Skeuomorphism, Boundary Objects and Socialization of the Chalcolithic Metallurgy in the Southern Levant

  • Milena Gošić Archaeological Division Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Ghassulian culture, Levant, Chalcolithic metallurgy, ritual, skeuomorphism, boundary objects, socialization


Metalworking emerged in the southern Levant as a new ritual practice during the late phase of the Ghassulian culture, ca. 4300–3900 BC. Ghassulian metalworkers cast objects in both pure and alloyed copper. All the artifacts produced during this time span were ritual. The aim of the present paper is to discuss the socialization process of the Ghassulian metallurgy and its copper objects, by using the concepts of skeuomorphism and boundary objects. Ghassulian copper artifacts can be divided into two groups. The first group consists of artifacts, such as maceheads, chisels and axes, which were produced in stone before the Ghassulian metallurgy appeared. The second group consists of artifacts produced only in metal, including scepters, standards, “crowns” and horns, which were decorated by motifs found on various other early and late Ghassulian ritual artifacts. The artifacts of the first group are skeuomorphic objects, the morphology of which was widely recognized in early and late Ghassulian contexts. These were boundary objects, belonging both to the realm of the new social world of metallurgy and the preexisting world of Ghassulian ritual behavior. Their purpose was to introduce metallurgy to people, both in the Beer Sheva settlements and in other parts of the southern Levant, who did not practice it, as a technology firmly rooted in the Ghassulian tradition. The second group consists of more innovative objects that demonstrated the transformational potential of metallurgy and the superior control metalworkers had over the material world


Alon , David. 1977. A Chalcolithic temple at Gilath. Biblical Archaeologist 40: 63–65.
Alon, David. 1990. Cult artifacts from Gilat and relations with northern Edom in the Chalcolithic period. ‘Atiqot 10: 1–12. (Hebrew).
Alon, David, and Thomas E. Levy. 1989. The archaeology of cult and the Chalcolithic sanctuary at Gilat. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 2: 163–221.
Amiran, Ruth. 1986. A new type of Chalcolithic ritual vessel and some implications for the Nahal Mishmar hoard. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 262: 83–87.
Bar-Adon , Pesah. 1980. The Cave of the Treasure. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.
Beck, Pirhiya. 1989. “Notes on the Style and Iconography of the Chalcolithic Hoard from Nahal Mishmar.” In Essays in Ancient Civilizations Presented to J. Helene Kantor, eds. Albert Jr. Leonard and Bruce Beyer Williams, 39–54. Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
Bender, Barbara. 2000. “The roots of inequality.” In Interpretative Archaeology: A Reader, ed. Julian Thomas, 201–210. London: Leicester University Press.
Bourke, Stephen J., Ewan Lawson, Jaimie L. Lovell, Quan Hua, Ugo Zoppi, and Michael Barbetti. 2001. The chronology of the Ghassulian period in the Southern Levant: new 14C determinations from Teleilat Ghassul, Jordan. Radiocarbon 43: 1217–1222.
Bourke, Stephen J., Jaimie L. Lovell, Rachael Sparks, Peta Seaton, Lachlan Mairs, and John Meadows. 2000. The second and third seasons of renewed excavations by the University of Sydney at Tulaylat Ghassul (1995–1997). Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 44: 37–89.
Bronk Ramsey, Chr istopher, Marian E. Scott, and Johannes van der Plicht. 2013. Calibration for Archaeological and Environmental Terrestrial Samples in the Time Range 26–50 ka cal BP. Radiocarbon 55 (4): 2021–2027.
Carbonell, Eudald, Marina Mosquera, and Xosé Pedro Rodríguez. 2007. The emergence of technology: A cultural step or long-term evolution? C. R. Palevol 6: 231–233.
Carmi, Israel. 1996. “Radiocarbon dates.” In The Nahal Qanah Cave, Earliest Gold in the Southern Levant, eds. Avi Gopher and Tsvika Tsuk, 205–208. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University.
Carmi, Israel, and Elisabe tta Boaretto. 2004. “Determination Of Age Using The 14C Method.” In Giv’at ha-Oranim. A Chalcolithic Site, eds. N. Scheftelowitz and R. Oren, 127. Tel Aviv: Emery and Claire Yass Publications in Archaeology of the Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University.
Carmi, Israel, and Dror Sega l. 2005. “The Radiocarbon Dates from Cave 4.” In Shoham (North). Late Chalcolithic Burial Cave in the Lod Valley, Israel, ed. by Edwin van den Brink and Ram Gophna, 163. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority.
