Katherine BURKE

Jaffa (Ar. Yafa, Heb. Yafo), now in the southern part of Tel Aviv, has been an important Mediterranean port for nearly all of its long history (figure 1). Archaeological work at Jaffa reveals that the site has been inhabited from at least the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1900 BCE) to the present, and for much of that time served as the port of Jerusalem, which is 60 km to its southeast. The tell itself sits on a sandstone kurkar ridge overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, with a lower town to the north, east, and south of the tell that was inhabited in periods of prosperity.


Figure 1

Figure 1


Although the site has been excavated nearly continuously for the past fifty years, by various institutions, little of these excavations has been published. A new research initiative aims to remedy this, by synthesizing results of excavations by Jacob Kaplan, who excavated in Jaffa on behalf of the Tel Aviv municipality from 1955 to 1982, with those from more recent excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority, and new research excavations. The new research excavations and the publication project are joint undertakings by the Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project, a partnership between the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

One aspect of the publication project has focused on the ceramics from the Early Islamic and Crusader occupations of the site. The end goal is a full typology of the pottery from these periods and beyond, but the work has begun with comprehensive publications of the Early Islamic and Crusader ceramics from recent IAA excavations, thanks to funding from the Fondation Max van Berchem (Burke In preparation-a; In preparation-b; Burke and Stern Forthcoming). To date these excavations have produced very little Early Islamic material, a plethora of Crusader era material, and little Mamluk material. The Early Islamic ceramic assemblage can nevertheless be characterized as similar to other Early Islamic ceramic assemblages in the region, as will be elaborated on below. Any statistical analysis of this assemblage will have to wait for a larger dataset, however.

Most of the excavations to date that reveal Early Islamic and Crusader occupation have taken place within the area that was the lower town, so our picture of Jaffa in the medieval periods is from the periphery rather than the center. This means that our understanding of the city in these periods is incomplete, and may be somewhat distorted. The lower town was normally occupied in periods of prosperity. This is also the reason that we have little Mamluk material, as according to the textual record in this period the town had contracted, and we should expect to find remains either immediately adjacent to the port, or perhaps on the tell (e.g., Arbel 2008; Buhl and Bosworth 2002: 234?35; Peilstöcker 2009; Peilstöcker and Burke 2009; Peilstöcker, et al. 2006).

Archaeological remains indicate strong continuity between the Byzantine and Early Islamic occupations of Jaffa. The lower town was apparently an area of mixed industrial and domestic use, with many structures in use from the Byzantine into the Early Islamic period (For a full discussion see Foran In press). For example, wine presses in the lower town were used from the Byzantine period into the beginning part of the Early Islamic period (Peilstöcker, et al. 2006). Other Transitional and Early Islamic period installations in the lower town of an industrial nature are metal smelting installations and an installation used for either cloth dyeing or leather tanning (Arbel 2008; Dagot 2008; Peilstöcker, et al. 2006).

On the eve of the Muslim conquest in 634 CE, Jaffa was the seat of a Bishopric and an increasingly important port of Christian pilgrimage (Foran In press; Tolkowsky 1924: 74). Soon after the conquest Jaffa was likely fortified, as were the major Syrian ports, by the second and third caliphs ‘Umar and ‘Uthman (Baladhuri). These fortifications have not yet been identified archaeologically. The ceramics from the Transitional period in the seventh century are comparable to those from Jaffa’s neighbors in the region such as Caesarea, Yoqne’am, Bet Shean, Tiberias, and Pella. Byzantine pottery types are still in use, such as Gaza ware storage jars, southern Palestinian bag-shaped jars, northern Palestinian bag-shaped jars, fine Byzantine ware, Egyptian red slip, and various bowls and basins with or without comb-incising (figure 2).[1]


Figure 2

Figure 2


The first Islamic pottery types appear in the late seventh or early eighth century. In this period, that is after 714 CE, Jaffa became the port of Ramla, the newly founded capital of the jund (military district) of Filastin. According to the geographer al-Muqaddasi (writing in the late tenth century) at this time Jaffa was also a ribat of Ramla, a fortified site at which warriors would assemble to fight off Byzantine ships (Le Strange 1886; Masarwa 2008). As with the Transitional period, these ceramic types are familiar from the region of Palestine and Jordan, including white-painted ware jars (figure 3 cf. Walmsley 1991: Figs. 3-4; Watson 1992), creamware pilgrim flasks (Avissar 1996: fig. XIII.145. Type 19; Rosen-Ayalon 2006: Pl. 5), monochrome glazed bowls, painted and glazed bowls, “Coptic” glazed ware (figure 3, cf. Avissar 1996: 1977?78, fig. XIII.3:3), and ribbed cooking pans and pots with cut rims and horizontal handles (Arnon 2007: Fig. 15:3?4; Stacey 2004: fig. 5.32:6?7).[2]


