Review of A. Yasur-Landau et al, Household Archaeology in Ancient Israel and Beyond

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 11 (2011) - Review

Yasur-Landau, Assaf, Jennie R. Ebeling, and Laura B. Mazow (eds.), Household Archaeology in Ancient Israel and Beyond (Culture and History of the Ancient Near East, 50; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2011). Pp. v + 452. Hardcover. €155.00; $212.00. ISBN 978-90-04-20625-0.

Archaeology of the southern Levant has historically been preoccupied with the excavation of “places of prestige,”[1] that is palaces, temples, fortifications and the like. More recently, however, archaeologists and historians have shifted their attention in an attempt to better understand the daily life of ancient Israelites and Judahites and other people groups of the southern Levant. This shift includes altering the focus of research to the stage where both the typical and atypical activities of daily life occurred—the home. The archaeological study of the home, or household archaeology, has long been utilized in other archaeologies (i.e., Meso-American, Classical, Roman and Medieval England) but has largely been ignored in the southern Levant.[2] Part of the solution to this deficit can be found in the publication of this volume on household archaeology in the southern Levant, Household Archaeology in Ancient Israel and Beyond edited by Assaf Yasur-Landau, Jennie R. Ebeling, and Laura B. Mazow, which addresses the issue of household through papers dedicated to both theory and application. Contributions utilize a variety of established methods including spatial and functional analysis of architecture (studying the geographical location and distribution of finds in relation to each other or other features and what their possible functions were), artifacts, and ecofacts. Also incorporated are several more scientific approaches, such as zooarchaeological (studying animal remains), geoarchaeological (utilizing geography, geology and other Earth sciences), and micromorphological analysis (studying soil at the microscopic level). A detailed analysis of each paper (eighteen in total) is beyond the scope of this review; however, a brief summary of each is provided.

In their introduction, “The Past and Present of Household Archaeology in Israel,” editors A. Yasur-Landau, J. Ebeling, and L. Mazow provide a concise introduction into the history of household research in the southern Levant and how the present volume improves upon it. Differing methodologies and their application to households are at the center of the first three papers. “Understanding Houses, Households, and the Levantine Archaeological Record” by J. Hardin provides the reader with a more detailed background of household archaeology and develops a methodology that employs archaeological, textual, and ethnographic data. In “Household Archaeology in Israel: Looking into the Microscopic Record” R. Shahack-Gross creates a compelling argument for the use of micromorphology (the microscopic study of soil materials) in identifying the exact location of floors, which is imperative for determining activity areas. N. Marom and S. Zuckerman in “Applying On-Site Analysis of Faunal Assemblages from Domestic Contexts: A Case Study from the Lower City of Hazor” present a zooarchaeological field protocol that was used to investigate the domestic foodways in Late Bronze Age Hazor.

The second part of this volume is dedicated to Middle Bronze, Late Bronze, and Iron Age case studies with particular interest in Canaanite and Philistine households. Yasur-Landau researches the effect of politics and urbanization on domestic units in MB fortified settlements in his paper, “‘The Kingdom is His Brick Mould and the Dynasty is His Wall’: The Impact of Urbanization on Middle Bronze Age Households in the Southern Levant.” In “A Tale of Two Houses: The Role of Pottery in Reconstructing Household Wealth and Composition” N. Panitz-Cohen utilized a distributional analysis and her expertise in pottery analysis to examine household wealth and composition at LB Tel Batash. “Differentiating between Public and Residential Buildings: A Case Study from Late Bronze Age II Tell es-Safi/Gath” by I. Shai, A. Maeir, Y. Gadot, and J. Uziel not only addresses the issue of identifying private versus public buildings within the urban settlement of Gath but also, once a private building has been identified, whether its architectural and artifactual remains can indicate the economic and social status of its household members.

Papers in this second section interested in ethnicity and societal understanding include D. Ilan's paper on “Household Gleanings from Iron I Tel Dan” in which he investigates the familial, economic, and political structures in transition at Tel Dan during the early Iron Age through a spatial and quantitative analysis. “Houses and Households in Settlements along the Yarkon River, Israel, during the Iron Age I: Society, Economy, and Identity” by Y. Gadot investigates several settlements in the borderland region of the Yarkon River resulting in settlement classifications determined by patterns of social and economic organization. In “Early Iron Age Domestic Material Culture in Philistia and an Eastern Mediterranean Koiné” D. Ben-Shlomo combines household and migration archaeology to better understand the provenance and appearance of the Philistines. In particular, “cultural Koiné” is expanded to include the material culture of domestic activities and behavioral patterns that may serve as identity markers. P. Stockhammer investigates Aegean households further in “Household Archaeology in LHIIIC Tiryns” where elite activities, mainly feasting, and the social statues of its participants and nonparticipants are examined.

