea peoples”.

Mr. Millek has been awarded the Sean W. Dever Memorial Prize by the William F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem for a paper presenting his findings on the topic. He has been studying the control of resources during the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age in the Southern Levant. The research focuses on the fall in trade at the end of the Late Bronze Age in what is now Israel and Jordan.

The award winning work is entitled, “Sea Peoples, Philistines, and the Destruction of Cities: A Critical Examination of Destruction Layers ‘Caused’ by the ‘Sea Peoples,”  and deepens the understanding of what caused the decline of the Southern Levant at the end of the Bronze Age.

Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III, from the air. Image: Steve F-E-Cameron/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

More complex

Until now, an inscription in the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III – Medinet Habu – has been said to be evidence of an invasion by the “sea peoples”. The engraving, dating back to 1180 BCE, became the basis for the much-discussed theory which blamed the invasion for the collapse of the neighbouring Levantine kingdoms and the collapse of interregional exchange. Mr. Millek’s recent findings, however, indicate that the causes for a sharp decline in trade are much more complex and likely to have been related to internal, revolutionary processes of social change and an altered approach to handling resources.

Critical examination of 16 sites

Mr. Millek critically examined 16 sites in the Southern Levant said to have been destroyed by the “sea peoples” in a Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 1070 paper. One example is the city of Lachish. Located 44 kilometres southwest of Jerusalem, it is one of the largest and most significant archaeological sites in the Southern Levant.

During early excavations, archaeologists uncovered the charred remains of a temple and building in the Late Bronze Age Destruction of Level 7. Subsequent research interpreted these finds as evidence of a military conflict with the “sea peoples.” However, a critical reassessment of the excavation reports indicates that several significant factors were missed in the initial interpretations.

Jesse Millek says that, “The Late Bronze Age building in Area S was most likely destroyed by a kitchen fire, as the area around the hearth showed the most destruction and was very likely the source of the fire. Even in the past, buildings could be destroyed and preserved in the archaeological record by a common place event like a kitchen fire. Moreover, the Fosse Temple appears to have been ritually terminated as all valuable or cultic items were removed from the temple before it was burned and there were no signs of vandalism. Additionally, the site remained sacred after it was burned as no later people built on top of it, or dug into its remains, which would again indicate the temple was ritually terminated.” The orderly de-consecration of sacred sites points towards changed handling of spiritual resources and a cultural reorganization of values within the society. Continuing research should determine in how far the fall in trade is linked to this change in values.

The head of project A06, Professor Jens Kamlah, emphasizes the significance of disproving the “sea peoples” theory. He says, “The goal of our research is to disprove the evidence supporting this old, extremely simplified, model. Mr. Millek’s work represents a significant contribution to this effect. The time period we are investigating is crucial for the rise of the Israel we know from the Old Testament of the Bible. Demonstrating the different reasons and complex economic relationships behind the decline in trade can provide new insights into this key epoch.”

APOLLO LETROS

Mon, Jan 19, 2015

Archaeologists Investigate Ancient Greek Temenos on Black Sea Island

Sozopol, Bulgaria—A team of archaeologists are discovering new finds on a tiny island just off the Black Sea coast near Sozopol, Bulgaria—finds that may shed additional light on the location and features of a lost temple to Apollo erected by Archaic Greeks in the late 6th century BCE.

Epigraphic sources document that a temple to Apollo was raised on an island near the ancient Greek colony of Apollonia Pontica, which is located near present-day Sozopol. But there has been no evidence to suggest where the temple was actually located—until recently, when an archaeological team under the direction of Kristina Panayotova of the National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, unearthed a fragment of East Greek pottery with an inscription dedication to Apollo.

The ancient temple was famous for another reason: It was here, in front of the temple, where a colossal 13-meter high bronze statue of Apollo was raised and dedicated to the Apollo letros (the Healer), the patron deity of Apollonia Pontica.

“In 72 BCE the Romans under Marcus Lucullus sacked the city and the colossal sculpture was taken to Rome as a trophy,” state Panatoyova and colleagues in a summery of their excavations project on the island. “It was exhibited for several centuries on the Capitoline Hill.”* It has been lost to the world since the advent of the Christian era, as has the exact location of the temple.

Panayotova’s teams have been conducting excavations at the site since 2009, and have thus far uncovered evidence of Greek settlement here going back as far as the 7th century BCE and a late 6th-early 5th century BCE Archaic Greek temple complex which may be the lost temple of Apollo. Other finds included remains of a temple from the 4th century BCE Hellenistic  period; an ancient Greek tholos; an ancient Greek copper foundry; an early Byzantine basilica and necropolis; two ritual pits from the Archaic period containing numerous artifacts; several early Christian 5th century CE graves; structures dated to the Archaic period; and many other finds.

Apollonia Pontica is considered among the earliest urban Greek settlements on the Western Black Sea coast. The city acquired its name in honor of its patron deity, Apollo, and was founded by the philosopher Anaximander and Miletian colonists around 610 BC., becoming an important center of trade between ancient Greece and Thrace. Strong, prosperous and independent for centuries, it was finally conquered by the Roman legions under Marcus Lucullus in 72 BCE. The city thereafter became known as Apollonia Magna, or Great Apollonia.  Its name was changed to Sozopol during the Christian period in the 4th century CE.

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apolloniapontica2Found at Apollonia Pontica, terracotta plaque frieze fragment artifact shows two hoplites. Marie Lan-Nguyen, Wikimedia Commons

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apolloniapontica3Found at Apollonia Pontica, a lot of 4 Greek silver coins. Wikimedia Commons

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Panayotova and colleagues plan to return to continue excavations at the site in 2015, and will be operating a field school for students and volunteers. “The Field School Season 2015 envisions excavations at the top of the island, in the area of the Archaic and Classical Greek and Hellenistic temples, Ancient Greek copper foundry and the Early Christian basilica and necropolis, where the excavations from 2012 take place,” state Panayotova and colleagues.*

More information about Apollonia Pontica and the field school can be obtained at the project website.

See the earlier news article published by Popular Archaeology in 2013.

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