Minoan Frescoes at Tel Kabri

Aegean Art in Bronze Age Israel

Excavations at Tel Kabri have uncovered fragments of painted plaster reflecting an Aegean art style seen on Cycladic and Minoan frescoes. Why did the Canaanite ruler of Tel Kabri employ Aegean art and architecture? Photo: Nurith Goshen.

Over 100 years of excavations on Crete have exposed elegant Minoan frescoes that once adorned the walls of the island’s Bronze Age palaces. This distinctively colorful Aegean art style flourished in the Middle Bronze Age (1750-1550 B.C.). The nearby inhabitants of Akrotiri, a city on the Cycladic island of Thera (modern Santorini), painted numerous artworks in the style of the Minoan frescoes before the island was decimated by a volcanic eruption in the late 17th or 16th century B.C.

Until recently, there was no archaeological evidence of Minoan frescoes beyond the islands of the Aegean. Art exhibiting Aegean characteristics has been uncovered at recent excavations in Egypt, Syria and Turkey—and at the Canaanite palace of Tel Kabri in Israel. In the July/August issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Tel Kabri excavators Eric H. Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau explore how Aegean art, architecture and painted plaster fragments, reminiscent of Minoan frescoes, ended up at Canaanite Tel Kabri.
 


 
Find out about the latest discoveries at Tel Kabri right as they come out of the ground. Click here to take a trip to the trenches with BAS web editor Noah Wiener as he documents the 2013 Tel Kabri excavations live from the site. Click here for the results of the 2013 excavation season.
 

 
Aegean art at Tel Kabri was first discovered in 1989, when Aharon Kempinksi and Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier uncovered a checkerboard floor with depictions of Aegean flora as well as 2,000 painted plaster fragments exhibiting characteristics similar to Minoan frescoes. The current Tel Kabri excavation, under the direction of BAR authors Eric H. Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau,* has uncovered many more pieces of painted wall plaster. In addition to Aegean art, the team recently exposed an expensive building lined with Aegean-style orthostat blocks and dowel holes similar to those found in Aegean palaces.

In “Aegeans in Israel: Minoan Frescoes at Tel Kabri,” authors Eric H. Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau write that “the distinctive colorful frescoes” from the Minoan palace of Knossos “are a part of every art history course.” Was the ruler of Tel Kabri familiar with the Aegean art at Knossos, such as this famous bull-leaping panel? Photo: Erich Lessing.

Why would the Canaanite ruler of Tel Kabri want to adorn his palace with Aegean art reminiscent of Crete’s Minoan frescoes? Were these Minoan/Aegean artists traveling on their own, or were they lent from one ruler to another? Do the presence of Minoan frescoes and Aegean art decorations suggest that Tel Kabri was part of a “cosmopolitan” Mediterranean group—or that the king wanted to style himself as such? Find out more in “Aegeans in Israel: Minoan Frescoes at Tel Kabri.” Eric H. Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau describe discoveries at Tel Kabri, comparable evidence of Minoan frescoes at Tell el-Dab‘a in Egypt, Qatna in Syria and Alalakh in Turkey and the mystery of the short-term spread of Aegean art around the Bronze Age Mediterranean.

BAS Library Members: Read Eric H. Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau, “Aegeans in Israel: Minoan Frescoes at Tel Kabri” as it appears in the July/August 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 
Want to experience the 2013 excavation at Tel Kabri from the comfort of your home? Take a trip to the trenches of Tel Kabri with BAS web editor Noah Wiener to learn about this summer’s fieldwork, from field methodologies to travel in Israel. Click here to get the first look at Kabri’s Aegean art and Minoan frescoes—right as they come out of the ground!
 

 

Notes

* Eric H. Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau, “Your Career Is in Ruins,” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2006.
 


 

Further Reading in Bible History Daily

Who Were the Minoans?

Digs 2013: The Diggers Return. Full article published online, as it appeared in the January/February issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

From the Field: Bible History Daily’s blog on the 2013 excavations at Tel Kabri, straight from the soil to your screen.

Posted in Biblical Archaeology Sites, Tel Kabri.

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13 Responses

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  1. Annie says

    While I have seen it disparaged, the KJV plainly states that the Philistines came from Crete (Caphtor). Whether their migration was voluntary or of necessity, that would explain the Minoan influence in the Middle East.
    Amos 9:7 … Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?

  2. Doug says

    Tel Kabri is in Northern Israel, but it was also, at one time in Southern Phoenicia.
    The King of Tel Kabri was part of the great Phoenician Trading Empire.
    Crete and Thera were the largest of the many Phoenician colonies found all over the Mediterranean. Tel Kabri was just one of the many Administrative Trading Palaces that were set up to collect and trade.

    Read Phoenician Secrets by Sanford Holst

  3. MINOAN says

    From MINOAN FRESCOES IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN page 93:
    The use of the fresco technique in the Alalakh, Tel Kabri, and Tell el-Dabca/Avaris
    murals, representing an isolated and rather short-lived element in the Levant and Egypt,
    forms, in combination with the Aegean iconography and style, the strongest argument for the
    suggestion that this phenomenon cannot be explained without direct reference to Aegean
    fresco painting artistry. There are various possibilities: the frescoes were painted by travelling
    Aegean artisans; they were painted under the supervision of Aegean artists with the assistance
    of Levantine painters trained by them; they were painted by Levantine painters trained by
    Aegean masters. It is difficult to decide in each case which of these solutions is the correct
    one. We would agree with P.P. Betancourt that only a very small percentage of the fresco
    paintings is known and “that we are touching the tip of the iceberg of a whole series of
    interrelated workshops, working in Knossos, the Aegean islands, on the coast of Western Asia
    and in Egypt, perhaps travelling back and forth, perhaps occasionally exchanging personnel
    or going back to Knossos to learn the most recent things.”284
    7. The Alalakh, Tel Kabri and Tell el-Dabca Frescoes Within the Eastern Mediterranean
    Koiné
    As argued in an earlier paper, we see the phenomenon of the Alalakh and Tel Kabri
    frescoes (to which now the Tell el Dabca/Avaris frescoes are to be added) in the framework of
    diplomatic relations and gift exchange between the rulers in the ancient Near East, in which
    the rulers of Crete whose palaces “appear to be at the West end of a long line of palaces,
    palace-temples and temples stretching to the East as far as the Euphrates and the Tigris”285
    were involved.286

Continuing the Discussion

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  2. Starting the Dig « linked to this post on June 28, 2013

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  3. The 2013 Excavations at Tel Kabri–A Guide to the Site « linked to this post on July 1, 2013

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  4. Testimonials from the Field at Tel Kabri « linked to this post on July 3, 2013

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  5. Recipe for Surviving an Archaeological Excavation « linked to this post on July 9, 2013

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  6. The Evolution of a Dig Site « linked to this post on July 9, 2013

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  7. The Field School at Tel Kabri « linked to this post on July 10, 2013

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  8. Jews, Last of the Minoans! | Simcha Jacobovici TV linked to this post on July 29, 2013

    [...] the latest excavations at Tel Kabri on the Mediterranean coast, just north of Haifa, have revealed Aegean wall paintings from that period. In fact, Minoan wall paintings have been found all along the coast from the Egyptian Delta to [...]

  9. Tel Kabri: The 2013 Excavations « linked to this post on September 12, 2013

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  10. Digs 2014: Layers of Meaning - Creation RevolutionCreation Revolution linked to this post on January 22, 2014

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