Monday, March 4, 2013

The Egyptian Fortress in Jaffa

By Aaron A. Burke and Martin Peilstöcker   Sun, Mar 03, 2013

Archaeologists are rediscovering a Late Bronze Age Egyptian stronghold in the land of ancient Canaan.

In a very real sense, the ancient port city of Jaffa may offer a valuable historical and archaeological example of the age-old issues and dynamics that have beset occupying powers the world over for thousands of years. Archaeologists have been exploring and studying the ancient Egyptian fortress at this coastal city to obtain insights on what it was like for both conqueror and conquered when there are "strangers in the land"..........

Situated on the central coast of Israel, on the south side of Tel Aviv, and 60 km to the northwest of Jerusalem, Jaffa’s antiquity and importance as a Mediterranean port was well established before the resumption of excavations in 2008 by the Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project. While the biblical texts have served as a primary historical referent, Jaffa’s importance in other periods is much more clearly understood in classical sources including Josephus, but also even from Egyptian New Kingdom literature and administrative documents. Following excavations during the 1950s of the archaeological remains of an Egyptian fortress in Jaffa, a fortress that existed for most of the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1460 to 1130 BC), seeking to understand Jaffa’s role in the Egyptian New Kingdom imperial control of Canaan became of paramount importance.

In 2007 the Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project was established by Aaron A. Burke of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles and Martin Peilstöcker of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The project’s overarching goal is to facilitate long-term research of Jaffa’s cultural heritage through the integration of research and salvage excavations, cultural and historical studies, and multidisciplinary scientific approaches to Jaffa’s history and archaeology. Central to this objective was the renewal of excavations on the mound of ancient Jaffa (Tel Yafo). As part of the initial phase of the project, the Kaplan Excavations Publication Initiative was conceived to provide an in-depth analysis of the unpublished excavations by the site’s most prolific excavator, Jacob Kaplan, who conducted excavations on behalf of the municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums from 1955 to 1974. We present here the preliminary results of our synthesis of the results of the old excavations since the resumption of excavations in the same area in 2011 by the Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project.

Egypt’s Early Empire

Following the expulsion of the Hyksos—“foreign rulers” as these Asiatics were identified—from the Egyptian Delta in the mid-sixteenth century BC the pharaohs of the early Eighteenth Dynasty inaugurated regular military campaigns against communities in Canaan. While they succeeded predominantly in limiting the threat of Asiatic incursions into Egypt, Egyptian New Kingdom expansion during this period was ad hoc[i] and within a couple of generations Canaanite rulers sought support from their allies to the north in an effort to repel Egypt. This led to the famous Battle of Megiddo (ca. 1456 BC) where the pharaoh Thutmose III fell upon the Asiatic coalition, which was led by the king of Kadesh on the Orontes.[ii] In the wake of the pharaoh's victory numerous towns were listed as subjugated, their troops likely among the defeated coalition at Megiddo. Among these towns, and the most southern settlement listed, was the coastal city of Jaffa, known to have been inhabited since the Middle Bronze Age, from at least ca. 1800 BC.[iii] While little outside of the listing of Jaffa can shed light on the historical circumstances surrounding its conversion from Canaanite town to Egyptian stronghold, new archaeological data combined with well-known historical texts of the Late Bronze Age are now shedding light on the nature of interactions between the Canaanite inhabitants of Jaffa and its environs and the Egyptian inhabitants of the New Kingdom fortress built atop the city’s earlier remains. The resulting picture is one colored by episodes of violence and peaceful social interactions in Jaffa over a period of more than 300 years, from ca. 1460 to 1130 BC.[iv]

