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The Forging of Israel: Iron Technology, Symbolism, and Tradition in Ancient Society.

Paula McNutt (hereafter M.) states early on in her work on The Forging of Israel, that she has set out to answer the question:

"What kind of impact did the introduction of iron technology have on ancient Israelite culture, and how is the impact reflected in the use of iron technology as a cultural symbol?".

In order to achieve her goal M. has to deal with two broad categories of material: 1) surviving artifacts of iron in the eastern Mediterranean dating from ca. 1200-900 B.C. and the evidence they provide for the regional development of iron-working technology, and 2) textual references to iron and the ways in which such references record the use of iron and the symbolism associated with that use, especially in the Old Testament. Development of each of these two themes takes up one-half of the study. In other words, the monograph is roughly one part archaeology and one part textual study, but the two parts are not considered consecutively.

M. has some curious ideas about iron metallurgy. She refers to "|t~ransforming iron from a soft ore to a metal of superior strength", to iron ore being "a relatively soft metal" and to iron ore as "a relatively soft material inferior to bronze", but iron ore is neither soft nor a metal. Iron ore, in the form of hematite, was in fact a material favored by Mesopotamian sealcutters for turning into engraved cylinder seals. Presumably what M. has in mind here is a bloom of soft wrought iron, but smelted iron certainly cannot be referred to as iron ore.

Nor is it correct to refer to meteoric iron, as M. does repeatedly throughout her text. The correct term is meteoritic. This is a mistake frequently made by archaeologists and other scholars interested in early iron metallurgy, but they are not alone. In their excellent article on "Pathways to Steel" (American Scientist 70.2 |1982~: 146-55) N. J. van der Merwe, an archaeological scientist, and D. H. Avery, a metallurgist, also refer to meteoric iron. Such usage, however, is incorrect and is to be avoided. Nor can meteoritic iron properly be called a native metal. Native iron has been reported, notably from western Greenland (J. M. Bird, Explorers Journal 57 |1979~: 126-31) and western Africa (S. E. Haggerty and P. B. Toft, Science 229 |1985~: 647-49), but it is rare and certainly played no role in the early development of iron metallurgy.

I call attention to these technical mistakes because, in general, M.'s metallurgical discussions are clear, concise and accurate. Her discussion of "The Production of Steeled Iron" is really quite admirable. M.'s technical accuracy can, in fact, be compared most favorably with much metallurgical discussion in recent archaeological literature. Back in 1934 the metallurgist Thomas T. Read published an article on "Metallurgical Fallacies in Archaeological Literature" (AJA 38:382-89). Read presented a few archaeological fallacies of his own in this article, but many of the technical errors that he called attention to over 50 years ago are still to be found in the current literature. Timothy Taylor, writing in a volume devoted to The Bronze Age-Iron Age Transition in Europe, refers to the smelting of bronze (confusing melting and smelting) and to an iron knife from EBA Slovakia, made "using iron left over from the roasting of Chalcopyrite ores in copper production," a statement that is wrong on just about every count (Taylor 1989: 76). For a discussion of this important theory, that early examples of metallic iron were produced in the course of copper smelting (not roasting), see M., pp. 111-12. This is the explanation now favored to account for the presence of iron artifacts in Bronze Age contexts, including the metal finds from the LBA Egyptian temple at Timna in the Negev (Gale et al. 1990).

M. refers fact there are 17 catalogued iron objects from the Hathor Mining Temple (site 200) as well as the two iron bracelets from site 2 mentioned by M. This discrepancy raises a problem basic to M.'s methodology. In charting the gradual expansion of the use of iron, from earliest times into the tenth century, M. makes use of a statistical analysis of total numbers of surviving artifacts, studied geographically, chronologically and typographically. This is a technique employed by Jane Waldbaum in earlier studies (1978, 1980, 1982). M. is well aware of the pitfalls inherent in this approach set out already by this reviewer (JHS 100 |1980~: 262-64), but M. still bases much of her discussion on such calculations.

The small number of published iron artifacts from Philistine sites leads M. to conclude that the Philistines were not experienced workers of iron and that "|a~n iron monopoly on the part of the Philistines could not have been a factor in the threat they posed to the Israelites". But the figures used by M. do not include any of the iron finds from the old excavations at Tell el-Farah (South) or the new excavations at Tel Miqne/Ekron and Ashkelon. Inclusion of such material would dramatically change the statistics.

