The use of pounders

It’s not always easy to determine what the artifacts we find were used for. Some archaeologists don’t try to explain, others get into acrimonious battles. The interpretation of worked round stones was heavily disputed at Tell Halif. Here’s my email from June 25th, 2007.

The dig is slowing down somewhat as the work gets more meticulous, the heat is soaring and less people are actually excavating. Still we have found quite a bit. When taking out a balk (unexcavated soil for control) between squares a whole lot of pottery was found. The jars were all shattered, but it seems most of the pieces were still there. Another iron tool was found and some weights. We’re excavating more walls, but to me at least, that
doesn’t make the whole thing any easier to understand, as they seem to be at various levels.

In our new square we haven’t yet found any walls, though we’re still hopefull that some stones or mudbricks could turn out to be a wall. But we’ve come across some interesting stuff. I found a figurine from the Persian period (Ezra onwards). It’s a man with a big beard and flowing cape, who once apparently sat on a horse. There also was a nice lady figurine from that period in the square.

The other guy in the square came across a horse model from the Iron Age (Hezekiah) but it had its rider missing. And today I found a zoomorphic vessel or at least the front part of it. It’s a hollow horse or bull and you could put liquids in it that were than poured from its nose. Pretty cool. And I still keep up a comparatively finding rate.

I have also found quite a few pounding stones, or parts thereof. These are spheres of stone of approximately 7cm diameter. In my first email I erroneously called them slingshot missiles or ballistas. Under the guidance of wise women I now accept the proper designation and have renounced my former militaristic interpretation. They are indeed pounding stones used by women in food preparation.

There must have been quite some pounding going on as we found the stones in various layers in our excavation. I also found one while clearing what is presumably the city wall. Another guy found some on the slopes of the tell and in the valley below.

To account for this archaeological evidence I propose several plausible scenarios:

1. The theory that Sennacherib destroyed the city is incorrect. Its destruction came about through internal forces. The women of the city rose up against the dominating men. Using force when necessary they attacked the menfolk with their pounding stones, both within and outside the city walls. The men must have resisted the social upheaval, requiring the women to resort to more drastic measures, resulting finally in the conflagration of the city.

2. The men of the city missappropriated the pounding stones either for athletic competitions or for military purposes It is unlikely that the women consented to this use, indicating the patriarchial biases present in ancient society. However, in an extreme situation, when the very existence of the city was threatened, women may have contributed to the defence of the city by allowing their precious pounding stones to be used. This would have made life extremely hard for women, as they would have to pound away preparing food with fewer stones.

3. Through repeated pounding the stones became unusable as they lost their ergonomic perfectly round form. Rather than throwing them away, they were carefully placed in and around the city to symbolise the care and concern of the women for the city. It may have even been part of a ritual to ensure abundance of food for the city.

Because our room has a wire-less internet connection, it’s the place to hang out. I have to get time on other people’s computers to check my email, though. We’re pretty much in the centre of the kibbutz in quite a nice area with very friendly neighbours. One invited us for tea and another brought a bottle of wine along. Room 707 is just the place to be.

After a weekend travelling around Israel by bus, sherut and train, I briefly went to Jerusalem. On the train ride to Jerusalem, which is so much more interesting than the bus trip there, I noticed the neglected terracing on the hillsides. Once, people must have worked this land and lived here. Now the fields lie fallow and forlorn and the descendants of the people who worked them live in cities. This really Israel’s heartland – the hills of Juday where farmers etched out a hard living 3000 years ago.

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