Figure 3

Figure 3


Continuing through the Early Islamic period and including types that date anywhere from the eighth century to the tenth century, are marble ware, seen as a continuation of Byzantine fine ware (figure 4), Egyptian chaff-tempered basins (handmade and wheelmade, see figure 5), plain basins (figure 5), glaze-painted bowls (figure 6, Arnon 1999: fig. 4h; Avissar 1996: fig. XIII.2:4, Photo XIII.I, Type 2; Scanlon 1974: 73, Pl. XIX:8; Zagórska 1990: 84, Pl. I:2), polychrome splash glazed bowls (figure 6), and “splashed and mottled” glazed bowls (figure 6, Arnon 2007: fig. 3:2?3, 6; Avissar 1996: 78?79, Type 76). Zirs and sphero-conical vessels were perhaps made in Ramla (figure 4, Arnon 2003: 124; 2007: fig. 14:5?7). Creamware jugs and juglets are wheel or mold-made, with and without impressed decoration and with and without filters. Some of these may also have been made in Ramla (figure 7, Arnon 2007: fig. 7:1; Rosen-Ayalon and Eitan 1969: Pl. 5). Parallels for these are known to have come from as far away as Iraq, Iran, Egypt, and southern Arabia, and continue to be made into later periods (e.g., Ciuk and Keall 1996: 42, Pl. 95/12; Kennet 2004: 57; Mason and Keall 1990: 175; Whitcomb and Johnson 1979: Pls. 38:b, c).


Figure 4

Figure 4


Figure 5

Figure 5


Figure 6

Figure 6


Figure 7

Figure 7


The ceramic types of the Early Islamic period, as well as the few remains of installations and architecture, do not reflect the turmoil of the period that is suggested by the textual accounts regarding southern Palestine. In 750 CE the region fell under the control of the ‘Abbasids, but throughout the ninth and tenth centuries was periodically conquered and re-conquered by forces from Egypt (Tulunids, Ikhshids, and eventually Fatimids). At this time (in the late tenth century) al-Muqaddasi describes Jaffa as “a small town, although the emporium of Palestine and the port of Ar Ramlah. It is protected by an impregnable fortress, with iron gates; and the sea-gates also are of iron. The mosque is pleasant to the eye, and overlooks the sea. The harbor is excellent” (Le Strange 1886: 54). The Fatimids then struggled to keep the region out of the hands of Qarmati forces, Bedouin raiders, and eventually (and unsuccessfully), Seljuk armies (Sharon 2001).

By the end of the Early Islamic period, that is in the eleventh century, ceramic types reflect connections with southern Lebanon, as seen particularly in glazed and sometimes incised redware bowls made famous by the Ser?e Limani shipwreck (Figure 8, e.g., Avissar and Stern 2005: Fig. 1., Type I.1.1; Jenkins 1992). Other types possibly made in southern Lebanon are cooking pots, of both the shallow pan shape and the deep globular variety, usually with brown glaze in the interior of the base (Figure 9, cf. Arnon 2007: Fig. 15:2; Avissar 1996: 139, Fig. XIII.00:1, Type 13; el-Masri 1997: Fig. 4; Stacey 2004: fig. 5.32:14). By this time documents found in the Cairo Geniza indicate that Jaffa was engaged in exporting the olive oil of Ramla, and also sat on a minor trade route that ran between Alexandria and Constantinople (Goldberg 2005).

Figure 8

Figure 8


Figure 9

Figure 9


In 1099 Frankish armies took Jaffa and it became the port of Jerusalem, the capital of the Latin Kingdom. Jaffa became the seat of the County of Jaffa (to become the County of Jaffa and Ascalon after the latter fell in 1153). Various entities owned portions of the city, such as the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Pisans, and the Templars and Hospitallers (Richard 1979: 74-75, 87, 99, 270?71). Despite the violence of the transfer of power, and indeed the violence of the preceding century, the theme once again visible in the archaeology of Jaffa is that of continuity. Certain elements of the town plan and infrastructure remained the same for long periods of time, such as streets (Peilstöcker, et al. 2006). Other installations also had a long history, although function may have changed over time. For example, the aforementioned wine press built in the Byzantine period and used into the Early Islamic period functioned as a storage facility from the later Early Islamic through the entire Crusader period (Peilstöcker, et al. 2006). Some houses in the lower town were used from the end of the Byzantine period to end of Crusader era (Peilstöcker, et al. 2006). Nevertheless there are also detectable changes, as the lower town was walled for the first time, and in some parts of it Early Islamic remains were razed to make room for new structures (Arbel 2008; Peilstöcker, et al. 2006).

