Sunday, September 6, 2009

Egyptian First Dynasty Contacts Further Than Thought

Concrete evidence dating to the First Dynasty (c. 3000 BCE according to the article) of Egypt's contacts with and possible spread into the Middle East, in the form of a partial archaic hieroglyphic inscription discovered in Israel on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee. New Evidence for Relations with Egypt’s First Dynasty at Tel Bet Yerah Monday, 31 August 2009 09:53 A fragment of a carved stone plaque bearing archaic Egyptian signs was the highlight of the second season of excavations at Tel Bet Yerah (Khirbet el-Kerak). The site lies in northern Israel, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, along an ancient highway which connected Egypt to the wider world of the ancient Near East. Work was completed there last week by a joint team from Tel Aviv University and University College London. Excavation director Raphael Greenberg of Tel Aviv and David Wengrow, who headed the UCL contingent, noted that the four cm long fragment was the first artifact of its type ever found in an archaeological context outside Egypt. It depicts an arm and hand grasping a scepter and an early form of the ‘ankh sign, and can be attributed to the period of Egypt’s First Dynasty, at around 3000 BCE or shortly after. Finds of this nature are rare even within Egypt itself. The signs are executed to a high quality, and bear comparison with those on royal cosmetic palettes and other monuments dating to the origins of Egyptian kingship. Earlier discoveries, both in Egypt and at Bet Yerah, have indicated that there was direct interaction between the Early Bronze Age site, then one of the largest in the Jordan Valley, and the Egyptian court. The new discovery suggests that these contacts were of far greater local significance than had been suspected. This year’s excavations also provided new insights into contacts between the early town and the distant north when large quantities of “Khirbet Kerak Ware” (a distinctive kind of red/black burnished pottery first found at Tel Bet Yerah) were found in association with portable ceramic hearths, some of them bearing decorations in the form of human features. “The hearths are very similar to objects found in Anatolia and the southern Caucasus”, noted Greenberg, “and most were found in open spaces where there was other evidence for fire-related activities. The people using this pottery appear to have been migrants or descendants of migrants, and its distribution on the site, as well as the study of other cultural aspects such as what they ate and the way they organized their households could tell us about their interaction with local people and their adaptation to new surroundings.” A special focus of this year’s excavations was the large fortified structure that has been identified by experts in early Islamic history as the Umayyad palace of al-Sinnabra. Its colorful mosaic floors, discovered decades ago but long concealed from view, were revealed and properly recorded for the first time. Deep and massive foundations showed that the structure had at least two major phases of use, and that it must have been an impressive monument before it was razed and its stones carted away for re-use outside the site. Some of these foundation walls showed severe cracking, perhaps related to the massive earthquake of 749 CE that destroyed many sites along the Jordan Valley. The structures excavated in 2009 are all within the area designated as the Bet Yerah National Park, in the northern part of the ancient mound.

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