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  • After 1918Themes in the Archaeology of the British Mandate Period in Palestine
  • Steven A Rosen (bio)

An Exercise in Historical Archaeology

With the explicit and specific focus on the British Mandate period in Palestine, the eight articles in this issue of JEMAHS explore a period little investigated in the archaeology of the region. The explanation for this dearth of study is probably best found in the historical origins of archaeological practice in the region, motivated first by biblical connections and later by state building and the construction of identity, to neither of which the Mandate period—nor for that matter the Late Ottoman period—is relevant. As Saidel and Erickson-Gini indicate in their introduction, materials postdating 1700 CE are not even protected by the Israel Antiquities Law, indeed itself a legacy of British presence. There is great importance in merely addressing this scarcity.

The studies presented here are situated chronologically, methodologically, and in terms of subject matter in the general realm of "historical archaeology," defined by its practitioners as the archaeology of colonialism, the archaeology of the post-1492 Americas, or, generally, the archaeology of capitalism (Hall and Silliman 2009; Leone 1995; Orser 2013). Beyond chronological coincidence, the assumption behind these definitions is the existence of shared and interrelated historical themes and trajectories including the rise of modern world systems, mercantilism, and capitalism; the rise of European colonial systems with their concomitants of slave economies and consequent diaspora cultures; the impacts of the industrial revolution, including, of course, both the technologies and the social displacements; and the legacies of the collapses, destructions, and transformations of indigenous societies. Of course, methodologically, historical archaeology also integrates with texts and other forms of documentation such as drawings, photographs, and films, not to mention oral histories, even more deeply and completely than the archaeologies of earlier periods with less complete historical documentation.

In engaging with all aspects of these defining themes, the articles presented here offer a new relevance to the archaeology of the region, even if it is an archaeology only recently discovered. Thus, reviewing each of the above motifs, the issue of world systems and international connections is especially evident in the presence of imported goods and stylistic elements, as in Arbel's study of premodern Jaffa and in the two studies of the Qālūnyā village (Kisilivetz et al.; Saidel, Erickson-Gini, and Mashiah). This, of course, ties directly into general European colonial expansion, inherent to the very definition of the British Mandate period but especially notable in Chetrit's exploration of British picquet outposts, as well as references to military presence by both the Turks and the British, for example, around Beersheba (Eisenberg-Degen and Hevroni) and the [End Page 200] Hesi region (Blakely). The impacts of technological change and the industrial revolution are reflected in the replacement of wells in Jaffa by modern water infrastructures, in the industrialization of ceramic production at Faluja (Israel and Saidel), and in the impact of the railroad and the internal combustion engine in the Hesi region (Blakely). Behind all of this, the general demographic expansion, accompanied by increasing economic prosperity, which began in the Late Ottoman period but achieved a peak during the Mandate period, is seen in the growth of Jaffa (Arbel) and Qālūnyā (Kisilevitz et al.; Saidel, Erickson-Gini, and Mashiah) and in the rise of Beersheba and its hinterland (Eisenberg-Degen and Hevroni). Finally, the destruction of indigenous cultures is evident in the mere fact that the analyses of Faluja (Israel and Saidel) and Qālūnyā (Kisilevitz et al.; Saidel, Erickson-Gini, and Mashiah) are analyses of abandoned and bulldozed remains.

Beyond Historical Archaeology

If historical archaeology as a subfield has tended to focus on the above themes, the articles here do not deal explicitly with them. The studies are nonetheless important. For example, the details of archaeological reconstructions are inherently important (especially in a journal with "heritage" in its title!), irrespective of whether they can be placed into some larger theoretical frame. For example, Fischer and Taxel in their analyses of the Yavneh Sands and Nabi Rubin offer convincing interpretations for small-scale presence and agricultural practice probably never mentioned in historical records...


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pp. 200-203
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