2,500-year-old pottery shows close ties between ancient Israel and Turkey

A group of Israeli and German archaeologists have recently shed new light on the following chapter of the history of the area and its commercial development.

Illustrative image of ancient pottery (photo credit: ROSSELLA TERCATIN)
Illustrative image of ancient pottery
(photo credit: ROSSELLA TERCATIN)
In the 7th century BCE, Greek pottery and tableware were a must of sophisticated houses around the Levant, including ancient Israel. Shortly after, the Babylonian expansion brought destruction and change around the region, creating major disruption also in its trade and customs.
A group of Israeli and German archaeologists have recently shed new light on the following chapter of the history of the area and its commercial development: in the 5th century BCE trade routes in Eastern Mediterranean experienced a revival as did Greek style pottery. In a paper recently published in the journal Levant said there was one difference: the popular band-painted bowls, plates, jugs and table amphorae all came from a specific location, Kelenderis in Cilicia (modern Turkey).
“In the case of the Late Iron Age, stylistic and fabric analyses have shown that pottery in ‘true’ East Greek styles was manufactured at various sites in Ionia,” wrote the authors of the paper, who, along with others, include Gunnar Lehmann from Ben-Gurion University, Yiftah Shalev from the Israel Antiquities Authority and University of Haifa, David Ben-Shlomo from Ariel University and Ayelet Gilboa from the University of Haifa. “The abundance of East Greek pottery in the Levant, however, came to an abrupt end at the beginning of the 6th century BCE, after which such pottery becomes extremely rare in the northern Levant and does not occur at all in the southern Levant.”
“This rather abrupt end is the result of the Babylonian destruction. Most of the consumer sites, both in the northern and southern Levant, such as Al Mina, Tell Keisan, Ashkelon, and many more, were destroyed and abandoned, causing a near-total collapse of demographic and economic structures for many decades,” they added.
When the situation improved again around 500 to 480 BCE, the products that were traded had changed.
“Firstly, the new ceramics present an altogether different typological vista and decorative schemes,” the scholars explained. “Secondly, they appear about a century after the true East Greek pottery had disappeared. Third, and above all, our study showed that the great majority of this band-decorated tableware was not produced in the Aegean at all.”
The researchers studied about 1500 potsherds, mostly uncovered in archaeological sites in Israel, Syria, Turkey and to a lesser extent in Cyprus and Egypt. They carried out several types of analysis of the style and materials, including petrographic analysis. Petrography aims at studying and identifying rocks and minerals and allows to ascertain their geological source, which helps archaeologists to collect important insights on ancient pottery and its manufacturing.
The vessels resulted “compositionally very homogenous and appear to stem from one location,” the paper reads. The findings therefore supported the hypothesis that the pottery was all produced in Kelenderis workshops, a Greek colony at the time.
The 5th century increased maritime exchanges, fueled by the Greek dependence on Egypt’s grain, making the export of ceramics feasible again. At the time, pottery was usually not considered valuable enough on  its own to justify the financial risk of a sea shipment, but was traded along with more expensive goods, often valuable metals.
However, as the archaeologists write, “all inhabitants of the Levantine littoral in the 5th century BCE drank or ate from Kelenderis and Attic bowls and plates, because there were hardly any local vessels that could serve these functions.”
“The difference between this, and the situation in the Iron Age in this region cannot be overstated,” they added. “This Persian period ‘globalization’ would continue and assume new modes in the Hellenistic period.”