Clark, John E. 2000. “Towards a better explanation of hereditary inequality: A critical assessment of natural and historic human agents.” In Agency in Archaeology, eds. Marcia-Anne Dobres and John E. Robb, 92–112. London: Routledge.
Commenge, Cathrine, Thomas E. Lev y, David Alon, and Eric Kansa. 2006. “Gilat’s Figurines: Exploring the Social and Symbolic Dimesions of Representation.” In Archaeology, Anthropology and Cult. The Sanctuary at Gilat, Israel, ed. Thomas E. Levy, 739–830. London: Equinox.
Eldar, Iiris, and Yonatan Baumgarten. 1985. Neve Noy, a Chalcolithic site of the Beer Sheba culture. Biblical Archaeologist 48: 134–139.
Elliott, Carolyn. 1977. The religious beliefs of the Ghassulians c. 4000–3100 B.C. Palestine Exploration Quarterly 109: 3–25.
Epstein, Claire. 1978. Aspects of symbolism in Chalcolithic Palestine. In Archaeology in the Levant. Essays for Kathleen Kenyon, eds. Roger Moorey and Peter Parr, 23–35. Warminster: Aris and Phillips Ltd.
Epstein, Claire. 1998. The Chalcolithic Culture of the Golan. Vol. 4, Israel Antiquities Authority Reports. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquity Authority.
Fabian, Peter. 2012. Horbat Qarqar. Preliminary Report. Excavations and Surveys in Israel 124.
Fontijn, David. 1996. Socializing Landscape. Archaeological Dialogues 3 (1): 77–87.
Frieman, Catherine J. 2012. Flint Daggers, Copper Daggers, and Technological Innovation in Late Neolithic Scandinavia. European Journal of Archaeology 15 (3): 440–464.
Frieman, Catherine J. 2013. “Innovation an d Identity: The Language and Reality of Prehistoric Imitation and Technological Change.” In Hybrid Material Culture: The Archaeology of Syncretism and Ethnogenesis, ed. Jeb J. Card, 318–341. Carbondale, IL: Center for Archaeological Investigations.
Gal, Zvi, Dina Shalem, and Howard Smithline. 2011. The Peqi‘in Cave: A Chalcolithic Cemetery in Upper Galilee, Israel. Near Eastern Archaeology 74 (4): 196–206.
Gal, Zvi, Howard Smithline, and Dina Shalem. 19 97. A Chalcolithic burial cave in Peqi’in, Upper Galilee. Israel Exploration Journal 47: 145–154.
Garfinkel, Yossi, Florian Klimscha, Sariel Shale v, and Danny Rosenberg. 2014. The Beginning of Metallurgy in the Southern Levant: A Late 6th Millennium CalBC Copper Awl from Tel Tsaf, Israel. PLoS ONE 9 (3),
Gates, M.-H. 1992. Nomadic pastoralists and the Chalcolithic hoard from Nahal Mishmar. Levant 24: 131–139.
Gell, Alfred. 1998. Art and Agency. An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Gilead, Isaac. 1988. The Chalcolithic period in the Levant. Journal of World Prehistory 2 (4): 397–443.
Gilead, Isaac. 1989. Grar: a Chalcolithic site in Nahal Grar, northern Negev, Israel. Journal of Field Archaeology 16: 377–394.
Gilead, Isaac. 1993. “Sociopolitical organization i n the Northern Negev at the end of the Chalcolithic period.” In Biblical Archaeology Today, 1990. Proceeding of the Second International Congress of Biblical Archaeology, eds. Avraham Biran and Joseph Aviram, 82–97. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.
Gilead, Isaac. 2007. “The Besorian: A Pre-Ghassulian Cultural Entity.” Paléorient 33: 33–49.
Gilead, Isaac. 2009. “The Neolithic-Chalcolithic Transition in the Southern Levant: Late Sixth-Fifth Millennium Culture History.” In Transitions in Prehistory: Essays in Honor of Ofer Bar-Yosef, eds. John J. Shea and Daniel E. Lieberman, 339–359. Oxford: Oxbow Books for the American Schools of Prehistoric Research.
Gilead, Isaac. 2011. “Chalcolithic culture history: the Ghassulian and other entities in the southern Levant.” In Culture, Chronology and the Chalcolithic. Theory and Transition, eds. Jaimie L. Lovell and Yorke M. Rowan, 12–24. Oxford: The Council for British Research in the Levant – Oxbow Books.
Gilead, Isaac, and Мilena Gošić. 2014. Fifty Years Later: a Criti cal Review of Context, Chronology and Anthropology of the Cave of the Hoard in Nahal Mishmar. Mitekufat Haeven – Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 44: 226–239.