The point is an important one because it is on the basis of the figures she does use that M. concludes that "|i~t was not until the tenth century B.C.E., when iron's use surpassed that of bronze, that iron played a significant role in the political, military and economic spheres of Iron Age Palestine". This in turn influences her evaluation of such famous Biblical passages as I Samuel 13:19-22, regarded by her as reflecting "the interpretation of a later editor or editors" because "it is unlikely that iron technology had been adopted yet anywhere in Palestine by this time" |ca. 1000 B.C.~ (both quotes from p. 238).

From this M. concludes that "|r~eferences to 'iron chariots', lack of access to smiths, Egypt as an iron furnace and so on have their primary meanings in the monarchic and later periods, not the premonarchic period. They do not record historical facts about Iron Age I".

Such conclusions run counter to much recent work on the early Iron Age in Palestine and the emergence of Israel in the land of Canaan and are, in the opinion of this reviewer, regressive in spirit. They stem from an excessive reliance upon numbers and the attempt to quantify archaeological evidence. As only a tiny fraction of what was in circulation has survived in the archaeological record and as even the number of known surviving iron artifacts is increasing all the time (cf. Muhly et al. 1990), such figures must be used with the greatest circumspection.

The finds from the Baqah Valley burial cave (for publication of the excavation see McGovern et al. 1986) are very instructive in this regard. In M.'s statistics 35 out of the 57 known non-Philistine iron artifacts from the 12th century B.C. come from this one site. In fact the burial cave produced 11 complete pieces of iron jewelry as well as over 40-odd iron fragments. In reference to Waldbaum's 1978 compilation, McGovern points out that "|t~hese artifacts more than tripled the number of iron artifacts from Jordan and Israel which have been catalogued in Waldbaum's compendium" (P. E. McGovern, "The Innovation of Steel in Transjordan," Journal of Metals 40.10 |1988~: 50). Moreover McGovern indicates (ibid., 52) that another as yet unpublished burial cave at Pella, discovered in 1987, has a large collection of iron artifacts similar to those from the Baqah cave. These finds completely transform our understanding of the beginning of iron technology in Transjordan. Many of the Baqah artifacts were made of steel and the same may be true of those from Pella.

Account must also be taken of the many archaic elements in the account of Saul's war against the Philistines preserved in I Samuel, including the use of the dual form mishate in describing the greaves worn by Goliath (I Samuel 17:6).

No one wants to revive the thoroughly discredited idea of a Philistine iron monopoly. M. is quite correct in asserting that "the question of technological dominance on the part of any one ethnic group is the wrong question to be asking in evaluating the Iron Age I archaeological information on ironworking". What is at issue is the cultural and technological impact of ironworking on the societies of the eastern Mediterranean during Iron I and the extent to which our surviving texts faithfully reflect that impact.

We must always keep in mind that we are working from a very imperfect data base, made even worse by the failure of scholars to publish what little we have combined with the fact that only a handful of the published artifacts have received adequate technical examination. Yet, with all these factors working against us, we have managed to assemble a remarkable corpus of iron artifacts dated prior to ca. 900 B.C. that have been carburized, quenched and, in some cases, even tempered (references in Muhly et al. 1990). On the basis of such evidence we can safely hypothesize a significant iron industry in place throughout the eastern Mediterranean in the decades prior to ca. 1000 B.C.

It so happens that much of our evidence for the technical development of this industry comes from Cyprus, a country quite ignored by M. The importance of Cyprus should come as no surprise as the past decade of archaeological research has provided abundant evidence documenting in detail the importance of Cyprus in understanding the Bronze/Iron transition in the eastern Mediterranean (cf. C. Zaccagnini, JAOS 110 |1990~: 493-502). The Cypriot evidence documents the consistent production of steel by the 11th century B.C. (Maddin 1982; Stech, Muhly and Maddin 1985).

In other words the archaeological and technical evidence presently available supports the historical accuracy of the Old Testament passages relating to iron metallurgy and the use of iron. The old idea that references to iron were anachronistic in a Bronze Age context, an idea stemming from Homeric criticism and the Hesiodic concept of the Five Ages, is simply not valid. The number of references to iron known from second millennium B.C. texts is steadily increasing through the publication of new texts as well as the proper evaluation of existing ones. M.'s treatment of this material is in need of revision. The publication of ARM XXV, by H. Limet (Paris, 1986), has resulted in a substantial increase in the number of Old Babylonian references to iron (cf. H. Limet, "Documents relatifs au fer a Mari," MARI 3 (1984): 191-96).

