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Phoenician Resilience Volume 53 Number 6, November/December 2000
by Haim Watzman

[image] Phoenician seal featuring Tanit (Courtesy Andrea M. Berlin) [LARGER IMAGE]

The Phoenicians flexed their cultural and religious muscle longer than previously thought, according to excavations at Tel Kadesh in Israel's northern Galilee. While it has been generally thought that the local populations adopted Greek political, cultural, and religious practices during the Hellenistic period (323-27 B.C.), the ruins of a huge official building destroyed by fire in 145 B.C. have provided new evidence of the perseverance of Phoenician beliefs during this period.

The building, estimated to cover some 20,000 square feet, has so far yielded more than 3,000 bullae--clay document seals--that are remains of an archive, according to Sharon C. Herbert of the University of Michigan, who is conducting the excavation with Andrea M. Berlin of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The site has been inhabited more or less continuously from the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3300 B.C.).

Ironically, the fire that destroyed the building and the documents baked the clay seals and preserved them along with their intricate imprints. Herbert reported that 90 percent of the bullae are in the Greek style, with naturalistic renderings of gods and goddesses, while others depict monarchs and private individuals.

Herbert is most fascinated, however, by a handful of bullae that are stylistically Phoenician. "There is a representation of the goddess Tanit, just a little triangle with thick arms," she explains. "These seals carry short Phoenician inscriptions. We have also found a second Phoenician seal without Tanit, but with several lines of minute script, one of which refers to 'the era of the people of Tyre.'"

"What this implies," Herbert hypothesizes, "is that Phoenician officials in the Hellenistic period were still invoking their own gods and language as a symbol of power. [The bullae] document a mixing of Greek and Phoenician culture."

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America