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  • The Neo-Assyrians at Tell el-Hesi: A Petrographic Study of Imitation Assyrian Palace WareAuthor(s): Christin M. A. EngstromSource: Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 333 (Feb., 2004), pp. 69-81Published by: The American Schools of Oriental ResearchStable URL: .Accessed: 17/08/2011 20:20

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  • The Neo-Assyrians at Tell el-Hesi: A Petrographic Study of Imitation

    Assyrian Palace Ware

    CHRISTIN M. A. ENGSTROM 1810 Francisco Street Berkeley, CA 94703

    The research described here was conducted to determine the geographical provenance of selected imitation Assyrian Palace Ware sherds unearthed at Tell el-Hesil in strata of the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E. The goal was to establish if the unusually large numbers of Assyrian Palace Ware sherds found at Hesi were imported from Assyria proper or "imitation" pieces manufactured at or near Hesi. To that end, selected samples of imitation Assyrian Palace Ware from Hesi were thin-sectioned and their petrographic profiles compared with samples of Assyrian Palace Ware from Khirbet Qasrij, Iraq, with the geomorphology of the region surrounding Tell Jemmeh, and with petrographic descriptions of Tell Jemmeh pottery. Data presented here indicate that the Hesi Palace Ware samples were manufactured local to Hesi in the loess depositional region of the Beersheva basin.


    rom approximately 745 B.C.E. until the mid- seventh century, the Neo-Assyrian empire was the most powerful polity in the Middle East.

    Their hegemony spread swiftly, extending southward through the Levant and eventually into the very heart of Egypt. During this period, Assyria created a net- work of vassal states and client kingdoms out of the territories surrounding the Assyrian homeland and down through the Levant (Gitin 1997: 77). When politically expedient, the Assyrians annexed whole countries directly into the empire, forming new prov- inces ( Na'aman 1993; Oded 1970: 178).

    Under Assyrian rule, the economies of the Levant prospered. The Philistine urban centers of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron were particularly well situated to take advantage of the economic struc- tures brought about by Assyrian rule (Elat 1979: 29, 32; Gitin 1997: 79). The Philistines used the Assyr- ian trade markets and the Assyrian peace to expand

    their large commercial interests by monopolizing the sea trade with Egypt and exporting local goods such as olive oil (Otzen 1979: 258; Gitin 1997: 80, 84).

    Exactly who was in control of Hesi and the sur- rounding region during the eighth and seventh cen- turies is still being debated; however, an abundance of Assyrian archaeological material suggests that after 735 the area around Hesi and Tell Jemmeh was within the sphere of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, part of Philistine Gaza (Blakely and Hardin 2002; Oded 1970: 183). In contrast to Tell Jemmeh, where As- syrian-style buildings indicate that the settlement was a base of Assyrian regional power in the seventh century, Hesi had declined from a fortress settle- ment to an unfortified outpost in the border region between Philistine Gaza and the Judahite province identified as District 3 by Aharoni (fig. 1), an area that included the biblical city of Lachish (Blakely and Hardin 2002: 31; Van Beek 1983: 17; Aharoni 1997: 346).

    Assyrian-style buildings, palaces, and material goods began to appear in the Levant during the late eighth century (Reich 1992). Assyrian architectural

    1Hereafter referred to as Hesi. For a more complete discussion of Tell el-Hesi and a bibliography, please see Fargo 1997.



    Shiloh Khirbet

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    Je meh

    Tell\ Miles r~amascus el-F

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    h) 0 10 20Km r


    Sama a i;

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    N Zi Te el-Hesi 10 200


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    Fig. 1. Map of the Middle East with sites discussed in the text.

    influence is apparent in the layout of public build- ings unearthed at Tell Jemmeh, Megiddo, and other, smaller sites, such as Ayyelet ha-Shahor/Hazor (Reich: 1975: 233; Lipschitz 1990: 96; Van Beek 1983: 12; Finkelstein, Ussishkin, and Halpern 2000: 6).2 Tell Jemmeh has a remarkably large corpus of Palace Ware for a site in the southern Levant. Much of Jemmeh's Palace Ware was recovered from the site's Assyrian palace complex (Van Beek 1983: 17; William Melson, personal communication).3

    Hesi, 20 miles northeast of Tell Jemmeh, also has an unusually large amount of Palace Ware for a southern Levantine site; over 50 individual Palace Ware sherds have been excavated from Field I on Hesi's small 0.75-acre acropolis. Stratum VII is the earliest stratum in which Palace Ware has been found.

