The Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowships offer funded independent research in the humanities. We're highlighting the research of this year's fellows in a series of online profiles.
Alix Galumbeck '21, Classical Cultures and Societies, Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology: "Partners in Crime? Deconstructing Ethnicity to Identify a Connection between the Denyen and the Peleset"
Abstract: Material culture is sometimes used to determine and identify an ancient population’s identity and ethnicity. Currently, many scholars associate Aegean-style pottery made from local southern Levantine clay with the "Sea Peoples" based on evidence from early 12th-century BCE Egyptian and sixth-century BCE Biblical texts. By analyzing the ceramic assemblages from two Levantine Iron IB sites, Azor and Miqne-Ekron, allegedly associated with two subgroups of the "Sea Peoples," the Denyen and the Peleset, the relationship between material culture and group identity can be explored alongside one another in order to unpack previous interpretations around identity and ethnicity in the Iron Age Southern Levant. This comparative case study of Azor and Ekron will attempt to answer whether the Denyen—associated with the Israelite tribe, Dan—and the Peleset—believed to be the Biblical Philistines—have some sort of connection, and, if so, whether approaches which use material culture to identify ethnicity are tenable. The findings of this research will help challenge current narratives of identity in the southern Levant and move the scholarship forward by exploring the cultural interactions between the "Sea Peoples" and the local populations.
Was there anything surprising about the work you did for your project?
I think what was most surprising is the reliance on Egyptian and Biblical texts for knowledge on this time period. There is no real textual record of the ethnicities of the Denyen or Peleset from the Iron Age. The ethnicities of these people have been assigned by scholars based on texts from the centuries surrounding the Iron Age but not that era itself. My research has shown that since much of our understanding of the "Sea Peoples" is from non-contemporary sources, the Denyen and Peleset are assigned ethnicities which they never identified with. Those whom scholars call the Philistines may be a different group entirely and the lack of contemporary texts has allowed information to be brushed aside. The need to define ethnicity for this project was also surprising and difficult. It was a very active process to define ethnicity for the context of this project, but I want to better understand who the "Sea Peoples" really were, not whom modern scholars describe them as.
How will you use your research in future studies?
My thesis will continue with the research I have conducted for this project but more specifically at burial sites from the Iron Age. Azor is one of only a few Iron Age organized burial sites, others are scattered or were shallow and are fully decomposed. My thesis will research where burials from this time period are as well as the idea that absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence. The lack of burial sites contributes to confusion on the true identities of the Denyen and the Peleset, which I want to investigate further.
How did you choose your research topic?
I was originally interested in studying the history of the "Sea Peoples." I wanted to know more about the misconception that the "Sea Peoples" were a significant cause of the collapse of the Bronze Age through looting and plundering sites on the Levantine coast. I did a previous project on the Peleset in a graduate seminar with Jennie Bradbury where I studied the connection between the Peleset and the Biblical Philistines. The Denyen are also often associated with the Israelite tribe of Dan and the Philistines are the ancestors of Palestine. Being Jewish and having that personal connection to this project, I wanted to examine how these groups who worked together in the past moved into their current political conflicts. Through this, I began to look more closely at their ethnicities and identities for this research.
The Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowships offer funded independent research in the humanities. Each summer, Bryn Mawr College awards up to 15 students a summer fellowship of $4,500 to undertake an independent research project in the humanities or humanistic social sciences. The research may either be the beginning of the senior thesis or a project that stands alone, but is relevant to their intellectual interests and must be supported by a faculty advisor.