Iron Age II houses are also examined in this second section. J. R. Zorn and A. Brody undertake the sizable task of reviving the Tell en-Nasbeh reports and collection. In his paper, “The Archaeology of the Extended Family: A Household Compound from Iron II Tell en-Nasbeh” Brody conducts a spatial analysis of one compound of Iron Age II houses at Tell en-Nasbeh, paying particular attention to nuclear versus extended family dynamics. Household membership resulting from household economies in both urban and rural environments throughout the kingdoms of Israel and Judah is addressed in A. Faust's paper titled “Household Economies in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah.” L. Singer-Avitz's spatial analysis of houses in the pre-planned site of Beersheba in “Household Activities at Tel Beersheba” is likewise concerned with household membership and their activities, but is particularly interested in the gendered nature of those activities. In order to better understand households during the expansion of the Neo-Assyrian empire, V. Rimmer-Herrmann in “The Empire in the House, the House in the Empire: Toward a Household Archaeology Perspective on the Assyrian Empire in the Levant,” puts forth a new methodology that seeks to identify changes and continuities in dwellings from the Assyrian imperial provinces. The differing approaches and conclusions between Brody, Faust, Singer-Avitz, and Rimmer-Hermann prove just how rich and diverse household archaeology in the southern Levant can be.

The final section of the book investigates religion in the domestic environment. L. Hitchcock in “Cult Corners in the Aegean and the Levant” supplies numerous examples of possible cult corners from Cyprus, the Aegean, and Philistia in both domestic and public contexts arguing that buildings are not necessarily entirely cultic or entirely secular. Gender is at the heart of B. Alpert-Nakhai's paper on “Varieties of Religious Expression in the Domestic Setting” in which she argues that the concerns and nature of “household religion” were primarily those of the women and thus the female members of the household were the principal practitioners. Finally, in “A Problem of Definition: ‘Cultic’ and ‘Domestic’ Contexts in Philistia,” M. Press attempts to solve the problem of identifying domestic cultic installations through the application various methodological proposals, using dwellings at Tel Miqne and Ashdod as test cases.

Household Archaeology in Ancient Israel and Beyond attempts to address broadly various topics within household archaeology: history of, methodologies, scientific analysis, spatial and functional analysis, ethnicity, family dynamics, cult, and gender. The only deficit I find with the volume is the lack of secondary resources on household data. In his paper, “Understanding Houses, Households, and the Levantine Archaeological Record,” J. Hardin proposes a household archaeological approach that makes use of secondary resources, such as ethnographic, ethnohistoric, ethnoarchaeological, and textual data. These sources are viewed as secondary and can be useful in helping reconstruct ancient households. The archaeology of the southern Levant has historically been dependent upon the biblical text; today's archaeologists are wary of this dependency, and for good reason. However, as we learn from the mistakes of the past we should not neglect any resource at our disposal that will help in our understanding of the ancients. Some of the authors in this volume mention the importance of secondary resources, such as ethnographic analogies, but few utilize them. However, this approach is not agreed upon by all and will hardly be seen as a deficit by some.

The neglect of households and the archaeology of the activities of its members are ambitiously attended to in this volume. Its exceptional breadth of various modes of inquiry coupled with the application thereof justifies the household as a topic of discussion. I would highly recommend this book for institutions, libraries, scholars, and students interested in any aspect of daily life in the southern Levant, and I very much look forward to the future research projects it will inspire.

Cynthia Shafer-Elliott, William Jessup University

[1] C. Meyers, Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988). reference

[2] Interest in the actual physical dwelling or house has long been of interest in the archaeology and history of Syro-Palestine (i.e., Shiloh, Herzog, and Stager). However, those who dwelled in these dwellings or the household and the activities that were carried out there have a smaller history. The few exceptions to this are C. Meyers, O. Borowski, D. Schloen, M. Daviau, and J. Hardin and can be viewed as “pioneers” per se. reference