Archaeological interpretation of a house

The assumptions we bring to archaeology partly determine our interpretation of archaeological finds. There is a constant relationship between small-scale observations and the greater patterns and narratives we see. J. David Schloen’s book on the house of the father does rely on archaeological finds and ancient texts to suggest a different narrative and indicate patterns that vary from the dominant ones. But how does an application of his argument affect our interpretation?

A good example is the first detailed consideration of one house in Ancient Judah, completed James W. Hardin (Lahav II: Households and the Use of Domestic Space at Iron II Tell Halif). James Hardin takes a behavioral archaeology approach to consider the formation processes of the site and how they may affected the remains of this particular house. He mainly uses ethnographic archaeology to identify activity areas and suggests their function. But it is mainly in the final overall interpretation that Schloen’s approach is used.

Ground floor of dwelling at Tell Halif. Graphic by Tim Frank.

Ground floor of dwelling at Tell Halif. Graphic by Tim Frank.

Just as in rural Palestinian dwellings of the early 20th century, Hardin sees all the basic aspects of a small extended household represented in this archaeological house. There are living areas, storage facilities, stables, kitchen areas, and utility rooms. There was also evidence of economic dealings outside the household: the head of the household probably was involved in wine processing and distribution in some way. In one part of the house many wine jars were discovered, with tools for sieving and pouring wine. Hardin concludes that this was the household of a vintner, where the family was involved in growing and making wine.

James Hardin suggests that the kitchen areas and possible textile production areas were probably more used by women, while the wine processing area was probably more used by the men of the house. He sees this interpretation as consistent with the ideal of the “house of the father”: through the different roles in the one household, the household members were working for the good of this unit.

by Dylan Karges, reproduced with permission by James W. Hardin

by Dylan Karges, reproduced with permission by James W. Hardin

Of course, this household was not alone. It was imbedded in wider social relationships. It would be interesting to see to what extent the suggestions of the different scales of the household is reflected at Tell Halif. Can we see evidence of clans here, of cooperation across the the smallest household units? Is there any indication that indeed they were also based on family relationships, or at least relationships of trust and reliance?

This entry was posted in Archaeology, Book Review, Household Archaeology, Tell Halif and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Archaeological interpretation of a house

  1. Pingback: Sons or Lovers: Jonathan and David | Imagining the past: Archaeology and the Bible

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