Ancient Cookware from the Levant: An Ethnoarchaeological Perspective

Ancient Cookware from the Levant: An Ethnoarchaeological Perspective
By Gloria London
(Sheffield, UK: Equinox, 2016),334 pp., 68 figures and 2 maps, $150 (hardcover)
Reviewed by Cynthia Shafer-Elliott

This book is an important contribution to the study of ethnoarchaeology, ceramics and food preparation in the southern Levant. Gloria London, Ph.D. (University of Arizona), is an independent scholar with an impressive background in ethnoarchaeology and ceramics. Her ethnoarchaeological field projects include traditional potters in the Philippines, Cyprus and Jordan, and her archaeological fieldwork covers industrial, domestic, burial and ceremonial sites in Jerusalem, Tel Beersheba, Mt. Carmel caves, Negev Salvage excavation, Arava Expedition to Sinai and the Arava, Timna copper mines, Tel Yarmut and Tall al- ‘Umayri, among others. Scholars and students interested in ancient food preparation will find this book an essential addition to their library.

Ancient Cookware from the Levant is organized into three main parts—Part I: Traditional Ceramics in the Levant and Cyprus, Part II: Ancient Manufacturing Techniques for Cookware and Part III: Cookware Through the Ages. The study is bookended with a preface and introduction with implications for study and a glossary.

Ethnoarchaeological studies related to the ancient southern Levant have until now focused on ovens and baking, with little interest in the preparation of other foods. London’s book corrects this neglect by providing one of the few ethnoarchaeological studies on cooking pots.
Highlights of the book include the categorization and description of ceramics used in the preparation of food in ancient households. The six categories are cookware (deep pots and cooking jugs), bakeware (trays, plates, moulds and casseroles), kitchenware (bowls, jugs, jars and colanders), tableware (bowls and jugs), utilitarian clay containers for food processing and storage (vats, basins and jars), and ovens and stoves.

London’s categories show that ancient food-preparation vessels were much more diverse in both form and function than is generally acknowledged. Another highlight of the book is the section “Cookware Through the Ages,” in which the author provides a précis on the evolution of food preparation vessel categories from the Neolithic period (9000–4300 B.C.E.) to the Late Ottoman/Mandate period (1516–1918 C.E.). According to London’s comprehensive study, one vessel form found continuously throughout the ages is the large, round-bottomed globular cooking pot.

London’s ethnoarchaeological work focuses on Cyprus and the Levant, which includes modern-day Israel, Jordan, Palestine and southern portions of Lebanon and Syria. However, the majority of the ethnoarchaeological studies come from Cyprus, which is to be expected given London’s long-term fieldwork there.

Ancient Cookware from the Levant: An Ethnoarchaeological Perspective is a key piece in the puzzle of ancient food preparation in the southern Levant and is a necessary addition to any library or collection on the subject.

Cynthia Shafer-Elliott is Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible and Archaeology at William Jessup University in Rocklin, California. Specializing in the sociohistorical context of ancient Israel and Judah, she is also an experienced field archaeologist and is on staff at the Tell Halif archaeological excavation in Israel.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Biblical Bread: Baking Like the Ancient Israelites by Cynthia Shafer-Elliott
Fruit in the Bible by David Moster
The 10 Strangest Foods in the Bible by David Moster
BAR Test Kitchen: Tah’u Stew
A Feast for the Senses … and the Soul
Making Sense of Kosher Laws


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