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Brian Hesse (1944–2011)

Brian Hesse, professor of Jewish studies, anthropology and ancient Mediterranean studies at Pennsylvania State University and a leading specialist on ancient animal bones and the zooarchaeology of the Levant, passed away in April. He was 66.

During more than 35 years of field experience, Hesse, together with his wife, Dr. Paula Wapnish, excavated and analyzed thousands of animal bones from sites across the Near East, including the Philistine sites of Ashkelon and Tel Miqne-Ekron. Based on their work at Ashkelon, the two coauthored an informative BAR sidebar explaining how animal bones helped archaeologists reconstruct the organization and layout of the city’s seventh-century B.C.E. marketplace,* [1] while their work on the site’s fascinating dog burials formed the basis of one of BAR’s most popular articles.** [2]

Hesse’s studies of the animal bones from Ashkelon and other Philistine sites also helped document a dramatic increase in pig consumption during the earliest phases of Philistine settlement in Canaan (c.1200 B.C.E.). Given this evidence and the fact that pig bones are rarely found at Israelite sites in the hill country, some scholars have argued that the presence or absence of pig bones can be used to distinguish Israelite and Philistine sites.

Hesse, along with his wife, rejected such arguments as too simplistic, however, and argued instead that the faunal record of the Iron Age shows that almost all of the peoples of the southern Levant, not just the Israelites, chose to avoid pork.1 [3] Even the Philistines of Ashkelon had almost completely stopped eating pigs by the time Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city in 604 B.C.E. According to Hesse, the absence of pig bones alone is not enough to identify a site as “Israelite.”


* [4]Brian Hesse and Paula Wapnish, “The Zooarchaeological Record: Pigs’ Feet, Cattle Bones and Birds’ Wings,” [5] sidebar to Lawrence E. Stager, “The Fury of Babylon,” [6] BAR, January/February 1996.

** [7]Lawrence E. Stager, “Why Were Hundreds of Dogs Buried at Ashkelon?” [8] BAR, May/June 1991.

1. [9]See Brian Hesse and Paula Wapnish, “Pig Use and Abuse in the Ancient Levant: Ethnoreligious Boundary-Building with Swine,” in Sarah M. Nelson, ed., Ancestors for the Pigs: Pigs in Prehistory (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Museum, 1998), pp. 123–135.