Final Report on the Stratum VI Excavations
Chicago: Oriental Institute Publications, 2004, 255 pp.
with 128 figures (9 color), 40 plates and CD, $100
Reviewed by Israel Finkelstein
Stratum VI at Megiddo is one of the most controversial puzzles in the archaeology of ancient Israel. It represents the Iron Age I at that important site and therefore has significant cultural and chronological implications for understanding the transformation from Late Bronze Age Canaanite to Iron Age Israelite culture. It is also central to understanding the extent, if any, of King Solomon’s kingdom. No wonder, then, that Megiddo Stratum VI is mentioned frequently in the scholarly literature and that its features have been disputed by many archaeologists and historians.
Despite Stratum VI’s great importance, however, relatively little had been published on it until recently. The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago excavated Megiddo between 1925 and 1939—the most comprehensive dig of a Bronze and Iron Age mound ever conducted in Israel or neighboring countries. The results of these excavations were published in two major, general volumes and four thematic ones. Megiddo I, published in 1939, presented the results of Strata I through V (excavated 1925–1934); Megiddo II, published in 1948, covered 1935 through 1939 and included the finds and plans of Stratum VI but discussed only briefly the stratum’s architecture and stratigraphy.
With the publication of Megiddo 3, 70 years after the excavation of Stratum VI, Timothy Harrison attempts to close this gap in our knowledge of this important period in the city’s history. He presents all the finds from the stratum in an orderly way, giving the reader a comprehensive picture of the results of the dig—the stratigraphy, the pottery, the small finds and so on. Especially important are the many photographs, which are published here for the first time and which contribute to our understanding of Stratum VI’s stratigraphy and architecture. Also available here (on an enclosed CD) are the original plans drawn by the Chicago excavators. Another important contribution is the results of neutron activation analysis of the pottery of Stratum VI; this, together with the petrographic analysis of the stratum’s pottery in the forthcoming Megiddo IV (to be published by the Tel Aviv University-led team that is re-excavating Megiddo), presents a comprehensive study of Iron Age I ceramic technology and provenance. Also interesting are the letters sent by P.L.O. Guy, the excavation director, to James Henry Breasted, director of the Oriental Institute, letters that shed light on the circumstances behind the excavation of Stratum VI.
The Early Bronze Age Great Temple at Megiddo is “the most monumental single edifice so far uncovered in the EB I Levant and ranks among the largest structures of its time in the Near East.” Discover what the temple and Megiddo teach us about the birth of cities in the Levant.
That said, it must be pointed out that Harrison’s volume has many problems. First, it is surprising that the chapter reviewing the history of excavations at Megiddo ends with the work of Yigael Yadin in the 1960s and 1970s. There is no word in this chapter on the large-scale excavations carried out since 1992 by an international consortium led by Tel Aviv University and directed by David Ussishkin, Baruch Halpern and this reviewer. This is especially strange because the volume’s bibliography is updated to 2003 and the Tel Aviv University work is mentioned elsewhere in the text.a
A larger problem, however, is that Megiddo 3 does not add much to what we know of the Chicago excavation of Stratum VI. The plans and the pottery and other finds were all published in Megiddo II in 1948. In fact, the original black-and-white plans, with levels, are better than the colored ones published in this volume. The only addition is the plan of the site with all the Stratum VI remains, but even this had already been done by Aharon Kempinski in his Megiddo: A City State and Royal Centre in North Israel (1989).
It is indeed convenient to see the pottery arranged according to types (though displaying them by architectural units would have been even better); still, these are the same vessels that had already been published in 1948. The pottery register, too, is a remake of the data published in Megiddo II, and the description of the pottery types, which have many parallels, does not add to what we know today about Iron Age I pottery in the north. Surprisingly, Harrison does not address broader issues relating to the pottery of Stratum VI: comparison with the pottery from other sites in the region, distribution of types in the different parts of the city, identification of activity areas in the various buildings, the site’s foreign contacts and so on. These issues are being treated in detail by Eran Arie in the forthcoming publication by the Tel Aviv University-led excavation.