Earlier excavations in Jaffa revealed a series of Late Bronze Age settlements testifying to the continuous tradition of habitation here from the end of the Middle Bronze Age until the arrival of Egyptian rule. Thus far, no destruction level has been associated with what is presumed to be the beginning of Egyptian rule from the reign of Thutmose III, although he is widely regarded by scholars as responsible for the foundation of the earliest Egyptian fortress in Jaffa. Nonetheless, Jaffa’s obvious strategic location—not only on the coast but at what was probably then the mouth of the Ayalon River—and the evidence for Egyptian habitation in Jaffa during the second half of the Late Bronze Age provides considerable evidence for the earliest phase of Egyptian settlement. The most impressive feature of ancient Jaffa, which justifies its identification as a fortress, was the massive Egyptian gate complex that from its earliest phase was built with rectangular mudbrick towers more than 18 m long and 5 m wide separated by a level passage 4 m wide. Gates of comparable construction and dimensions are only attested among Egyptian sites during this period, as Canaanite gate passageways were narrower and traditionally employed three piers on each side of the passageway. Evidence also remains of the mudbrick fortification walls that flanked the front end of the gate complex, preserved in some places more than 2 m high, though originally they may have stood as much as 10 m high based on Egyptian parallels. From the edge of the gate’s entrance the road traced the mound’s ancient surface down the slope, running past a Canaanite burial ground[v] toward the coastal plain dotted in this region by swamps and marshes to the east.

Despite the near total silence of Egyptian sources concerning Jaffa’s security situation, the fortress was not a place of peace in the years immediately following its establishment. In fact, the Tale of the Capture of Jaffa, which is usually regarded as simply a literary fiction produced more than a century later during the Ramesside period, mentions the retaking of Jaffa by Egyptian troops who were smuggled into the city in baskets led by an Egyptian commander, whose name was a common one during the late fifteenth century BC and thus is part of the rationale for dating this story to this period. Previously there was little basis for discussing the historical significance of this story. However, the presence of a large collection of Egyptian ceramics that were recovered from an early Late Bronze Age destruction level, which can be dated to the end of the sixteenth century BC (LB IB) on the basis of specific Egyptian forms, suggests that Jaffa’s early fortress was the target of local resistance against Egyptian forces. Although this destruction does not reflect the events of this Egyptian tale, it provides a basis for understanding how the city, in fact, may have been lost by the Egyptians and required to be retaken during this period, which may be reflected in this tale. Although we cannot be certain that the Egyptian retaking of Jaffa occurred in the manner recorded in this story, the fiery destruction carried out against the Egyptian fortress, within which the ceramics were dominated by Egyptian forms, provides evidence of the success of Canaanite insurgencies, which continued to challenge even the strongest points of Egyptian control after more than a century of Egyptian military activity in Canaan.

The bulk of the archaeological evidence for the late fifteenth century destruction of Jaffa consists of the remains of what might be called the kitchen complex within the fortress and just to the south of the gate. Here more than 70 complete and restorable vessels covering a wide range of locally produced Egyptian and imported Egyptian forms were recovered. Egyptian storage jars of various sizes, ring and pedestal pot stands, bowls, sieving bowls, and bread molds all attest to an emphasis on beer and bread production within this area, both staples of the Egyptian diet.[vi] Indeed, many of these vessel types can be seen employed for such purposes in contemporary Egyptian tomb scenes. A pit firing containing more than twenty beer jars,[vii] and waster bowls, a potter’s wheel, and a burnishing sherd were all found within this complex, illustrating the close connection between food preparation and ceramic production in Egyptian culture, in contrast to Canaanite practices which usually separated these aspects. The near total absence of Canaanite ceramics in the earliest assemblage, which contrasts with the quantities of Canaanite forms present throughout the remainder of the Late Bronze Age, suggests an initial period in the second half of the fifteenth century BC, when Egyptians were required to be more self-reliant in the face of obviously strained relations with Canaanites in the environs of Jaffa. As much as can be determined so far from the relative percentages of Canaanite and Egyptian ceramics in Jaffa’s assemblage during the Late Bronze Age, there appears to have been a gradual increase in the percentage of Canaanite ceramics over time to suggest that Canaanites were increasingly integrated in the operations of the fortress over time.