M. discusses at some length what she sees as a discrepancy between the numerous Bronze Age textual references to objects of iron and the paucity of actual surviving examples, a dichotomy she attributes to the discrepancy between actions and notions. In fact archaeological work has produced some quite remarkable early iron artifacts, some of which have received little attention. Everyone knows the iron dagger (or short sword), with gold hilt, from tomb K at Alaca Huyuk, but M. does not even refer to the ivory box from Old Assyrian Acemhuyuk, decorated with a horizontal row of three iron and two lapis lazuli studs on each of the four sides of the box (T. Ozguc, Belleten 40 |1976~: 555-60).

The Acemhuyuk box or pyxis is actually illustrated in a recent study by Alan Millard, a study that attempts to explain some of the more problematic Biblical references to objects of iron (Biblical Review 6.2 |1990~: 16-21, ivory box on p. 21). Millard believes that the iron bed of Og, king of Bashan, was actually a wooden bed plated with iron. This, in fact, is most unlikely, it being much easier simply to make a bed frame of iron. For J. F. A. Sawyer Og's bed signifies the ugliness of iron, a fitting resting place for a foreign ruler of barbaric origins (Sawyer 1983: 133). For M. the iron bed symbolizes "the overwhelming strength of this particular adversary of Israel." In fact there is no reason to believe that Og's iron bed was anything more (or less) than one of the more unusual personal possessions of a royal household, much like the iron bed of the Urartian king Rusa I, left behind in his haste to flee the battlefield and escape capture (and horrible execution) at the hands of Sargon II, king of Assyria.

R. Drews (JSOT 45 |1989~: 15-23) rightly objects to chariots of iron as iron-plated chariots, noting the implausibility if not impossibility of such a creation, but he can only resort to the shopworn refuge of anachronism, concluding that "when the Old Testament writer attributed 'chariots of iron' to the enemies of Joshua and Deborah, he had in mind either scythed chariots or chariots with iron-tired wheels. Neither type was known before ca.700 B.C.E." (ibid., 21). For M. such references "are clearly metaphorical references dating to a time somewhat later than the events to which the traditions refer."

But such references make sense only when see as a rhetorical device whereby a part is made to stand for the whole |sigma~|chi~|eta~|mu~|alpha~ |kappa~|alpha~|theta~' |omicron~|lambda~|omicron~|nu~ |kappa~|alpha~|iota~ |mu~|epsilon~ |rho~|omicron~|zeta~, the "chariots of iron" meant to designate the full range of weapons and armor possessed by the urban Canaanites, some of which must have been made of iron. Chariot warfare, comprising all the necessary equipment and appurtenances together with the chariot warriors themselves, forming a social class known as maryannu, was exactly what the Hebrew peasant fighters knew nothing about. It makes perfectly good sense, within the context of warfare in the waning years of the Late Bronze Age, to have "chariots of iron" stand for the military potential of the Canaanite urban centers. As is often the case, the authors of the books of the Old Testament can be seen here as better historians than their modern commentators.

What I find most lacking in M.'s otherwise admirable monograph, is precisely this feeling for history, a sense for drawing meaningful conclusions from admittedly ambiguous historical evidence. One example will have to suffice. M. comments on the lack of iron artifacts from Anatolia during the years ca. 1200-900 B.C., there being none from the 12th century and only 16 that even tentatively date to the 11th and 10th centuries. She feels that "|t~his is surprising given the comparative wealth of textual and artifactual information suggesting experimentation with iron from earlier periods...." But a lack of iron artifacts from the centuries comprising the 'Dark Age' of Anatolian archaeology is not surprising at all. There are almost no iron artifacts because there are virtually no finds of any kind whatsoever. Anatolia for the period ca. 1200-900 B.C. is an archaeological blank, a historical enigma that has yet to receive convincing explanation.

