One-of-a-kind basalt workshop attests to ancient craft tradition
The Iron Age Israelites weren’t known for their artistic tradition—so much so that, according to the Bible, King Solomon had to outsource to the Phoenicians wood-cutting in the construction of the Jerusalem Temple and bronze-working for his other buildings (1 Kings 5:6–9; 1 Kings 7:13–14). But the discovery of an Iron Age basalt workshop at Tel Hazor in northern Israel reveals that the Israelites actually cultivated a basalt-carving craft, which they seem to have inherited from the Canaanites of the preceding Bronze Age. Archaeologists Danny Rosenberg and Jennie Ebeling describe this remarkable basalt workshop and the rich ancient craft tradition in their article “Romancing the Stones” in the January/February 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
From the archaeological record, we see that the Canaanites living in the Middle and Late Bronze Ages (c. 2000–1500 B.C.E.) in the southern Levant were master craftworkers in ivory, bronze, gold, and silver. At Hazor, “the head of all those kingdoms” (Joshua 11:10) in the second millennium B.C.E., excavations directed by Yigael Yadin (1950s and 1968) and by Amnon Ben-Tor (1990s to present) uncovered magnificent basalt sculptures carved by the Canaanites, including statues, vessels, stelae, and altars.
In 2010, the archaeologists at Tel Hazor discovered a basalt workshop dating to the ninth century B.C.E., when the Israelites occupied the site. The workshop is located on the northern part of the tell just outside a large agricultural storeroom, but whether the two structures were related remains to be determined. The workshop contained unfinished basalt vessels, of which there were four main types that had also been popular in the second millennium B.C.E.: plates/platters, pedestal bowls, tripod bowls, and bowls with out-turned walls. Additionally found in the workshop were remnants of the vessel production, including basalt chips, ash, iron chisels, flint tools, and basalt hammerstones. Was this Israelite craft tradition related to that of the Canaanites, the previous occupants of Tel Hazor until the city was burned, destroyed, and abandoned around 1300 B.C.E.?
Rosenberg and Ebeling believe the Israelites’ Iron Age crafts were indeed influenced by the Canaanite tradition. In their BAR article, they write:
Despite technological advances from the Bronze to Iron Age transition that may have allowed for more efficient stone cutting, the Israelite ruling elite did not generally attempt to rival their Canaanite predecessors by reviving the tradition of basalt architecture. The ninth-century elites at Tel Hazor, however, may have chosen to emulate their Canaanite predecessors by reviving the tradition of producing smaller basalt items, including the vessels found in the workshop.
Why were these Iron Age crafts so valuable to the Israelite elites, and how else did the Canaanites influence the Israelites at Tel Hazor? Learn more by reading the full article “Romancing the Stones” by Danny Rosenberg and Jennie Ebeling in the January/February 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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In Hazor: Canaanite Metropolis, Israelite City, a popular summary of 30 excavation seasons by long-time Hazor dig director Amnon Ben-Tor, discover ancient Hazor’s remarkable history.
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