BMCR 1999.02.14

Tel Anafa I, i and ii; Tel Anafa II, i

, , , Tel Anafa I, i and ii, Final Report on Ten Years of Excavation at a Hellenistic and Roman Settlement in Northern Israel. Journal of Roman Archaeology. Supplementary Series; no. 10, I, i and ii; Kelsey Museum Fieldwork Series. Ann Arbor: Kelsey Museum, 1994. xii, 322 pages. ISBN 1887829105.
, , Tel Anafa II, i, The Hellenistic and Roman Pottery. Journal of Roman Archaeology, Suppl. 10, II, i; Kelsey Museum Fieldwork Series. Ann Arbor: Kelsey Museum, 1997. xiv, 418 pages. ISBN 1887829989.

These are the first two in a projected series of three volumes giving the final results of excavations of Tel Anafa, a small settlement in the Upper Galilee. During ten seasons of fieldwork between 1968 and 1986, Saul Weinberg and his successor Sharon Herbert oversaw the uncovering of part of a small settlement of the Hellenistic and early Roman periods. In Tel Anafa I, Herbert presents the architecture and the stratigraphic sequence (text and some illustrations in fasc. i, locus summary and plates to Chs. 1 and 2 in fasc. ii). The volume also includes studies by other scholars of the geological setting of the site, the stamped amphora handles, coins, vertebrate fauna, and a single Tyrian sealing. Tel Anafa II, i is devoted to the Hellenistic and Roman pottery. A future volume (II, ii) will complete the series with publication of the pre-Hellenistic and Islamic pottery, lamps, glass, metalware, stucco, stone tools, and the palaeobotanical remains.

The analysis and presentation of this material has been thought out with great care. Herbert begins the undertaking with the stratigraphic and architectural account because it is this sequence that is crucial for the artifactual studies that follow. The absolute chronology of the site rests on a few categories of widely traded and independently datable objects: coins and stamped amphora handles for the Hellenistic phases, imported pottery for the Roman ones. That sequence and chronology, once established, has enabled others to build tight chronologies for artifacts that were previously not well dated.

While there is evidence of activity in the Bronze and Iron ages as well as in more modern times, the most significant phases at Tel Anafa are Hellenistic and Roman. Its heyday was in the late Hellenistic period, from ca. 125 to 80 BCE (HELL 2), when a large building consisting of rooms around a central courtyard was constructed and repeatedly refurbished and augmented (three sub-phases have been identified: A, B, C). The site was left derelict after ca. 80, then reoccupied in the last decade of the century. This early Roman phase, marked by less elaborate architecture than before, continued until about the mid-1st century CE, when the site was again abandoned. A poorly preserved early Hellenistic phase (HELL 1) is attested by scattered walls under the Late Hellenistic Building; associated coins and amphora handles range from the late 4th to the 2nd century, but analysis of the plain wares in volume II suggests about a generation of settlement in the first half of the 3rd century, followed by “scanty and diffuse” occupation (II, p. 20).

Herbert’s Introduction (Ch. 1) gives an overview of the significance of Tel Anafa and its place in regional history. Although the absence of a detailed map will prove frustrating to readers unfamiliar with the region, this chapter does a good job of setting the historical scene. Herbert also provides a summary of the architectural remains, which can serve as an index to the more detailed account that is to follow. Knowing that not all readers require extensive description of masonry and strata, she has arranged Ch. 2 (Occupational History and Stratigraphy) in clearly defined levels of increasing detail. For each phase, she starts with a summary of architectural development. She then discusses the major features of the phase one by one, in each case again beginning with a less detailed overview before proceeding to sections on the minutiae of each room or court, complete with locus numbers and dense description. The only drawback of this organization is that it results in a certain amount of repetition, which may be irksome to those who do read the whole text. For example, much of the site introduction in Ch. 1 appears to have been extracted from the longer accounts in Ch. 2, often without any change in the wording of text or references. One wishes that Herbert had taken the trouble to polish this a bit more. The studies of individual structures are exhaustive but, given the large amount of material recovered, quantified, and analyzed from the Late Hellenistic Building, it is surprising that so little has been concluded about its function, or about the functions of other structures on the site.