In order to deal successfully with this "wealth of textual and artifactual information" relating to the Bronze Age/Iron Age transition a scholar must combine both archaeological and philological expertise on quite a high level. Just the elementary task of assigning reasonable dates to the surviving iron artifacts presents formidable, almost unsolvable archaeological problems. In general M. follows the Palestinian dating proposed by Waldbaum and T. Dothan, but serious questions have been raised regarding the early Iron Age stratigraphy at a number of key sites, notably Beth Shan, Hazor, Lachish and Megiddo (cf. Y. Garfinkel, IEJ 37 |1987~: 224-28). No use has been made here of the important work of I. Finkelstein, especially his book on the Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement (Jerusalem, 1988); see also his important review article in this journal ("The Emergence of Early Israel: Anthropology, Environment and Archaeology," JAOS 110 |1990~: 677-86). The extent of disagreement that still exists amongst scholars of the period is evident from W. Dever's review article on "Archaeology and Israelite Origins" (BASOR 279 |1990~: 89-95).

As for philology, it is not reasonable to expect any one scholar to control all the relevant languages containing passages of interest for early iron metallurgy. Yet it is reasonable to expect that any scholar surveying such material make use of reasonably accurate, modern translations. It cannot be emphasized often enough that citing any ancient text from a translation printed in the nine volumes of R. J. Forbes' Studies in Ancient Technology is asking for trouble. By doing so, as in the case of the famous passage from the Hittite Ritual for the Erection of a House (KBo IV 1 +), M. prints a text that Hittite scholars probably will not even recognize.

It is true that M. is a Biblical scholar, not a Hittitologist, but how then can one account for translations such as that given for Leviticus 26:19 (M., p. 225): "I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like brass"? There are, of course, no references to brass in the Hebrew Bible, only in the King James version. Brass is a metal, an alloy of copper and zinc, that basically comes into use only in Roman times (cf. P. T. Craddock, "The Early History of Zinc and Brass," Wiener Berichte uber Naturwissenschaft in der Kunst 4.5 |1987/88~: 225-45, and also "The Early History of Zinc," Endeavour, n.s., 11 |1987~: 183-91).

In attempting to understand the role of the smith in Israelite society, and to evaluate "the systems of meaning associated with technology and technological innovations rather than the impact of technology on the material environment of ancient Israelite society" M. turned to Africa and to the ethnographic evidence for modern primitive iron smelting and the socio-economic position of the African smith. These pages (her chapter two) should be read in conjunction with some more recent studies on African iron smelting technology, notably the papers contained in African Iron Working, ed. R. Haaland and P. Shinnie (Oslo: Norwegian U.P., 1985). Also the important study by N. David et al., "Between bloomery and blast furnace: Mafa iron-smelting technology in North Cameroon," African Archaeological Review 7 (1989): 183-208, and the article on "Early Iron Smelting in Central Africa" by F. Van Noten and J. Raymaekers (Scientific American 258.6 |1988~: 104-11).

M. is well aware of the dangers associated with the use of ethnographic evidence and is careful to point out that she is using it only as a heuristic aid, not as "evidence" for conditions in ancient Israel. She thus avoids making any direct comparisons between Africa and ancient Israel while still feeling that the African experience has much to tell us about the role of smiths and metallurgy in primitive societies.

The situation in Africa is unusually complex in that iron-working technology as well as the social organization connected with that technology can no longer be observed in present-day Africa. Iron ore was still being smelted in Africa in the early years of this century but, like much modern primitive technology in Third World countries, the practice has long since disappeared. In addition to the accounts and photographs published by travellers and ethnographers who worked in Africa prior to ca. 1930, several modern scholars have tried to reconstruct the disappearing smelting technology, making use of elders in the village, who could remember how it was done, of oral tradition and of archaeological evidence.

The methodological problems raised by this state of affairs must also temper our acceptance of the ethnographic literature on African religion and magic. It must be remembered that much of what passes for African beliefs and rituals comes from accounts published by European missionaries and similar individuals who were often quite obsessed with collecting and recording what they saw as bizarre, highly erotic sexual practices. The African beliefs discussed by M., including the furnace as uterus where the ore completes its gestation and of the mythological smith as "having been created from the umbilical cord or blood from the testicles of the great water spirits", must be evaluated within this context. In reading through the account of African creation myths given by M. (pp. 47-82) I was struck by resemblances to Biblical and Classical accounts. The African stories, with their pastiche of motifs from the book of Genesis and the Theogony of Hesiod, probably owe more to the interests of European ethnographers than to anything authentically African.

