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Excavations at Tel Michal, Israel.

Large-scale, multidisciplinary archaeological projects have been in vogue in Israel since the 1960s. The justification for having large staffs whose expertise covers a wide range of specialties has been the recovery and analysis of the maximum amount of data from an ancient site and its environs and the integration of the data into a comprehensive final report.

While the goal has been laudable, in actuality the outcome has often been partial or complete failure. Many team members never write up the results of their efforts, and as the years pass it becomes more and more difficult for the project director to extract reports from these individuals. Moreover, the director often moves on to begin a new excavation, leaving no one to coordinate the time-consuming and often tedious tasks associated with the production of a final report. As a result, most of these excavations have seen only limited publication--usually restricted to the site's architecture, stratigraphy, and ceramics--or none at all.

The final report on the Tel Aviv University excavation at Tel Michal between 1977 and 1980 is a notable exception to this lamentable situation. The editors of this volume have obtained contributions from several dozen authors and turned them into a handsome, nicely illustrated, and well-edited publication. The archaeological finds from the site are all documented here; so, too, is information on Tel Michal's geological, geographical, and historical setting and a host of technical studies (covering topics as diverse as the nutritional chemistry of the human bones, paleobotany from phytoliths, and the computer hardware and software used on the project).

Tel Michal overlooks the Mediterranean ca. 6.5 km north of the mouth of the Yarkon River. The main part of the site, whose ancient name is unknown, is a small tell (labelled Area A) set on a kurkar ridge; nearby are several winepress complexes and four small hills on which the excavators discovered additional archaeological remains. The tell was the only area used from the beginning of the site's history in the Middle Bronze IIC period down into Early Arab times; activity at the site was punctured by gaps in the Iron I and parts of the Iron II and Roman periods.

Tel Michal was one of many sites along the Levantine coast founded during the Middle Bronze IIC period. Lacking good agricultural land in the immediate vicinity, its primary economic activity, even in this initial phase (Stratum XVII), seems to have been the servicing of small vessels engaged in trade with Cyprus. Herzog suggests that the site may have been founded during the reign of the Hyksos ruler Apophis I and served as "the northern limit of direct Hyksos suzerainty in the coastal plain"; this level contains no closely datable remains, however, and the site as a whole shows only minimal evidence for connections with Egypt during the Middle Bronze Age (specifically, four scarabs, a seal impression, a bulla, and perhaps two fragments of Tell el-Yahudiyeh ware, all of which were found in Late Bronze loci). An interesting find from this period is a single horse bone; assuming that the item is not intrusive, its discovery provides one more piece of evidence (along with horse bones from Chalcolithic Shiqmim and Early Bronze Age Arad) for the presence of equus caballus in Palestine prior to the Late Bronze Age. At the end of MB IIC, the western side of the mound collapsed, either through tectonic activity (Herzog, p. 38; Bakler, p. 202) or sediment failure (Gifford and Rapp, p. 208; Gifford, Rapp, and Hill, p. 216).

The two Late Bronze Age strata (XVI-XV) show a continuation of Tel Michal's role as a commercial emporium associated with the Cypriot trade. A substantial expansion of the MB IIC ramparts on the northern, eastern, and southern sides of the tell provided additional habitation area on the summit of the mound. Egyptian finds are again conspicuous by their paucity. A single Late Minoan I/Late Helladic I cup fragment (pl. 58:7) from a Late Bronze II context is the only Aegean piece associated with Tel Michal in the second millennium B.C.

Following a hiatus covering the 12th and 11th centuries B.C., Tel Michal saw a brief revival in the 10th century B.C. (Strata XIV-XIII), and again in the 8th century B.C. (Stratum XII). During the former period a cultic structure may have been erected on the eastern hill (Area C), while several houses were built on the southeastern hill (Area B); two winepress complexes east of the tell apparently also belong to this period. The 8th century B.C. activity has left no architectural remains in the areas excavated, only pottery found on the main tell and the eastern hill. The few ceramic imports associated with Strata XIV-XII are from Cyprus and perhaps coastal Syria.

Following another gap in occupation, Tel Michal enjoyed a period of expansion and prosperity in the Persian era (Strata XI-VI). A flourishing settlement, a large military or administrative structure (in Stratum XI), ritual installations, and a cemetery containing 111 burials are associated with this period. Activity is attested not only on the high tell but also on the surrounding hills. The individual strata are dated on the basis of numerous Cypriot, East Greek, and Athenian imports. A large and important category of Persian-period finds is the metal artifacts; Muhly and Muhly present a catalogue and typological analysis of these objects, while Lupu discusses the chemical analyses of the material.

The Hellenistic (Strata V-III) and Roman (Stratum II) periods saw Tel Michal lose its status as a coastal emporium and instead become a military site, with a series of forts dominating the high tell. The final use phase (Stratum I) is represented by a fragmentary structure of the Early Arab period; Brandfon suggests that this 9th-10th century A.D. building was a lookout tower.

The reviewer has noted some items he wishes were included in this volume. One is a comprehensive inventory of the pottery and small finds from each locus. Because the book discusses each category of finds in a separate chapter, considerable time is often required to locate all of the objects and pottery from any given locus. Another missing feature is a detailed discussion of the project's field methods. Since sieving apparently took place only "occasionally" during the excavation, the reader cannot determine when, or if, the numbers and percentages of different types of finds are statistically meaningful.

This is an attractive and well-organized site report. A large quantity of data has been obtained from an unspectacular and poorly preserved site, and integrated into a publication which makes a significant contribution to our knowledge of the southern Sharon in antiquity. The excavators, authors, and editors are all due our appreciation for this fine publication.
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Author:Weinstein, James
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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