Canaanite Insurgency

The evidence for an early destruction of the fortress of Jaffa might be dismissed as a unique occurrence was it not for the repeated evidence for violent interactions between Egyptians and Canaanites in Jaffa during the remainder of Egyptian rule. During the following century known as the Amarna Period (ca. 1400–1300 BC) the archaeological remains of the Egyptian gate reveal various episodes of repair and rebuilding before and after yet another major destruction, which was even more clearly the product of warfare and conflict that loomed over the inhabitants of this fortress. Excavations of this destruction revealed that the collapse of the southern tower into the gate complex filled the passageway in 20 perfectly laid courses of mudbrick. Burned portions of the mudbricks revealed the pattern of its construction, which incorporated wooden, probably cedar, beams.[viii] Since these beams were built into the towers but also along the sides of the passageway, perhaps separating the first and second stories of the towers, the intensity of the burning suggests that considerable effort was required to successfully destroy these structures. Recovered from the remains of the south tower was a monumental scarab of Amenhotep III,[ix] which was attached to a necklace with more than 500 beads, another smaller scarab with this pharaoh’s name, and various fragments of horn.[x] This epigraphic find, unique for its archaeological context, suggests the transition between Amenhotep III’s and Akhenaten’s (Amenhotep IV) reigns as the likely date for this destruction. As there is no evidence for a gap in the site’s occupation or the gate’s architectural phases after the destruction that would suggest that it was the work of a pharaoh later than Amenhotep III’s son and immediate successor, it seems likely that this phase of the gate was destroyed during the transition between Amenhotep III’s and IV’s reigns (ca. 1350 BC) since such transitions also were often plagued by insurgencies as the strength of the new pharaoh’s commitment to control of Canaan was tested. The discovery of a Lion Hunt scarab, which also belonged to Amenhotep III, within the gray bricks of the rebuilt gate[xi] supports the suggestion that Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) may have been responsible for its rebuilding, potentially shedding considerable light on the little-known activities of this pharaoh during the mid-fourteenth century BC in Canaan. Various episodes of windblown sand between each of the leveling layers above the Amarna-period destruction debris of the earlier gate accumulated during the rebuilding process. This subtle evidence points to the fact that the new gate was not constructed under ideal conditions as are found during the summer, but rather point to fall or early spring weather conditions.[xii] Since it is likely that the insurgency sought to exploit the withdrawal of Egyptian forces at the end of the summer’s campaigning, the late summer or early fall is the most likely period for the attack on the fortress with its reconstruction carried out almost immediately by the Egyptians, who it appears recovered their fortress in short order.

Together with the recent archaeological evidence of a contemporaneous destruction at Beth Shemesh to the southeast of Jaffa, a new perspective emerges for the historical context of the Amarna letters in which Canaanite vassals cried to their Egyptian overlords for military reinforcements to quell political and military unrest related to the ambitions of Canaanite rulers.[xiii] The destruction of Jaffa suggests that the conflicts mentioned in the Amarna letters not only affected Canaanite communities, who may have been viewed as conspirators with Egypt, but that the violence also posed a substantive threat to Egyptian imperial ambitions during the fourteenth century. Nonetheless, the recovery of the fortress shortly after its destruction reveals the important role Jaffa played within Egyptian administration and its military objectives. In fact, the Amarna letters point to the existence of Egyptian granaries in Jaffa,[xiv] which stored grain that was produced in the coastal plain at sites such as Aphek[xv] for the Egyptian armies that moved from Jaffa inland and northward.
Insofar as the destruction of the gate reveals the severity of the Canaanite insurgency, the near immediate reconstruction of the gate, which was built with an identical plan but 2 m above the earlier gate, reveals the resolve of Egyptian pharaohs to maintain their control of Jaffa. The new gate’s restored portions were constructed of gray bricks (45 x 20 x 12 cm), while the remainder of the gate’s towers reused the earliest phase of its construction, which had been built of large yellow to orange bricks (45 x 45 x 12 cm) with a high sand content. The impressive adherence to the original gate plan is itself a testament to the continuity of Egyptian presence at the site which, despite the episodic violence it experienced, never witnessed the revival of a Canaanite town during the Late Bronze Age. This new gate structure once again featured an 18 m long and 4 m wide passageway, but this time supported by a thick foundation of boulders, cobbles, and pebbles taken from the seashore and covered with a layer of compact earth. Although few artifacts were recovered among its foundation stones, a small amuletic scarab was found.[xvi] Built into the gray bricks of this gate was also one of the most iconic finds from Late Bronze Age Jaffa, the upper fragment of a Qudshu goddess plaque.[xvii] Bearing influences of both Canaanite and Egyptian religious iconography, this style of figurine bears witness to the entangled nature of Egyptian and Canaanite relationships in Jaffa, as at other sites in Canaan during this period.