In her presentation of this material M., of course, is only following the lead of Mircea Eliade. She has, unfortunately, been much influenced by Eliade's The Forge and the Crucible (Chicago, 1978), originally published in French under the more revealing title Forgerons et Alchimistes (Paris, 1977). I find it difficult to regard this book as a serious work of scholarship. As E. R. Dodds once put it, in another context (The Greeks and the Irrational |1951~, 148), "the edifice reared by an ingenious scholarship upon these foundations remains for me a house of dreams--I am tempted to call it the unconscious projection upon the screen of antiquity of certain unsatisfied religious longins characteristic of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries."

M., however, has gone on to use such concepts in order to interpret the iron symbolism of the Old Testament. The "iron furnace of Egypt," described by M. as constituting a "root metaphor" (p. 250), becomes "a kind of symbolic womb". After leaving the furnace/womb the iron (=Israelites) is symbolically quenched through the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, after which Israel "must be forged into a people with a common identity", just as the bloom of wrought iron had to be forged in order to squeeze out the slag and consolidate the spongy mass of iron (but that is done before quenching, not after). After further forging in the wilderness the people of Israel pass over the Jordan River and into the Promised Land, thus being further quenched and "reborn". M. says of iron that "|o~nce quenched, it is 'reborn'. It takes on a new set of characteristics that allow for its use in the form of tools and weapons".

The technological history of iron production, in other words, "corresponds roughly to the rise of the Israelite state--the emergence of Israel as a cohesive people". But is this correspondence causal or only coincidental? Norman Gottwald argued in The Tribes of Yahweh (London, 1979) that it was iron metallurgy that made possible the production of the agricultural tools necessary for farming the central hill country and for digging the essential cisterns. With this went a shift from olives and grapes to the cultivation of wheat and barley, crops the growing of which would most benefit from the use of iron tools (Gottwald, Tribes of Yahweh, 657).

It is against such a background that we can now re-examine a famous passage in the book of Joshua (17:16-18), as translated by L. Stager (BASOR 260 |1985~: 4):

"The sons of Joseph said: 'The highlands are not enough for us; yet the Canaanites living in the lowlands all have iron chariots particularly those in Bethshan and its satellite villages and those in the Jezreel Valley.' Joshua replied to the house of Joseph: '... The highlands shall be yours as well; true, it is a woodland, but you will clear it and possess it to its farthest limits. And you shall also dispossess the Canaanites, despite their iron chariots and their strength."

Clearly what is implied by this passage is that, in order to establish themselves in the hill country, and then to defeat the Canaanites (and the Philistines), the nomadic tribes of ancient Israel had to develop the sophisticated technology necessary for working with iron. To clear the woodlands of the hill country required the use of steel axes; to till the rough soils of the region probably required the use of steel hoes, plough shares and other tools, similar to those excavated at Canaanite Taanach (Stech-Wheeler et al., AJA 85 |1981~: 254). Once they had established themselves in the area the Israelites could then go on to develop the iron technology necessary to produce the weapons that would enable the Israelite army to take on its enemies to the north, west and south of the central highlands. Tools, in other words, come before weapons (so M. L. Chaney, Semeia 37 |1986~: 64-67) and this is exactly the state of affairs described in I Samuel 13:19-22.

This also implies that the emergent Israelites brought with them no tradition of metalworking technology when they began to settle the central hill country during the course of the 12th century B.C. That assumption is in agreement with most current scholarship on the origins of ancient Israel and the nature of Israelite society in the 12th century B.C. (summary in V. Fritz, BA 50 |1987~: 84-100; see also D. C. Hopkins, BA 50 |1987~: 183). The Canaanites and the Philistines, on the other hand, were operating on the basis of established metal-working traditions.

For the Canaanites that is obvious, for the Philistines somewhat problematic (as is everything connected with them) but for all involved--Canaanites, Philistines and Israelites--the basic questions concern the origins of iron-working technology in the Levant and the reason(s) for the shift from bronze to iron. Did this technology develop out of native (or local) Bronze Age traditions of working in copper and bronze or was the art of working with iron something brought to the Levant from foreign lands, from Anatolia or the Aegean? If the latter, is the beginning of the Iron Age related by technology, as well as by chronology, to the arrival of new groups of people, the so-called Sea Peoples of the Egyptian texts dating to the reigns of Merneptah (1224-1204 B.C.) and Ramesses III (1184-1153 B.C.)?