The dates of Strata VIA and of the two strata above it, VA-IVB, are at the center of a major debate among scholars. In order to resolve the dispute, samples from those strata at Megiddo and contemporaneous strata at several other northern sites have been subjected to radiocarbon dating. Harrison cites several of these studies and surprisingly ignores others. Adhering to the traditional dating and historical interpretation of the Megiddo strata, he argues that Stratum VIA was destroyed by King David in about 1000 B.C.E. and that Stratum VA-IVB (traditionally associated with King Solomon) was destroyed by Pharaoh Shoshenq I (Biblical Shishak) in about 925 B.C.E.b But the radiocarbon results clearly put the destruction of Stratum VIA sometime in the middle of the tenth century B.C.E. This date is corroborated by samples from other sites, such as Tel Hadar, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and Tel Dor, on the Mediterranean coast. Radiocarbon measurements from Tel Rehov and other sites in the north, such as Horvat Rosh Zayit and Hazor, put the end of Stratum VA-IVB at Megiddo in the mid-ninth century B.C.E.—a century or so after Solomon. In fact, a recently published study of radiocarbon results from many sites, read in two laboratories (the Weizmann Institute in Israel and the University of Arizona at Tucson), has placed the transition from Iron Age I to Iron Age IIA at about 920–900 B.C.E.—far from the year 1000 B.C.E. used by Harrison; the latter date is based solely on a simplistic reading of the Biblical account.
Harrison writes, “Since Megiddo does not appear to have been part of the territory claimed by the Israelites at the time of Saul’s death (cf. 2 Samuel 2:8–9), but clearly was within the Israelite realm by the reign of Solomon (cf. 1 Kings 4:12, 9:15), the Davidic campaigns represent the most viable historical event on record that might account for the destruction of Stratum VI.” It is hard to believe that these words were written in the beginning of the third millennium. Harrison reads the Biblical account of the history of early Israel as a straightforward, fully historical document, without being aware of the ideological goals of the much later authors of these texts and without asking how such a record found its way into the later compilation. Nadav Na’aman, professor of Jewish history at Tel Aviv University, has convincingly shown that 1 Kings 4:12 (which lists Solomon’s district officers) should be read in the context of the eighth century B.C.E., and the same holds true for 1 Kings 9:15, which refers to Solomon’s building enterprises at Megiddo and elsewhere. The texts in Kings were put in writing not earlier than the seventh century B.C.E., and there was no scribal activity in Jerusalem and Judah before the eighth century B.C.E. Thus there was no archive in which to record tenth-century B.C.E. events. And though certain material in the Book of Samuel may preserve vague memories of the acts of David as a leader on the margins of Judah, the description of his great conquests should be read in the context of much later times. In the time of King David, Jerusalem was a small village, and the highlands of Judah were sparsely inhabited by a small number of people—a few thousand at most. These demographic facts cannot justify the reconstruction of great military endeavors and the establishment of a large empire.
Megiddo 3 was published while a large-scale, modern-method project was being undertaken at Megiddo. Stratum VI has so far been unearthed in four areas, three of which supplied detailed information on all aspects of the material culture of the stratum: pottery, flint tools, architecture, foodways and the like. These results render much of the discussion in Megiddo 3 obsolete and make it a rare case: a volume that became outdated even while in press.
a. Also odd is Harrison’s choice of title, Megiddo 3. The Tel Aviv University team published the first volume of its report in 2000 and, following the Chicago volumes, called it Megiddo III (the subsequent volume, Megiddo IV, is now in press). To make matters worse, Harrison, in his citations and bibliography, changed (!) the titles of the Chicago volumes to Megiddo 1 and Megiddo 2 (instead of using the Roman numerals of the originals). I cannot recall a similar case in our field. Harrison should have followed the example of the four unnumbered thematic volumes published by the Chicago excavators and simply named his volume Megiddo Stratum VI.
Israel Finkelstein is professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University and co-director of the renewed excavations at Megiddo. This past year he was awarded the Dan David Prize for his contributions to the field.
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