Jordan's Milk and Honey

Article excerpt

* New-found treasures of the later dynasties of the Egyptian empire in the twelfth century BC can be seen in a special exhibition entitled |Digging in Jordan' which opens this month at the British Museum.

The British Museum's excavations at Tell es Sa'ideyeh, just east of the Jordan river, furnish a rich insight into the opulence of a period of transition just prior to the rise of the Israelites.

Fighting off the incursions of the Sea Peoples, the name given by the Egyptians to the cultural rotavators of the east and west Mediterranean, Egypt embarked on a radical restructuring and rationalisation of its empire in Canaan.

At the instigation of Ramesses II around the hypothetical period of the exodus, cities were abandoned with local inhabitants retreating to pastoral subsistence in the hill country, while strategically important outposts were strengthened which, for a fleeting moment of history, flourished.

Perhaps comparable to a Birmingham of the late Bronze Age, the inland city at Tell es Sa'ideyeh briefly enjoyed frenetic prosperity as a metal bashing, craft and distribution centre to service ailing Egypt.

Project director Dr Jonathan Tubb, who has been uncovering remains at Tell es Sa'ideyeh since 1985, says the findings demonstrate the resilience of the New Kingdom Egyptian empire in the face of ever worsening domestic conditions. |This is the only site of its kind east of the River Jordan and shows how far Egypt had to stretch to satisfy its needs for food supplies,' he says.

The site also provides intriguing evidence of the inland presence of the Sea Peoples, who are linked with Mycaenae and the tales of Homer.

|There seem to have been groups of Sea Peoples working for the Egyptians performing specialised metalworking. We have found a significant number of coffins consisting of two jars shoulder to shoulder. This type of burial is unusual and indicative of a south-west Anatolian or Aegean origin related to, but distinct from, the Philistine coffins of the coast,' says Dr Tubb.

The disruptive effect of the Sea Peoples destroyed the Egyptian empire by around 1150 BC. But the onset of the Dark Ages was a period of synthesis leading to the emergence of classical Greece in the west and the biblical foundations of Judaism in the east.

With an increasing number of Canaanite ex-city dwellers, known as hapiru (meaning dispossessed) gathering in the hills, Egypt's need to protect the Jordan valley food supplies fostered a siege mentality Tell es Sa'ideyeh with its city walls a massive six metres thick. …