The case of Cyprus provides an illuminating comparison. Cyprus currently offers our best-documented record for the development of iron technology in the 12th and 11th centuries B.C. Yet Cyprus, in contrast to every other Mediterranean country, contains no deposit of iron ore and the use of copper and bronze certainly continued, perhaps even expanded during the period when iron metallurgy was taking hold on the island (Muhly 1989). Thus, in spite of the abundant archaeological evidence and the detailed analytical record it is still impossible to explain just why iron technology developed so quickly in Cyprus or what the background of that technology might have been. Some scholars have brought the Cypriot industry from the Aegean; others have insisted that the Aegean iron industry developed under inspiration from Cyprus (cf. Snodgrass 1982; Waldbaum 1982).

For Snodgrass (1982: 290) "... neither Palestine, nor any other region with a sample of significant size, appears to have moved as promptly to embrace iron as the favoured metal for implements and weapons as did Cyprus." For Snograss "|t~he Cypriot smiths were ... the most enthusiastic in experimenting with iron as a useful metal" (1982: 292). Yet he was also quite ready to turn around and argue that the Cypriot industry owed its impetus to the arrival of Achaean colonists, the very people who had shown little interest in the development of such an industry back in their native Greece.

Cyprus is a curious place for ironworking technology to develop, even when taking account of its high metallurgical "predisposition" (Zaccagnini JAOS 110 |1990~: 498). The island has produced an impressive array of early iron artifacts, and we now have an impressive body of analytical data to document the development of the technology necessary to produce effective iron tools and weapons in Cyprus (summarized in Muhly et al. 1990). But it still remains to be explained why all this developed in Cyprus, especially at a time when there seems to have been an actual expansion of copper production on the island as well as the development of new markets for that copper resulting from the opening-up of the central Mediterranean--South Italy, Sicily and Sardinia--to trade with the Aegean and Cyprus (A. B. Knapp, BSA 85 |1990~: 115-53).

Zaccagnini has recently raised the possibility that this drive to the west was stimulated by the discovery of new sources of tin in southern Iberia, the classical Tartessos and perhaps also the Biblical land of Tarsis. He thinks in terms of later Phoenician traders, such as those recorded in Ezekiel 27:12-24 (cf. Liverani 1991), but the presence of Mycenaean pottery in Spain (J. C. Martin de la Cruz, PZ 65 |1990~: 49-52) could conceivably indicate that such trade went back into the 14th century B.C. But a few sherds hardly make a trade route and nothing else from the eastern Mediterranean made its way to Iberia before ca. 800 B.C. This western trade might account for some of the developments in copper and bronze production in the 12th and 11th centuries B.C., but connections with iron remain vague, even if it should turn out that contemporary Cyprus actually was importing iron ore (or metallic iron) from the west.

There still remains the problem why anyone ever bothered starting to work with iron in the first place, it being an ugly metal inferior in all respects to good bronze. M. favors the theory that the shift to iron was in response to a "materials crisis" brought about by a shortage of tin (and copper) a theory once favored by many scholars including this reviewer and one that still has its enthusiastic advocates (cf. Snodgrass 1989: 29). The evidence seems to be against it, however, as it is against the idea that iron smelting was more energy-efficient than copper smelting, a serious consideration when deforestation must have been a growing problem (for all this cf. Muhly et al. 1990: 160-63).

One of the more bizarre turns in scholarship on early iron has been the development of the idea that iron was a prestige material. It has long been recognized that, in the Bronze Age, iron was an exotic material, valued for its rarity and so considered suitable for use as the blade of an ornamental dagger or as the material set in the bezel of a gold ring (cf. M., pp. 118-38). What is now being argued, however, is that the development of iron technology came about through the use of iron as a prestige material (so Mason 1988: 219), not in the absence of bronze but replacing bronze as a material of choice.

The most extreme form of this position comes in a fascinating recent article by Ian Morris (1989), a former pupil of A. Snodgrass at Cambridge and, like his teacher, very much interested in Dark Age Greece and the early centuries of the Iron Age. Morris argues that being unable to control the use of recycled Mycenaean bronze, a material spread all over the Aegean, the local elites of Dark Age Greece decided to make iron their symbol. They did this by controlling its production and by making it the only metal appropriate as grave goods in a formal burial. Thus iron became the symbol of membership in the ranks of the elite, a means whereby the leaders of the community "could solidify their powers, creating a ritual gap between themselves and those excluded from iron and the formal cemetery" (Morris 1989: 507).