A less volatile first half of the thirteenth century may be suggested by the lack of evidence for the gate’s destruction and it seems at the start of Ramesses II’s reign (ca. 1262–1196 BC) that the gate, already decades old, was refurbished and fitted with the monumental stone façade bearing his names.[xviii] Carved from local kurkar sandstone, inscribed, plastered with lime and painted, these blocks are the most conspicuous features of Egyptian Jaffa so far recovered from excavations. The fragments were not found, however, in situ but reused in the next reconstruction of the gate, which took place after his reign. Although it is not entirely clear that the final state of the gate of Ramesses II was the result of an attack, the gate’s eroding passageway walls warranted repair, which resulted in a narrower passageway. The fragments of Ramesses II’s façade were then reused as orthostats along the base of the walls of the passageway and as foundation fragments for the slightly raised floor. As this is unlikely to have been the manner in which the pieces would have been treated if Ramesses II had still been alive, this was probably the work of his successor, Merneptah (1196–1187 BC), who restored the gate upon his accession following insurgent activities that have not entered the historical record (ca. 1200 BC).
Fragments of the Ramesses II gate façade on display in the Jaffa Museum. Courtesy of the Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project
If the evidence for the destruction of the gate complex of Ramesses II is ambiguous, the destruction of the gate rebuilt by Merneptah is not. Already during the 1956 excavation Jacob Kaplan encountered stunning evidence of the conflagration of the twelfth century fortress when he exposed the threshold of the gate. Within the ash covering the threshold lay a 30 kg bronze gate hinge oriented as it would have been when the gate was closed and filled with the charred remains of the wood from the door into which were hammered nails, which still protruded from the casing. Although evidence of burned material associated with this phase of the gate was encountered during the most recent excavations, any doubts about the nature of the destruction were put to rest when taken into consideration with the evidence from the earlier excavations. Whether or not this destruction is to be associated with the revolt during the reign of Merneptah, which may be the backdrop to the conditions mentioned in his poetical stele, it remained the case that in the twelfth century the Egyptian fortress in Jaffa was no less the focus of repeated attacks by Canaanite forces than at any point throughout its history. Such conditions invite a reconsideration of the nature of the control of imperial holdings by Egypt during the New Kingdom, which in the light of Jaffa looks much more tentative than the inscriptions on historical monuments in Egypt would suggest.

Social Interaction and Social Integration

While violence is one index by which relationships between Egyptians and Canaanites in Jaffa can be measured, additional evidence from Jaffa, principally in the form of locally produced ceramics is likely to shed further light on the nature of non-violent interactions and reveal a degree of integration of Canaanites within the life of the fortress. As on many occasions when foreign troops are garrisoned abroad, relationships of interaction and dependency emerge alongside those of violence such that customs are shared and often new hybrid customs emerge. Jaffa, for example, is thus far the only site outside of the north Sinai to provide direct evidence of the production facilities for Egyptian ceramics, which were connected with the Egyptian garrison kitchen of the earliest phase of the fortress. The influences from these production methods had perceptible influences upon the development of local Canaanite ceramics.[xix] Conversely, the increased percentage of Canaanite ceramics at the site over time suggest increasing degrees of social interaction, potentially including intermarriage with Canaanite women from Jaffa and its environs. Although in its early stages, the renewed archaeological research in Jaffa holds the potential to address such relationships in a way that few archaeological projects permit.


