The Megiddo Picture Pavement: Evidence for Egyptian Presence in Northern Israel during Early Bronze Age I - British Library Research Repository
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Master's dissertation

The Megiddo Picture Pavement: Evidence for Egyptian Presence in Northern Israel during Early Bronze Age I



The Megiddo Picture Pavement was discovered by the Chicago Oriental Institute expedition in the late 1930's. This pavement is part of a sacred enclosure that belongs to stratum XIX (= Stratum J-2) and dates to the Early Bronze Age IB. The partially preserved pavement of this cultic enclosure consisted of scores of flat stone slabs, of which 44 were incised with engravings; these include depictions of human figures, animals, objects and other signs. Since its first publication by Loud in 1948, surprisingly few detailed treatments of the pavement have been attempted. Kempinski and Beck considered the scenes to reflect local magical rituals, with the human figures possibly representing local priests or rulers. Recently, van der Steen suggested that the incised designs were insignia of local tribes served by the cultic center at Megiddo. Amiran and Braun viewed the scenes as Egyptian, a suggestion later elaborated upon by Ilan. In a recent paper, Yekutieli has interpreted the pavement as evidence for Egyptian colonial presence and local resistance. In most cases, the incisions were not referenced as a corpus, and no attempts were made to understand the relations between the various incisions, the temple complex with its finds and the scenes' audience.

In order to establish the incised slabs' exact location within the temple complex, their position in relation to one another and their orientation, a reconstruction of the original layout of the slabs is presented (Chapter 2). The incised part of the pavement is located generally in the north-eastern corner of the paved enclosure. Most of the incised slabs are concentrated near the eastern edge of the pavement, carefully placed in rows. The incised paved area is adjacent to the lowest part of the entire complex, close to the eastern edge of the tell, where the ascent towards the temple begins. During the excavation, the incised slabs were removed, but no drawing was made of each slab's exact location. After removal, they were divided between the local Department of Antiquities and the Oriental Institute. Seventeen slabs ended up in Chicago and six in Jerusalem¯in the Rockefeller and the Israel museums. The location of the rest of the slabs is unknown.

The partial reconstruction of the Picture Pavement is based on original field records, and in particular on a rough sketch of the positioning of the incised slabs, photographs of the pavement taken from different directions during the exposure of the pavement and afterwards, and photographs of each slab by itself. The first part of the reconstruction shows that in general terms, the easternmost and lowest part of the pavement includes the human scenes, with the animal scenes above and to the west. Further on to the west were the unidentified signs or symbols, most of them incorporated in a later, higher phase of the pavement, termed the Upper Pavement. A more specific picture emerges from the Lower Pavement, where most of the located slabs are oriented in the same direction. The incised scenes were certainly meant to be viewed from the east. The entrance to the sacred enclosure was on its eastern side, and the floor slopes steeply upwards towards the temple. People ascending this paved ramp could observe the human and animal scenes on their way to the temple. This prominent location helps understand how the scenes were observed within the context of the whole enclosure, and reinforces the symbolic significance of the incised scenes.

The reconstruction of the Picture Pavement, in addition to a detailed description of each of the scenes incised on the slabs, provides a broader picture of how the pavement looked at the time of its use¯a sufficient basis for attempting to interpret the pavement's scenes and to understand how they relate to the status of Megiddo within northern Canaan of the EB IB. It is evident that there is a uniformity in the scenes' different motifs, elements and technique¯this leads to the conclusion that they comprise an artistic unity, and should be interpreted as such.

Having established this, the cultural tradition that provided the stylistic and conceptual inspiration for the pavement is examined. This is done in Chapter 3 through a comprehensive comparison of the scenes to contemporary Egyptian art, in which many parallels to most of the motifs in Megiddo can be found. The similar choice of topics and the visual and stylistic affinities between the Megiddo engravings and depictions in different media in predynastic Egyptian art are evident. The way of portraying human figures in the pavement is especially similar to the way in which they are depicted by the Egyptian convention; the animals depicted in the pavement are all known from Egypt and Egyptian art; and also many of the signs and symbols are known from Egypt, especially as potters' marks.

Moreover, it seems that there's a strong conceptual connection between the Megiddo engravings and the Egyptian motifs reflected in a variety of predynastic objects and in rock-art. In order to understand the meaning of these scenes, one should look at the broader context from the Egyptian point of view. This is the period of Egyptian state formation and expansion to the east, formalizing its relations with Canaan. These relations were characterized first by commerce, then by settlement of Egyptians in northern Sinai and southern Canaan, and eventually by the establishment of Egyptian administrative centers in south-west Canaan. Being a formative period, the late predynastic is also characterized by the canonization of Egypt’s cosmology and religion. The Egyptians perceived themselves as representatives of the positive forces of Order in the universe, as opposed to non-Egyptians, who represent Chaos and its demonic monsters, the destructive power in the universe. The conflict between Chaos and Order, the inferiority of foreign people and the power of the Egyptian king are ideas well reflected in Egyptian art, and this seems to be the case in the Picture Pavement as well.

In conclusion, Chapter 4 discusses the possible interpretations of the pavement. In this chapter I show that the Egyptian connection to Megiddo is attested not only by the Picture Pavement, but also by the Egyptian objects/artifacts discovered in all EB IB strata in the tell. These finds indicate a continuous Egyptian influence in Megiddo. Most of the Egyptian or Egyptianized objects found in Megiddo are clearly valuable or prestige objects, and there are no administrative finds typical to the sites in the south¯such as incised Serekh or bullae stamped with Egyptian seals. Thus, we are not dealing with a large Egyptian community¯but with a small, representative presence. This small Egyptian presence is discussed in the context of other evidence for Egyptian presence or influence in northern Canaan during the EB IB, and the similar phenomena of Egyptian finds discovered in sacred EBA contexts.

Considering the new information regarding the exact location of the Picture Pavement, the attribution of the pavement scenes to the domain of Egyptian art, the other Egyptian objects found in EB IB strata in Megiddo and the Egyptian influence in northern Canaan, a possible broader picture emerges. A continuous limited Egyptian presence was maintained in Megiddo during the entire EB IB, performing its own religious ceremonies in the temple or participating in the local Canaanite cult. Megiddo was a very dominant spot: a trade center, a geographic gateway and probably a regional cultic center. It was the perfect place for the Egyptians to manifest power, maintain diplomatic relations with the local elite and influence the local inhabitants by means of integrating with the local religion and cult.

The Egyptian expansion into Canaan during EB I had a practical economic aspect, but it also served a symbolic purpose during the formative period of Egypt as an ethnically defined state. Egyptian society was willing to perceive itself as united and differentiated civilization. This idea of self-definition is reflected in artistic representations on Egyptian objects, and it is also the idea that stands behind the Megiddo Picture Pavement.


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