Tel Kabri, located in the western Galilee region of modern Israel, was the center of a Canaanite polity during the Middle Bronze Age. Excavations conducted by Aharon Kempinski and Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier from 1986-1993 revealed the remains of a palace dating to the Middle Bronze period (ca. 2000-1550 BCE). Within the building (Fig. 1), dated specifically to the MB II period, were discovered an Aegean-style floor and Aegean-style wall paintings. Kabri is one of only four sites in the Eastern Mediterranean to have such Bronze Age Aegean-style paintings and may well be the earliest.
Fig. 1. The Middle Bronze Age Palace in Area D-West at Tel Kabri
Tel Kabri was first briefly excavated by the Israel Department of Antiquities in 1957-1958 and then again in 1975-1976. At that time, evidence was found indicating the importance of the site during the Middle Bronze II period. Systematic excavation did not take place until 1986, when a team led by the late Professor Aharon Kempinski of Tel Aviv University began working at the site. Professor Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier, then of Heidelberg University, joined the team as Co-director in 1989. Excavations then continued through the 1993 season, resulting in the discoveries detailed above and ending only because of Kempinski’s untimely death.
Fig 2. Overhead view of Tel Kabri
Tel Kabri has now been revealed to be a large site (more than 200,000 sq. m.) with a continuum of strata from the Neolithic Period to the Iron Age. Most significant are the Middle Bronze Age remains, which include massive fortifications (Area C), residential architecture and tombs (Areas B and C), and a large palace (Area D), as well as an Iron Age fortress with imported Greek pottery and additional evidence for the presence of Greek mercenary soldiers which was partially excavated at the highest part of the Tel (Area E).
Fig 3. Painted floor from Tel Kabri
A rare discovery was made within the palace at Tel Kabri: a floor and walls decorated with paintings done in Aegean style. The painted floor was found within a ceremonial room and was decorated with floral and marbled motifs.The approximately 2,000 fragments from one or more wall frescoes included boats, griffin wings, and houses that bore much resemblance to the miniature frescoes found on the Greek island of Santorini.
Fig 4. Painted wall fragments (right) from Tel Kabri
Such evidence for artistic connections between the Aegean culture of ancient Crete and the Cyclades with the Canaanites and other inhabitants of the ancient Near East is unique in Israel. It is also very rare elsewhere, existing outside the Aegean only in Egypt at Tel el-Dab’a, the capitol of the Hyksos, and at the sites of Alalakh and Qatna in Syria.
A geophysical survey in 2003, and our exploratory excavation season in 2005, conducted by the then newly-formed Kabri Archaeological Project (KAP), enabled us to establish that the MB II palace is nearly twice as large as previously thought, probably 3000-4000 sq. m. rather than 2000 sq. m., extending further to the north, east and west. It may extend further to the south as well, but we did not excavate in that direction this season. The other most important accomplishments during the season included the following:
- Destruction deposits, including restorable local pottery, burnt organic material, and imported Cypriot pottery, were discovered which may provide further chronological data for the date of the violent destruction of the palace in the final phase of its existence.
- New evidence was found for an earlier MB IIA public structure or palace lying immediately below the MB IIB palace. This is one of the very few examples of palatial remains from this period in Israel and is of great potential interest.
- Interesting finds included the first gold object ever discovered at the site as well as a possible libation installation with numerous intact and restorable vessels.
We spent the 2006 and 2007 seasons conducting a regional archaeological survey of MB I and MB II settlements throughout the western Galilee prior to beginning full-scale excavations at the site, since we were fully aware that at Tel Kabri we may have a unique opportunity to study the diachronic development of Canaanite political power in the region as well as the development of cultural contacts with the Aegean and Cyprus.
Fig. 5. Map of Surveyed Sites with both Chronological Phases and Estimated Areas noted (areas are in dunams [0.1 Ha.])
The survey team visited 28 Middle Bronze Age sites in the area of Kabri (see Fig. 5). At the majority of these sites it was possible to establish their size using GPS, by following the boundaries of each site according to the surface distribution of MB II pottery. The use of such modern and accurate methods to measure site sizes enabled us to correct many of the previous estimates for the sizes of MB sites in the Galilee, and now enables us to generate an improved estimate of past population sizes in this region.
During the 2008 season of excavations at Tel, we excavated in areas around the center of the palace, i.e. near Ceremonial Hall 611, with its frescoed floor and fragments of Aegean-style wall fresco. The investigation was aimed at retrieving critical data concerning the chronology of the various phases of the palace, as well as the history of the connections between the Kabri polity, Cyprus and the Aegean. Our efforts met with a great deal of success. We were able to retrieve data from the entire history of the MB palace at the site, from a pre-palatial period through to final destruction. We also found approximately 45 fragments of wall plaster, at least some of which appear to be painted, and additional evidence for red paint on one of the plaster floors in the palace.
Fig. 6. Area D-West at Tel Kabri, northwest of Ceremonial Hall 611