Friday, September 3, 2010

WorldCon 2010 : In the Wake of the Sea People, in the Footsteps of Goliath: The Bar-Ilan and University of Melbourne Excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath

I must stress, these notes were typing up in real-time, while the panel was happening, so if I've misquoted someone, I'm terribly sorry.  I'll come back at the end of next week and fix up all the typos and whatnot, but, in the meantime, please enjoy these carefully-recorded hour-shortened summaries.  I've tried to maintain some of the personality of each of the panellists so, again, please forgive any idiosyncrasies, and if I've recorded any references to books, films, short stories, people or games incorrectly, that is entirely my fault, not the fault of the panellist I'm quoting.

Here's the description for In the Wake of the Sea People, in the Footsteps of Goliath: The Bar-Ilan and   University of Melbourne Excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath :
"To be a ‘Philistine’ has entered our language to mean uncouth or barbaric, a perception deeply situated in Biblical thought. Just as the Greeks described non-Greek neighbours as ‘Barbarians,’ so too did the Biblical writers describe people settled along the southern coast of the Levant  in derogatory terms. This talk will discuss the Aegean and Cypriot origin of the Philistines,  who were reputed to be among the Sea People wreaking havoc in the Mediterranean at the  end of the Bronze Age (ca. 1180 BC). I will present recent results from the archaeological excavations at the Philistine site at Tell es-Safi/Gath (Israel), the city associated with Goliath in the Bible.  The archaeological remains of the Philistines reveal them to be a socially and economically advanced, technologically innovative (iron production), artistically sophisticated (decorated Mycenaean-Greek style pottery), and cosmopolitan culture that positively  influenced the surrounding region.
Dr. Louise Hitchcock


You might be wondering why I’m at the science fiction convention, but science fiction is about time travel, and archaeology is too, but we go backward in time, rather than forward.  We meet up with alien cultures, and we try to interpret the ways they used to live, which sometimes leads to speculative fiction.

Tell –es-Safi is known in the Bible as the ‘home of the giant goliath’.

Ashdod, Ashkelon and Gaza sites are under investigation

The Philistines lived from the 12th century BCE – 1180 BCE around War of Troy

The Sea People attacked Egypt, but were held back by Ramses II.

The Sea People were multiple groups of disenfranchised people – elites, mercenaries, peasants, migrants, etc.  From Greece, Italy, North Africa, Anatolia, Cyprus. 

New weapons were being created, Mycenean pottery (drinking wares) was established.

Palatial furnaces were destroyed, pottery began appearing all around the Mediterranean – pottery in Philistia known as Mycenean IIIC-1b style.

Whole pots and pottery are only preserved in the case of an invasion, as people take only what they can carry and leave the rest behind.

Notched scapula were found there, possibly used because they were the one of the biggest bones in the animal’s body, or possibly because the shoulder of the animal was often given to the priest.

Rotom – ceremonial drinking/pouring flagon shaped like a circular dragon, liquid is poured into a spout at one end, and is poured out of the animal’s nose. 

Clay seals were used to preserve the integrity of goods and rooms – clay would be pressed over the lip of the bottle and impressed with the seal of the merchant.  They found a blank seal that had been pressed against straw or string, with a fingerprint on the blank side.

They found a small hole next to a hearth that contained the disarticulated parts of a baby goat, which they’re going to examine in detail to determine the butchery habits of the Philistines.

When they dig up jugs, or cups, they leave the dirt inside so that they can be examined to discover what the contents used to be.

The Philistines used hydraulic cement combined with mollusc shells, which is the first incidence of this type of technology in this area.

Walls have sometimes been built on top of other walls, so that when the archaeologists dig down one side of the wall will continue into the ground, while the other stops ‘earlier’ and sits on a wall of dirt when excavated to the same level.

Remnants of fossilized wheat indicated that a certain area was a kitchen (phytolyths).

Most people ate grain or porridge most of the time, so whenever they were able to get meat, they would feast.  These feasts were usually thrown by elite priests or political parties.  Studies have shown that, if you don’t eat meat for a long time, eating some fatty meat will put you into an altered state of consciousness.

Sacrificing of animals was usually in lieu of a human.  There was a small broken bull figurine, half-burned, that was found in the bottom of the rubbish pit.  Breaking a figurine or a cup and throwing half in the first was similar to taking a book of matches or a sugar packet from the place where you had your first date with someone.

Small Carnelian stone carved in the shape of an opium seed were among the pieces of jewellery found recently.

The Philistines were about unification, so anything they did, the Israelites didn’t.  They used iron, Israelites didn’t, they ate pork and worshipped several gods, the Israelites didn’t eat pork and worshipped the one god.

The Philistines would eat dogs, pigs, cattle, fish, sheep, stingrays/swordfish and tortoise.  Goats and sheep can live on grass, but dogs and pigs have to share mostly human food, and cattle need grazing land where food could otherwise be grown, so raising them was a lavish affair.

Rather than being the Klingons of antiquity, the Philistines were actually more like the Vulcans, sophisticated and serene.

lahi@unimelb.edu.au – volunteer for the 2011 excavation session!

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