Morris goes on to argue that "|i~ron was not only a symbol of the elite group but also a means of enforcing its power. Control of the means of destruction was probably a vital part of the 'social caging' which the elites struggled to create to prevent their dependants from escaping into unoccupied lands" (Morris 1989: 514). Here Morris strays into the realm of fantasy. I have no idea how the small number of iron artifacts in circulation in Dark Age Greece could possibly have been used in such a way. Nor is it very convincing to regard iron as a prestige material in the first place. I doubt that anyone who has ever actually worked with the early iron artifacts from the eastern Mediterranean would look upon them as symbols of prestige. Gordon Childe's old idea that "|c~heap iron democratized agriculture and industry and warfare too" (V. G. Childe, What Happened in History |London, 1942~, 191) is probably closer to reality than the elitist iron of Ian Morris.

These are simply a few thoughts stimulated by reading Paula McNutt's new book. If this review has appeared overly critical at times it is because she has undertaken to write a very ambitious first book (actually her doctoral dissertation for Vanderbilt University, finished in 1989) that deals with several technical topics, each having its own highly specialized bibliography. I have tried to provide in this review some idea of the vast range of research now being carried out in the field of early iron metallurgy and the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. Paula McNutt has made an important contribution to this field and I look forward to her future work.


Gale, N. H., H. G. Bachmann, B. Rothenberg, Z. A. Stos-Gale and R. F. Tylecote. "The Adventitious Production of Iron in the Smelting of Copper." In The Ancient Metallurgy of Copper, ed. B. Rothenberg. IAMS, Researches in the Arabah 1959-1984. Vol. 2, pp. 182-91. London, 1990.

Liverani, M. "The Trade Network of Tyre According to Ezek. 27." In Ah, Assyria: Studies in Assyrian History and Ancient Near Eastern Historiography Presented to Hayim Tadmor, ed. M. Cogan, I. Ephal. Pp. 65-79. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1991.

Maddin, R. "Early Iron Technology in Cyprus." In Early Metallurgy in Cyprus 4000-500 BC, ed. J. D. Muhly, R. Maddin, V. Karageorghis. Pp. 303-14. Nicosia: Pierides Foundation, 1982.

Mason, P. "The social context of the introduction of iron in the Early Iron Age of Slovenia." In Recent Developments in Yugoslavian Archaeology (Bradford Conference, December 1987), ed. J. C. Chapman, J. Binford, V. Gaffney, B. Slapsak. BAR, Intern. Ser. 431. Pp. 211-23. Oxford, 1988.

McGovern, P. E., ed. The Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages of Central Transjordan: The Baqah Valley Project, 1977-1981. University Museum Monographs 65. Philadelphia, 1986.

Morris, I. "Circulation, Deposition and the Formation of the Greek Iron Age." Man, n.s., 24:502-19.

Muhly, J. D., R. Maddin and T. Stech. "The Metal Artifacts." In Kinneret: Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen auf dem Tell el-Oreme am See Gennesaret 1982-1985, ed. V. Fritz. Pp. 159-75. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1990.

Sawyer, J. F. A. "The Meaning of Barzel in the Biblical Expressions 'Chariots of Iron', 'Yoke of Iron', etc." In Midian, Moab and Edom: The History and Archaeology of Late Bronze and Iron Age Jordan and North-West Arabia, ed. J. F. A. Sawyer, D. J. A. Clines. JSOT Suppl. Ser. 24. Pp. 129-34. Sheffield, 1983.

Snodgrass, A. M. "Cyprus and the Beginnings of Iron Technology in the Eastern Mediterranean." In Early Metallurgy in Cyprus 4000-500 BC, ed. J. D. Muhly, R. Maddin, V. Karageorghis. Pp. 285-95. Nicosia: Pierides Foundation, 1982.

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Stech, T., J. D. Muhly and R. Maddin. "The Analysis of Iron Artifacts from Palaepaphos-Skales." RDAC (1985): 192-202.

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Author:Muhly, J.D.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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