The ceramics of the Crusader Era at Jaffa, like those at Acre, can be divided into early and later assemblages, mainly based upon imported types, the dates of which are known from excavations outside of southern Palestine. The early assemblage at Jaffa, which dates from the beginning of the twelfth to the early thirteenth century, has been recovered from few contexts, the nature of which is not always clear (see, e.g., Burke and Stern Forthcoming). At the beginning of this period Jaffa was still the port of Jerusalem, but after the latter’s fall to Salah al-Din in 1187, the port of Acre became the capital of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, having already surpassed Jaffa in importance to Mediterranean trade and the trade of the Latin Kingdom some time in the twelfth century, due to its much better harbor (Jacoby 1997: 157; 1998). As we know it so far, the early assemblage at Jaffa is comprised of 70% ceramics of regional origin (none has yet been identified as having been manufactured in Jaffa) and 30% imports, the latter of which are almost all comprised of table wares made in the Aegean region (figure 10), with a minority of pottery types—all amphorae—originating in the Black Sea area. Both regions were under the control of the Byzantine Empire at the time. Of the regionally-made ceramics, 85% demonstrate continuity with the Early Islamic assemblage, as they most likely have an origin in southern Lebanon (Burke and Stern Forthcoming). These include more of the “Ser?e Limani bowls” mentioned above, but also tablewares of the same or similar red fabric that are decorated in numerous ways: monochrome brown glaze, slip-paint under a clear or yellowish glaze, splashed slip under yellow and often green glaze, and those that are dipped in a thin slip or wash, often incised, and glazed monochrome yellow or green (figure 11). Cooking vessels of similar but sandier fabric also continue the Early Islamic tradition, appearing in either in the form of a pan or globular pot, with thin walls, a variety of rather simple rim forms, and brown glaze on the interior base or the entire interior (figure 12, cf. Arnon 2008: 48, 53, 328?29, 73, Types 761 and 75; Avissar and Stern 2005: Type II.2.3.1, Fig. 41:1?2). The remainder of the regionally-made ceramics was either made in Acre (figure 13) or is of unknown origin (Burke and Stern Forthcoming).

Figure 10

Figure 10


Figure 11

Figure 11


Figure 12

Figure 12


Figure 13

Figure 13


The later Crusader ceramic assemblage at Jaffa dates from the early to mid-thirteenth century. Of the regional types (still 70% of the assemblage), now 89% originate in southern Lebanon. Of these the tablewares remain largely the same while the cooking wares have become thicker-walled, with thickened, sometimes modeled rims, and brown glaze on the entire interior up to the rim (figure 14, Arnon 2008: Types 772a and 75, pp. 373?74; Avissar and Stern 2005: Types II.2.1.4 and II.2.3.2, Figs. 39:7?8 and 41:3). The remainder of the regional types is either from Acre, elsewhere in southern Palestine, or of unknown origin (figure 15).


Figure 14

Figure 14


Figure 15

Figure 15


By the thirteenth century trade among the Crusader states, Byzantium, Egypt, and other parts of the Mediterranean world was well established, and the imported types reflect Jaffa’s participation in local, regional, and long-distance trade (Burke and Stern Forthcoming; Richard 1979: 74?75, 85?86, 201). The proportion of imports is still 30%, but now includes types known from Syria, Cyprus (figure 16), Italy, France, Spain or North Africa, and Egypt, in addition to Aegean and Black Sea types. The Byzantine world is reflected in well-known types such as Zeuxippus ware and Port St. Symeon ware (figure 17). Trade with the western Mediterranean is seen, for example, in Proto-Maiolica from Italy and Cobalt and Manganese ware from North Africa (figure 18).


Figure 16

Figure 16


Figure 17

Figure 17


Figure 18

Figure 18


The transition from Frankish to Mamluk rule in Jaffa according to the archaeological evidence so far shows that the lower town was primarily used as a burial ground (e.g., Arbel 2008; Peilstöcker 2009; Peilstöcker and Burke 2009; Peilstöcker, et al. 2006; Talmi 2009). Mamluk occupation may be expected closer to the center of the site, on top of the tell, or near the port. Depending on the nature of future excavations, the ceramic picture of early Mamluk Jaffa will most likely continue to show continuity in the regionally-made cooking wares, and a picture of Mediterranean trade that shows initial diminution but subsequent steady revival throughout the period (Ashtor 1974: 30; 1976: 677–81; Buhl and Bosworth 2002: 234?35; Day 2002: 812; Hütteroth and Abdulfattah 1977: 95).

Katherine Strange Burke

Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA


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[1] The working photographs shown in this and all subsequent figures are shown courtesy of the excavators, Yoav Arbel and Martin Peilstöcker.

[2] As minimal references are provided here, further references for these and all subsequent pottery types mentioned can be found in Burke and Stern (Forthcoming).