Herbert’s contribution to Volume I ends with Ch. 2. In Ch. 3, Donald Ariel and Gerald Finkielsztejn publish 136 stamped amphora handles from the site. They provide a catalogue with texts, extensive commentary, and photographs of the stamps at a scale of 1:1. Their opening remarks include a valuable précis of Finkielsztejn’s revision of the chronology of late 2nd and early 1st century Rhodian eponyms, based on his analysis of stamps from Israeli sites destroyed during that span. Y. Meshorer, in Ch. 4, gives a terse summary and a standard catalogue of the 319 coins found at Tel Anafa, many of which are crucial for its chronology. Here, exceptionally, is a numismatic publication where the needs of the excavation have been kept in mind. Every coin is listed (even the illegible ones), and each entry includes reference to the find spot, information numismatists all too often omit.

Less satisfying is Alla Stein’s note on a Tyrian sealing (Ch. 5), which presents a challenging puzzle for the non-specialist reader. While the object is illustrated at a generous scale, no proper epigraphical transcription is given. The only line that is transcribed (line 3, in a quotation from Weinberg’s initial publication of the seal) does not agree with what is clearly visible in the photograph. The second line is transcribed in Latin letters: Stein gives LPAS, and one is left to deduce that L is a date marker and that P is rho (100), A is lambda (30), and S is stigma (6). The editor seems to have been asleep at the switch on this one. Nonetheless, the conclusion, that the object was stamped in 10/11 CE, the 136th year of the Tyrian calendar, provides evidence of ties between Tel Anafa and the Phoenician coast.

William Farrand’s discussion of the geological setting (Ch. 6) refers mostly to events thousands or millions of years before the settlement at Tel Anafa, but also provides perspective on recent changes, particularly the draining of Hula Lake, which make the current setting somewhat different from the ancient one. The ancient climate appears to have been similar to the modern one, but some changes in pollen frequencies may be relevant to the time of the late Hellenistic and Roman settlement; publication of the palaeobotanical data may shed further light on this matter.

The excavators of Tel Anafa undertook to recover and save all of the animal bone, a rare practice on a site of this date. How sad it is, then, that Richard Redding (in Ch. 7), found that the size of the faunal collection was “much larger than I had expected” (p. 281), and, constrained for time, chose a subsample of 15% of the total as the basis of his study (apparently about 5400 bone fragments, only 1300 of them identifiable to genus). How that 15% was selected is not explained. Some faunal analysis is better than none, but this reduced data base proved to be a severe limitation. Most interesting here is the analysis of domesticated animals, where Redding compares this assemblage with predictions generated by a baseline model he has developed. Divergences from the predictions then help to generate hypotheses about the ways in which the human population managed and utilized their animal resources. Because of the size of the sample, however, Redding is compelled to group together data from different phases. He considers as one unit bones from HELL 1 and 2A (a period ranging from the late 4th to the late 2nd century, and, according to Berlin’s analysis of the plain wares, characterized by three distinct assemblages, and possibly inhabited by distinct populations); HELL 2C (first quarter of the 1st century, in terms of material culture continuous from HELL 2A); and the Roman material of the late 1st century BCE and the first half of the 1st century CE. At first sight I found this strategy disturbing, but it can be defended on the grounds that there was probably considerable upward displacement of HELL 1 material into HELL 2A levels. Herbert notes, for instance, that 68% of the diagnostic Hellenistic pottery was found in post-Hellenistic loci (p. 27); if it may be assumed that faunal material underwent similar displacement at an earlier date, bones from HELL2A may reasonably be grouped with those from HELL 1. Nonetheless, the results of the analysis are hard to accept. On the basis of a remarkably high ratio of cattle to sheep-goats (Redding knows of only two parallel instances), he concludes that in HELL 2C, the final decade of the late Hellenistic occupation, Tel Anafa was a center for “cattle pastoralists with little involvement in agriculture,” while at all other periods, its inhabitants “were dedicated to intensive agriculture, with herds of cattle supplemented by use of sheep-goats and pigs” (p. 286). Such a rapid change in subsistence strategy is difficult to reconcile with the strong indications of continuity in the ceramic, architectural, and stratigraphic record from 2A to 2C. At the very least, the change ought to apply to the whole late Hellenistic phase. Or perhaps the artificially small sample is to blame — the conclusions are based on only 95 cattle and sheep-goat bones from HELL 2C. It will be interesting here as well to see what the palaeobotanical remains will contribute to the resolution of this problem.