In 2013 the Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project will initiate a research program titled Insurgency, Resistance, and Interaction: Archaeological Inquiry into New Kingdom Egyptian Rule in Jaffa, funded by a Collaborative Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (RZ-51445-12). In an effort to access the subtle evidence for social interactions that contrast with the stark remains of the destroyed fortress in various phases, which are the results of several insurgencies, a number of types of data will be collected including faunal and fish remains, botanical samples, and residue samples from vessels, among others. It is our hope that through such high-resolution sampling we will be able to consider various indicators of social interaction between Egyptians and the region’s population such as are often revealed through food production and consumption, dress, and ritual practices.
Individuals interested in more information about the history and archaeology of Jaffa and the Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project may go to Individuals interested in participating with the Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project either as a volunteer or student, or who may wish to support the Project through financial contributions, should go to for more information.
Works Cited
Burke, Aaron Alexander
2010            Canaan under Siege: The History and Archaeology of Egypt’s War in Canaan during the Early Eighteenth Dynasty. In Studies on War in the Ancient Near East: Collected Essays on Military History, edited by J. Vidal, pp. 43–66. Alter Orient und Altes Testament 372, Ugarit-Verlag, Münster
2011            Early Jaffa: From the Bronze Age to the Persian Period. In The History and Archaeology of Jaffa 1, edited by M. Peilstöcker and A. A. Burke, pp. 63–78. The Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project 1. Monumenta Archaeologica 26, A. A. Burke and M. Peilstöcker, general editor, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, Los Angeles
Burke, Aaron Alexander, and Krystal V. Lords
2010            Egyptians in Jaffa: A Portrait of Egyptian Presence in Jaffa during the Late Bronze Age. Near Eastern Archaeology 73(1):2–30.
Burke, Aaron Alexander, and Alice R. Mandell
2011            Egyptian “Flowerpots” from Kaplan’s Area A Excavations: Cultural and Historical Implications. In The History and Archaeology of Jaffa 1, edited by M. Peilstöcker and A. A. Burke, pp. 261–270. The Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project 1. Monumenta Archaeologica 26, A. A. Burke and M. Peilstöcker, general editor, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, Los Angeles
Gadot, Yuval
2005            Aphek in the Sharon and the Philistine Northern Frontier. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 341:21–36.
Goedicke, Hans
2000            The Battle of Megiddo. Halgo, Baltimore
Kemp, Barry J.
2000            Soil (including mud-brick architecture). In Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, edited by P. T. Nicholson and I. Shaw, pp. 78–103, Cambridge University, Cambridge
Kitchen, Kenneth A.
1993            Ramesside Inscriptions 3: Translated and Annotated. Blackwell, Oxford
Martin, Mario A. S.
2011            Egyptian-type Pottery in the Late Bronze Age Southern Levant. Contributions to the Chronology of the Eastern Mediterranean 29. Denkschriften der Gesamtakademie 69. Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna
Moran, William L.
1992            The Amarna Letters. Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore
Peilstöcker, Martin
2011            A Group of Late Bronze Age Tombs from the Ganor Compound. In The History and Archaeology of Jaffa 1, edited by M. Peilstöcker and A. A. Burke, pp. 183–186. The Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project 1. Monumenta Archaeologica 26, A. A. Burke and M. Peilstöcker, general editor, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, Los Angeles
Simons, Jan Jozef
1937            Handbook for the Study of Egyptian Topographical Lists Relating to Western Asia. Brill, Leiden
Sweeney, Deborah
2003            A Lion-Hunt Scarab and Other Egyptian Objects from the Late Bronze Fortress at Jaffa. Tel Aviv 30(1):54–65.

[i] (Burke 2010).
[ii] (Goedicke 2000).
[iii] (Simons 1937:109–122).
[iv] For an overview of Jaffa from the Early Bronze Age to the Persian Period, see A. Burke (2011). The archaeological data for the reconstruction presented here derives from the work of The Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project’s renewed excavations at Tel Yafo since 2011, as well as findings from the Kaplan Publication Initiative, which seeks to address the unpublished materials from Jacob Kaplan’s excavations in Jaffa from 1955 to 1974. The publication project has been supported by the White-Levy Program for Archaeological Publications. The archaeological excavations are now supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and continued support from the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the Johannes-Gutenberg Universität, Mainz,
[v] (Peilstöcker 2011)
[vi] (Burke and Lords 2010).
[vii] (Burke and Mandell 2011)
[viii] For parallel from Amarna, see figure 3.4c in B. Kemp (2000).
[ix] Registered item JCHP 223.
[x] Registered items JCHP 216, 224, 227, 232, and 234.
[xi] This type of scarab was intended to celebrate the pharaoh’s successful hunt of lions. See Sweeney (2003).
[xii] If there had been greater evidence for precipitation, it might have been suggested that the reconstruction took place during the winter. However, almost no evidence for erosion was seen among the various leveling operations above the destruction.
[xiii] For texts, see W. Moran (1992).
[xiv] EA 294:20.
[xv] See Y. Gadot (2005).
[xvi] JCHP 225.
[xvii] MHA 5135.
[xviii] See K. Kitchen (1993:no. 401:5).
[xix] For a comprehensive discussion of Egyptian ceramics in Canaan, see M. Martin (2011)

By Aaron A. Burke and Martin Peilstöcker


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