Ceramics and Change in the Early Bronze Age of the Southern Levant

Article excerpt

GRAHAM PHILIP & DOUGLAS BAIRD (ed.). Ceramics and change in the Early Bronze Age of the southern Levant. xi+427 pages, 144 figures, 28 tables. 2000. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press; 1-84127-1357 hardback 60 [pounds sterling] & $120.

Graham Philip & Douglas Baird have compiled articles focused on recent studies of ceramics from the 5th/4th millennium BC to the late 3rd millennium BC in one of the main corridors of social exchange in the ancient Near East. This book is the outgrowth of a workshop held at Durham in 1995, and includes contributors from the southern Levant, North America, Europe and other countries. This is a large volume, with 23 chapters and 32 authors, arranged chronologically and preceded by an introduction by the editors. The size precludes fair coverage to each chapter and thus only a few chapters and common trends will be mentioned.

As stated in the editors' introduction, the goals of the workshop were `to facilitate ceramic recognition, and encourage discussion of ... definition and terminology' (p. 1). Contributors were asked to summarize their data in advance of final publications, and to make explicit the recording system involved. Ultimately, the goal of the workshop was to confront problems met in comparative analyses of ceramic assemblages from the southern Levant.

In their introduction, Philip & Baird critically review different problems faced by analysts of southern Early Bronze Age (EBA) ceramics, including terminology, assumptions behind diagnostic types, absence of independent chronological controls and the rarity of fully quantified results. Many of these difficulties are perpetuated by the self-replicating system of pottery field recording using classic types, a deeply embedded system difficult to change. This volume is an ambitious effort to overcome these and other impediments to the inter- and intra-regional comparative analyses of ceramic assemblages necessary to fostering fresh insight on chronological implications and changing systems of ceramic production, use and distribution.

Dessel & Joffe provide a succinct history of ceramic analyses in the southern Levant, arguing that the EBA has suffered from long ties to Biblically-derived reconstructions, and that ceramic typology has become the dominant form of archaeological data. They effectively undermine two untested premises hampering EBA analyses: first, that ceramic typology offers greater chronological precision than radiocarbon and, second, that the reliability of dendro-calibrated radiocarbon for the 2nd millennium BC is of dubious utility. Recent reevaluation of the radiocarbon corpus for the Chalcolithic (Burton & Levy 2001), however, suggests that their optimistic model for a tripartite division of the Chalcolithic is perhaps premature.

Overall, the chapters are excellent, providing technical descriptions and illustrations to support analyses of larger ceramic issues. Following the goals of the conference, a number of contributions are primarily descriptive, focusing on ceramic assemblages from one or two sites and emphasizing terminology and definition. After the two introductory chapters, Lovell presents Chalcolithic ceramics from Pella. Contributions concerning the EBI or the transition to EBII (Braun, Bourke, Yekutieli, Schaub & Rast, Prag, Yannai & Grosinger, Goren & Zuckerman, Douglas & Kafafi) are the most numerous. Relatively few chapters focus on the EBII or the transition from EBII to EBIII (Greenberg, Fisher, Mazar et al.). The EBIII is included in studies by Genz, Flender, Miroschedji, Harrison and Chesson. Only Adams specifically examines the EBIV in detail. …