Minoan Frescoes at Tel Kabri

Aegean Art in Bronze Age Israel

This Bible History Daily article was originally published in June 2013. It has been updated.—Ed.


 

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 want to adorn his palace with Aegean art? 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 2013 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.
 


 
The Tel Kabri excavations have uncovered the oldest and largest wine cellar in the ancient Near East, as part of the storage rooms of the Middle Bronze Age Canaanite palace. Learn more >>
 


 
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” in the July/August 2013 issue of BAR. 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.
 


 

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 2014: Layers of Meaning
Learn how archaeologists and volunteers at Tel Kabri adapt their field methodologies to meet the specific needs of their site. Read the full article as it appeared in the January/February 2014 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.

What Does the Aegean World Have to Do with the Biblical World?
Aegean archaeology specialist Louise Hitchcock explores the importance of the Aegean world in Biblical archaeology.
 


 

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  • Clark says

    The names Caphtor and Keftiu refer to Cyprus, else the Old Testament has no name for that island.

  • Kurt says

    Crete is generally accepted to be the “Caphtor” referred to in the Hebrew Scriptures, and hence the place from which the Philistines migrated to Canaan. (Jer 47:4; Am 9:7) Some scholars also connect the “Cherethites” with the Cretans; the Greek Septuagint reads “Cretans” instead of “Cherethites” at both Ezekiel 25:15-17 and Zephaniah 2:5-7. (See CHERETHITES.) If the identification of Caphtor with Crete is accepted, as seems reasonable, then the early inhabitants of the island were descendants of Mizraim, whose name is Biblically equivalent to Egypt.—Ge 10:13, 14.The civilization the Cretans developed was very distinctive from those of Mesopotamia and Egypt but equally resplendent. The Cretan religion placed emphasis on the female element, with a mother goddess receiving greatest prominence. As with other fertility religions, the serpent is regularly present in the representations of the goddess, either held in her hands or coiled around her body. A minor male deity is usually associated with her, perhaps in the mother-son relationship frequently found in this type of cult. vilization the Cretans developed was very distinctive from those of Mesopotamia and Egypt but equally resplendent. The Cretan religion placed emphasis on the female element, with a mother goddess receiving greatest prominence. As with other fertility religions, the serpent is regularly present in the representations of the goddess, either held in her hands or coiled around her body. A minor male deity is usually associated with her, perhaps in the mother-son relationship frequently found in this type of cult. http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200271462

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