Tel Anafa II, i is really two books between a single cover: Andrea Berlin’s study of the plain pottery and Kathleen Slane’s of the fine table wares. Each has its own set of plates, table of contents, and bibliography, and its own very different approach to the material. Berlin’s study began life as her doctoral dissertation but has grown into something much richer, while retaining the passion of discovery that characterizes the work of a young scholar. She begins with a lengthy introduction that takes the reader through the variables of fabric and shape. She has isolated seven distinctive fabrics; petrographical and neutron activation studies (summarized in Appendices 1 and 2 by A. Rautman, J. Gunneweg and J. Yellin) have made it possible to suggest origins for most of these and therefore to trace regional contacts. Berlin’s introduction also summarizes the assemblages of five periods: Persian period survivals, early Hellenistic (HELL IA, ca. 300-250), intermediate Hellenistic (HELL IB ca. 250-125), late Hellenistic (HELL 2A ca. 125-80), and Roman (ROM 1A ca. 4 BCE-50 CE). Drawings present the types and forms within each assemblage and tables list quantities, so that even a quick glance tells the reader what is present and in what numbers. Major conclusions are also summarized here, and the story that Berlin has been able to read in this seemingly unpromising material is truly astonishing. She takes it as axiomatic that the utilitarian wares of a site can convey a wealth of information about long and short range trade, ethnicity, subsistence, and economic status, and she is fearless in drawing bold conclusions from her data. In place of the dreary if dutiful descriptions and lists typical of the publication of plain wares, Berlin gives us a vivid picture of the objects and the behavior that lies behind them. Her careful observation of fabric and exhaustive search for parallels have allowed her to sketch external contacts and relations, so that it is here, more than in any other analysis in these two volumes, that the links with the Phoenician coast and the disjunction with the Hasmonean kingdom to the south emerge.

Berlin breaks the material down into table and personal vessels (table amphoras, pouring vessels, saucers, and unguent containers), cooking vessels, and kitchen and utility vessels (mortars, kraters, funnels, utility jugs, and transport amphoras). Within these larger categories, pottery is encountered shape by shape. Typically an introductory section presents an overview of variability within a broad shape category (e.g., “amphora”, “lagynos”) together with a table giving the quantities of each form or type in each phase. Detailed discussions of each form within the shape category follow, along with a list of parallels, a date for the form, and a concise catalogue. All objects are illustrated in excellent drawings (mostly at a scale of 2:5); there are also 22 plates of photographs. The typology is a sensible one, although one could quibble with some decisions. There seems no obvious reason why, for instance, the ledge rim pan (p. 108) should be classified with pans rather than casseroles — Berlin refers to “squatter proportions”, but from the illustrations the proportions look about the same as those of the angled rim casserole, and the presence of handles also links the form to casseroles. There are always, of course, forms that resist classification, but since Berlin sees the appearance of the pan as a marker of western influence, what is at issue here is perhaps more than a name. Her long lists of comparanda are extremely valuable, although a few citations are puzzling. For instance, the rim of the Attic table amphora (Thompson 1934, E 59) is quite different in form and, I would argue, in function from that of the semi-fine double rim table amphora to which Berlin likens it (p. 40, n. 97); and the Corinthian piece (Romano 1995, no. 55, pl. 23) cited as a parallel to casserole PW 277 is nothing like it (p. 103). There are also places where I could not follow the arithmetic: as when, in fig. 31, Berlin gives a rim count of 25 for “orlo bifido” pans for all periods, with four listed for period HELL 2C, but later (p. 116) ascribes 20 to 25 to period HELL 2C. But such small complaints notwithstanding, this is a pathbreaking study that takes its place alongside a mere handful of works that have realized the potential of plain pottery as an archaeological tool.

Slane’s approach to the fine wares is quite different, and appropriately so, since she is dealing with more closely datable material. A more cautious scholar than Berlin, she is unwilling to theorize much beyond the empirical data. Her analysis of that data, however, sets the standard for meticulous attention to detail, honest exposition of analytical strategies and practices, and closely reasoned exposition of the evidence. It is not only in temperament though that the two authors differ; they also use the stratigraphic framework somewhat differently. Slane pays more attention to fine stratigraphy and thinks more in terms of floors and what is sealed under them than of strata that can be assigned to phases. As a result, for example, Berlin’s HELL 2A dates from 125 to 110, while Slane includes in this phase materials sealed under the earliest floors of the Late Hellenistic building and dating ca. 160/140-128/125.