    Structural remains at Hesi, in Stratum VII of Field I on the acropolis, have been dated to the Assyrian

    period based on associated pottery, specifically the Palace Ware, as well as on the unique color and con- sistency of the clay used in the building construction. The color and texture of the mudbrick differs consid- erably from that of earlier and later strata (Blakely and Hardin 2002: 31, 32). Not enough of the building foundation remains, however, to conclusively identify the structure as architecturally Assyrian.


    Assyrian Palace Ware was the luxury ware of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (Oates 1959). It was a wheel- thrown ware produced in a variety of forms includ- ing bowls, beakers, and miniature jars and bottles as well as goblets, all with everted, carinated rims. The common denominator among all these forms is the extreme thinness of the body walls and the fine levi- gation of the clay (Rawson 1954; Oates and Oates 2002). Potters highly skilled in their craft were es- sential to produce the ware's thin body walls, which

    2For a more complete discussion of Tell Jemmeh and a bibli- ography, see Van Beek 1997.

    3Referred to in this text as "Palace Ware."


    was an advantage in the firing process. Thin body walls prevented the wares from exploding as water

    escaped from the clay during firing, because the fine-

    grained clays were not porous enough to allow water to efficiently vaporize (Rawson 1954: 169).

    Rawson's classic account of Assyrian Palace Ware fabric describes a fine ware made in the area around Nimrud from two different kinds of clay (Rawson 1954). The first has a clay paste low in iron but rich in aluminum, with a coarse siliceous com- ponent. This ware was fired in an oxidizing envi- ronment that turned the body surface a pale pink (Rawson 1954: 169). The second type, more com- monly associated with the term "Assyrian Palace Ware," was manufactured from hyper-levigated clay, either riverine or artificially levigated in vats. This second ware also contained a high amount of alu- minous clay minerals. When fired, the ware body turned a light green to pale cream with a distinctive waxy sheen to the vessel surface. This unusual color and surface grain was consistently produced for over a century (Rawson 1954: 169). J. Oates maintains that it is not clear whether the two types are truly different clays or whether the differences in color and texture are due to differences in the firing tem- perature and kiln treatment. She describes the first type as a pinkish-buff, with a surface so pale as to be almost white, and a salmon-colored core. The second type is a buff yellow to pale green, with the surface color matching that of the core (Oates 1959: 131).

    Both ware types are common to the Palace Ware corpus unearthed at Khirbet Qasrij, Iraq, which lies approximately 42 km northwest of ancient Nineveh (Curtis 1992: 154). A petrographic examination of both types in selected samples from Khirbet Qasrij shows the greenish Assyrian Palace Ware to be over 97 percent by volume fine-grained isotropic green clay paste, with the overwhelming majority of ac- cessory minerals (quartz, mica, amphibole, and some calcite) being < 10 p in size (Curtis 1989).4 The pink ware has an isotropic to anisotropic reddish brown, fine-grained, foliated paste (96 percent) with acces- sory grains of chert, quartz, and olivine (7-150 -t; the larger grains are angular); smaller grains of mica, amphibole, hornblende, orthoclase, and zircon are present in the grain fraction.

    The manufacture of Assyrian Palace Ware outside of Assyria proper is well known (Courtois and Doray 1983). L. C. Courtois and A. M. Doray hypothesized that Assyrian Palace Ware forms produced in the Levant were not copied spontaneously for local in-

    digenous con