Excavations of the Ramesses Gate complex during July 2013. Courtesy of the Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project.
Among the finds in Jaffa are Canaanite and Egyptian storage jars, Cypriot pithoi (large clay storage vessels), scarabs, arrowheads, lead weights, around 800 beads, and kilos of carbonized seed from 13 distinct species, including chickpeas, lentils, wheat, barley, grapes, and olives.
The excavators also found antlers from 36 deer below the superstructure of the collapsed gateway. "At times the burning was so hot that…material that melted onto the antlers, and ceramics completely burned to ash," Burke says.
"Gates" in biblical times weren't mere entrances to sites. The biggest were massive complexes involving guard towers and multiple chambers. In the case of the Ramesses Gate, the location of the artifacts the archaeologists found suggest that the passageway through the gate complex was so huge it could also serve as a market, "a practice that was common in Canaanite cities," says Burke.
Predating the Trojan Horse
Both textual sources and archaeology indicate that Egyptian rule in Jaffa began some time after the battle of Megiddo (around 1456 B.C.E.), when Pharaoh Thutmose III defeated a Canaanite coalition and effectively brought Canaan under Egyptian rule.
Papyrus Harris 500 tells the story about how Jaffa (also called Joppa) was conquered by the cunning Egyptian commander Djehuty, who served under Thutmose III. While faking surrender, Djehuty presented a gift of 200 baskets as tribute to the Canaanites - within which he smuggled his troops into the city that emerged and conquered it. (This was more than 200 years before the story of the fabled conquest of Troy by the wily Greeks using the famed Trojan Horse, ending the Trojan War, was written.)
The tale may have been embellished over the eons, but Djehuty definitely existed: He is named in ancient Egyptian records as "commander of the armies of the north."
Thutmose conquers Jaffa
Under Thutmose III, the Egyptians established a permanent presence in Jaffa, building a fortress and stationing a garrison to protect the natural harbor, though judging by the size of the site, the Egyptians likely had no more than 500 soldiers in the city, if that many.
On either side of the city gateway were massive rectangular mud-brick towers, more than 20 meters long, 10 meters high and 6 meters wide. The gate-tower complex is the only Egyptian gate exposed in Israel to date.
Previous excavations in Jaffa uncovered large assemblages of Egyptian ceramics as well as evidence of bread, a staple in the Egyptian diet.
Large quantities of Cypriot and Mycenaean imported pottery that had carried foods typical of the Egyptian diet were also discovered.
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In fact, the Amarna letters (diplomatic correspondence on clay tablets between the Egyptian administration and its representatives in Canaan and Amurru during the New Kingdom era) mention that Jaffa stored grain that had been grown along the coastal plain (perhaps at Aphek), to feed Egyptian soldiers situated in the Levant.
In further excavation of the so-called Lion Temple in Jaffa (so named for the lioness skull found there), more bones from lions, hyenas, and hippopotami, as well as other animals, were discovered on the floor. Archaeologists are mixed on who exactly worshipped at the Lion Temple, some associating it with the Egyptian presence in the city and others believing, based on the ceramic assemblage found there, that the adherents were Canaanite.
The Canaanites rise up
Whoever prayed at the Lion Temple, what's sure is that Egyptian rule in Jaffa lasted from the mid-15th century B.C.E. to the late 12th century B.C.E., a period of more then 300 years. Now its excavators suspect, based on the two major destruction layers, from the late 15th century B.C.E. and the 12th century B.C.E., that the Canaanites actively engaged to expel their Nilotic overlords.
"Most of the destruction in Jaffa appears to align with transitions between pharaohs, when the new regime hadn't been tested," Burke explains.
Some feel more information is needed. "I think we don't really know when and if there was destruction in the 15th-14th century B.C.E.," qualifies Egyptology expert Mario Martin of Tel Aviv University.
Even so, it appears that some Canaanites learned to get along with the Egyptians throughout this same period. The ceramic assemblage discovered after the first destruction of the fortress in the fortress of the late 15th century B.C.E. is almost exclusively Egyptian, indicating a predominantly Egyptian presence within the earliest fortress's walls. However, local Canaanite ceramics appear to have gradually increased over time, suggesting that Canaanites were increasingly integrated in the operations of the fortress.
That said, Jaffa wasn't the only site of friction between the Egyptians rulers and the local Canaanites. The Amarna Letters of the late fourteenth century B.C.E. do contain reports of Canaanite rebellions in Ashkelon and Gezer too. Also, the Pharaonic court received frequent requests of arms to quench local uprisings.
The destruction of the gate in 1135 B.C.E. was so violent that it completely brought down the 22-meter wide and 10-meter high superstructure. The gate was rebuilt, but what seems to be a second wave of destruction within no more than decade (circa 1125 B.C.E.) finally brought an end to Egyptian rule in Jaffa.
"The destruction of the Ramesses gate definitely happened," Martin agrees. "The question is when exactly - at the end of the Nineteenth Dynasty or already in the reign of Ramesses III? In the latter case, the culprits might well have been the Philistines."
Although no Egyptian reports refer directly to attacks on Jaffa, for his part, Burke is confident that the destruction of the city resulted not from piracy or an invading force, but from the Canaanites finally throwing off their masters there once and for all.
-- Sent from my monopoly-free Linux system.