The bulk of the fine pottery (over 94%) is the distinctive pale ware with red gloss known as Eastern Sigillata A, a particularly important ware because of its wide distribution. Slane’s introduction explores technology, typology, and source, and includes an important discussion of the thorny question of the relationship of ESA to Italian wares. Although we still do not know where ESA was manufactured, the large amounts found at Tel Anafa and the presence of a black slipped predecessor (BSP, now securely identified through neutron activation analysis and thoroughly investigated here for the first time) argue for a production center not too far afield, whether in Syria or in the region of Tyre, where Berlin believes her chemically identical “Phoenician semi-fine ware” was manufactured. The stratigraphic framework of Tel Anafa allows Slane finally to resolve a long-running debate about the date of origin of the ware. ESA was already in production by the time the Late Hellenistic Building was constructed (128/125 BCE); the black-slipped predecessor is probably confined to the preceding quarter century.

Slane presents a dense, concise, yet thorough review of the archaeological evidence for the date of each of her 36 forms, drawing not only on the local stratigraphy but also on contexts elsewhere, especially at Antioch, Samaria, and Hama, where ESA is well represented, and she is able in several cases to refine the chronology presented in John Hayes’s authoritative study of a decade ago (Hayes 1985). Other wares, grouped under the rubric “Imports,” include Italian sigillata, black gloss, and thin walled wares, Pergamene red ware, various gray wares, Cypriot sigillata and a new sigillata (“pink ware”) possibly related to it, and some unidentified but well defined glazed wares. Slane’s discussions include vivid macroscopic descriptions, which will be a godsend to those identifying pottery in the field. Most catalogued objects are illustrated, in 36 plates of drawings at a scale of 1:2 and 21 plates of photographs. Appendices give the results of neutron activation analysis of the fine wares undertaken by Slane together with J.M. Elam, M.D. Glascock, and H. Neff as well as Slane’s refiring experiments directed at determining the firing temperature of ESA.

The volume closes with a short note on the moldmade bowls by Leslie Cornell. This closely follows Cornell’s 1972 MA thesis, written well before the excavations came to a close, although it has been updated by the author and substantially revised by the editor. Nearly three quarters of the bowls are of ESA or BSP. Production can be securely placed before ca. 125 on stratigraphic grounds (fragments were found under HELL 2A floors). The remaining 25% are either Ionian or unidentified imports, which, unfortunately, are organized by motif rather than fabric. The bulk of the report is devoted to description of the relief motifs. There is no catalogue, but a representative 69 of the 1120 fragments found are illustrated in drawings and information about context and fabric is listed. The treatment is slim, but, to be truthful, the extremely fragmentary state of this material does not warrant much more.

These two volumes make a significant contribution to the study of the Hellenistic and Roman Levant. The methodological rigor of the project as a whole is admirable, and one hopes it will be emulated by others. Since each author has looked at the site from a different perspective, it is not surprising that they have sometimes come to different conclusions and, as a result, a coherent overview of the site does not quite emerge — at least, not yet. Perhaps the editor should have striven for consensus, but my own sense is that it would be false to impose a spurious unity on the results. If the proposed final volume rises to the standard of what has gone before, students of the late Hellenistic and Roman Levant will have at their disposal an unparalleled source for the study of the ancient life of the region. Quite apart from that, the contributions of Berlin and Slane have already become basic reference works for the study of Hellenistic and early Roman ceramics.


Hayes, J.W. 1985. “Sigillate orientali,” in Atlante delle forme ceramiche II: ceramica fine romana nel bacino mediterraneo (Tardo ellenismo e primo impero), Enciclopedia dell’ arte antica, Supplement II, Rome, pp. 3-70.

Romano, I. B. 1994. “A Hellenistic Deposit from Corinth: Evidence for Interim Period Activity (146-44 B.C.),” Hesperia 63, pp. 57-104.

Thompson, H. A. 1934. “Two Centuries of Hellenistic Pottery,” Hesperia 3, pp. 311-480.