Debating the Sea Peoples at HU

Today, there was an interesting meeting at Hebrew University, jointly convened with the IAA, dealing with the interface between History and Archaeology (the 2nd in a series on this topic) with a focus on the examples from the Coastal Plain of Israel throughout the ages.
In the morning, there were three very interesting lectures that dealt with the Philistines/Sea Peoples:
1) Prof. Itamar Singer spoke about the “Northern Philistines.” Starting the lecture with what I believe were right to the point comments on deconstructionist attempts to minimize (or erase) the entire Sea Peoples phenomenon, Itamar showed very nicely that the general Sea Peoples process is well documented in numerous ancient near eastern written sources (Egyptian, Hittite, Luwian, Ugaritic, etc.), in addition to the archaeological evidence. He then went on to discuss the inscriptional evidence for the northern Sea Peoples – whether the “Hiyawa/Dananim” from the Tarsus area, or the W/Palastin from the Amuq.
2) Dr. Assaf Yasur-Landau (Haifa) discussed the Philistine immigration to Philistia attempting to define its character. Noting, inter alia, that there is very little evidence for destruction and that most of the Philistine sites are not on the coast, as well as the fact that there appears to be a mixture of Philistine and Canaanite elements in the early Philistine settlements, Assaf argued (and by and large I agree with him on most of his points) that the Philistines did not conquer and replace the Canaanites, but rather settled with them creating a culture with combined both elements.
3) Dr. Ayelet Gilboa (Haifa; speaking also for Prof. Ilan Sharon, HU) who excavate at Dor, took a view that the whole concept of the Sea Peoples should be dropped. Noting that the “Sea Peoples” is a modern term (first used by Maspero), she claimed that if one looks at the supposed Sea Peoples evidence in the northern coast of Israel (at, e.g., Dor, Akko and other sites), there is no evidence of a unified arrival of a foreign group, as one sees in Philistia. Instead, she believes that the people who settled in this region are fugitives from the northern Levant and Cyprus after the collapse of the LB “world order.” She then went on to suggest that since this evidence does not fit in with a unified Sea Peoples conquest of the coast of levant as often envisaged in the past, the whole concept of the “sea peoples” should be dropped and instead one should refer to various local phenomena related to the LB/Iron Age transition.
While I believe that her points relating to Dor (and that region of the Coastal Levant) are relevant and telling, her attempt to deny the major impact that groups originating from the Central/NorthEastern Mediterranean (e.g., Sea Peoples!) at this time is overall simplistic. What we see in Philistia, in Cyprus, and in Cilicia/Amuq clearly reflects just such a process – new peoples, originating from the somewhere in the region of the Aegean and beyond, who arrive in the Levant – even if they then are mixed in with the locals. In other cases – other processes occur – but this does not mean that the “sea peoples” processes did not occur!


8 thoughts on “Debating the Sea Peoples at HU

  1. This debate sounds suspiciously like the ever0raging debate regarding the origin of the Israelites. Even though they were enemies, both the Israelites and the Phillistines seem to share that in common…


    1. arenmaeir

      Yes, there are many similarities between the epistomological basis for both debates – and how they have developed over the years.


  2. Louise Hitchcock

    Looks like we have our own minimalist/maximilist debate going. As you know, my view is that the simplistic Sea Peoples = Aegean equation needs to be deconstructed. At the same time, the SP’s should not be put under erasure. Instead, it needs to be worked through as a complex, multi-faceted, multi-cultural, and complex phenomenon, that doesn’t have a simple or pat answer – which is what makes it fun!


    1. Jeff Emanuel

      This is absolutely fascinating. I’m working on my Master’s thesis on the evidence (such as it is) for Shardana presence at Akko and el-Ahwat (the former is, of course, largely accepted, while the latter certainly is not), and the continuation of these debates is excellent fuel for the fire of my own Research.

      Prof. Hitchcock, I agree that the uniformly Aegean nature of the SP is an oversimplification which does not benefit the detailed search for, and study of, these people – particularly those for whom there is less direct evidence than there is for the Philistines.

      Prof. Maeir, I greatly appreciate these posts, as they assist me in keeping abreast of current activities and theories. I’m also keenly awaiting more information on the Gittite temple you uncovered last field season, as Philistine Dagon (another puzzle I don’t think has been fully solved) is another significant research interest of mine – a fact which naturally makes such a discovery very important to my own work!

      -Jeff Emanuel


      1. arenmaeir

        We will report more fully on the “temple” once we hopefully understand it a little better. I hope this coming season will help clarify various issues.


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