Archaeological Survey of Canaanite Palace, Tel Kabri

Below is an excerpt from a really interesting  interesting article about the archaeology of a Canaanite palace in Tel Kabri. As a Near-Eastern archaeology fanatic, I found this one particularly interesting.


“Five kilometers from the Mediterranean coast, the Canaanite palace at Tel Kabri is a sprawling Middle Bronze Age edifice.

We don’t know what the site was called at the time, in part because its inhabitants seem to have built and run the enormous Middle Bronze Age palace continuously for over 250 years – from ca. 1850 BCE to the 1600s BCE – without writing anything down.

Nothing at all. Not a single seal, no inscriptions or text have yet been found in the 6,000-square meter edifice, with its multiple of banquet rooms and halls.

Yet this may be typical of Middle Bronze Age Canaanite society, say Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa and Eric H. Cline of George Washington University, directors of the excavation.

Who were the Canaanites?

There is little evidence available to enlighten archaeologists as to who exactly the Canaanites were, and what system of rulership they had. There have been no significant findings of alphabetic writing from the region during the Middle Bronze Age. The few cuneiform tablets that were found mostly hail from Tel Hazor, a site associated with Syrian culture.

The fragments and scraps found throughout the Land of Israel that predate the Iron Age do not add up to a literate society, especially given that this land was bounded by Egypt and Mesopotamia. Both had very advanced civilizations by the Middle Bronze Age, and each had highly advanced writing systems. In fact, the Mesopotamian cuneiform system was used by everyone in the region for administrative purposes and international communication.

“The operating system of the Ancient Near East was cuneiform. You could call it Cuneiform OS,” says Assaf Yasur-Landau, one of two directors of Tel Kabri and chair of the Maritime Civilizations Department at the University of Haifa. “This system, which lasted for more than 3,500 years, came pre-packaged with a world view, and an orderly patterned Mesopotamian one at that. This world view centered around a king who rules by divine right, as can be seen in much of the art of the ancient near east. This ‘software’ is used by almost all of the lands of the region – except for the Levant.”


But did that world-view apply to the Canaanites? Apparently not: according to Yasur-Landau, new archaeological evidence indicates that they stood out from the Near Eastern region’s peoples by developing a very different form of rulership.

Mysteriously sparse palaces

Even the palaces of Middle Bronze Age Canaan – 4,000 /3,500 years ago – were different from those of their neighbors.

A Near Eastern palace was expected to be a residence for the royal household, a seat for government and a center for economic enterprise, with archives, storerooms, living quarters and more. All this was needed because in the Near East, the palace economy was a center of redistribution.

This redistribution was controlled with the help of cuneiform writing in every part of the Ancient Near East – Mesopotamia, Syria and Anatolia – except for in one place: the Land of Israel, or as it was known then, Canaan.

“How is it possible to have palaces in the Levant, like in places such as Megiddo, Kabri, Aphek, Lachish, and Tel el-Ajjul, with no large – scale storage, no palatial workshops to manufacture goods, and no archives?” questions Yasur-Landau. “How is it possible to have redistribution if none of these elements exist?”

Perhaps there was nothing much to redistribute, as indicated by ancient Egyptian Middle Kingdom instructions to King Merikare, which portrayed the Levant as a place plagued by subsistence difficulties, endemic war, and a lack of rulership.

But there could be another explanation. Over 120 years of excavations have proven that the Levantine Middle Bronze Age palaces originated and thrived before the arrival of cuneiform as the administrative writing form of the land.”

Thus culture developed in the Levant the opposite from Mesopotamian and Egyptian systems. In the Levant, apparently, first came palaces, then urbanization, and, only much later, writing.

Even then, writing seems to have rarely been used for administrative purposes. So, by the time cuneiform reached Canaan, it may have been irrelevant to the development of Canaanite society.


Not only didn’t the Canaanites use the regional norm, the cuneiform operating system: they left behind no images of rulership. The only information that we have concerning Canaanite rulers comes from the much later Amarna letters, dating from the mid 14th century B.C.E., and even there the rulers did not style themselves as kings – except the King of Hazor, who is affiliated with Syrian culture, as Yasur-Landau points out..

Yasur-Landau and his excavating partner Eric Cline, chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, call this conundrum “the problem of the missing ruler.” Cline notes that the same problem exists on Minoan Crete, where there is still no concrete evidence for who was in charge of the palace at Knossos, for instance.”

Read the full article here.


One response to “Archaeological Survey of Canaanite Palace, Tel Kabri

  1. Maybe they were just good housekeepers and also recyclers. Maybe they were worried about security and used their equivalent of our modern day paper shredder 🙂
    I am glad that many societies left things behind for us though. We can then have fun trying to figure them out.

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