Gilead, Isaac, Steven Rosen, and Peter Fabian. 1992. New archaeo-metallurgical evidence for the beginning of metallurgy in the southern Levant. Excavations at Tell Abu Matar Beersheba (Israel) 1990/1991. Institute for Archaeo-Metallurgical Studies 18: 11–14.
Golden, Jonathan M. 1998. The Dawn of the Metal Age. PhD. thesis, Anthropology Department, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
Golden, Jonathan M. 2009a. Dawn of the Metal Age. Technology and Society y during the Levantine Chalcolithic. London: Equinox.
Golden, Jonathan M. 2009b. New Light on the Development of Chalcolithic Metal Technology in the Southern Levant. Journal of World Prehistory 22 (3): 283–300.
Golden, Jonathan M., Thomas E. Levy, and Andreas Hauptmann. 2001. Recent Discoveries Concerning Chalcolithic Metallurgy at Shiqmim, Israel. Journal of Archaeological Science 28 (9): 951–963.
Gopher, Avi, and Tsvika Tsuk. 1996. The Nahal Qanah Cave, Earliest Gold i n the Southern Levant, Monographs Series of the Institute of Archaeology. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University.
Gophna, Ram, and Samuel Lifshitz. 1980. A Chalcolithic burial cave at Palmahim. ‘Atiqot 14: 1–8.
Goren, Yuval. 2008. The location of specialized copper production by the lost wax technique in the Chalcolithic southern Levant. Geoarchaeology 23 (3): 374–397.
Goren, Yuval, and Peter Fabian. 2002. Kissufim Road. A Chalcolithic Mortuary Site Edited by Israel Antiquities Authority. Vol. 16, Israel Antiquities Authority Reports. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority.
Gošić, Мilena, and Isaac Gilead. 2015. “Casting the Sacred – Chalcolithic Metallurgy and Ritual in the Southern Levant.” In Defining the Sacred: Approaches to the Archaeology of Religion in the Near East, ed. Nicola Laneri, 161–175. Oxford: Oxbow.
Hauptmann, Andreas. 1989. “The Earliest Periods of Copper Metallurgy in Feinan/Jordan.” In Old World Archaeometallurgy: proceedings of the International Symposium “Old World Archaeometallurgy”, Heidelberg 1987, eds. Andreas Hauptmann, Ernst Pernicka and Günter A. Wagner, 119–136. Bochum: Selbstverlag des Deutschen Bergbau-Museums.
Hauptmann, Andreas. 2000. Zur frühen Metallurgie des Kupfers in Fenan (Jordanien). Bochum: Deutsches Bergbau Museum.
Hauptmann, Andreas. 2007. The Archaeometallurgy of Copper. Evidence from Faynan, Jordan . Berlin: Springer-verlag.
Hennessy, John B. 1969. Preliminary report on the first season of excavations at Teleil at Ghassul. Levant 1: 1–24.
Hermon, Sorin. 2008. Socio-economic aspects of Chalcolithic (4500–3500 BC) societies in the southern Levant: a lithic perspective. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Ilani, Shimon, and Amnon Rosenfeld. 1994. Ore Source of Arsenic Copper Tools from Israel during Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age. Terra Nova 6: 177–179.
Joffe, Alexander H., J. P. Dessel, and Rachel S. Hallote. 2001. The “Gilat Woman” female iconography, Chalcolithic cult and the end of southern Levantine prehistory. Near Eastern Archaeology 64: 9–23.
Johnson, Matthew H. 2000. “Conceptions of agency in archaeological interpretations.” In Interpretative Archaeology: A reader, ed. Julian Thomas, 211–227. London: Leicester University Press.
Jones, Siân. 2007. “Discourses of identity in the interpretation of the past.” In The Archaeology of Identities: A Reader, ed. Timothy Insoll, 44–58. London: Routledge.
Joyce, Rosemary A. 2007. “Girling the girl and boying the boy. The production of adulthood in ancient Mesoamerica.” In The Arcaheology of Identities: A Reader, ed. Timothy Insoll, 78–86. London: Routledge.
Key, C. A. 1980. “The trace-element composition of the copper and copper alloy artifacts of the Nahal Mishmar hoard.” In The Cave of the Treasures, Pessah Bar-Adon, 238–243. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.
Knappett, Carl. 2002. Photographs, Skeuomorphs and Marionettes. Some Thoughts on Mind, Agency and Object. Journal of Material Culture 7 (1): 97–117.
Knappett, Carl, and Lambros Malafouris. 2008. Material Agency. Towards a Non-Anthropocentric Approach. New York: Springer.
Levy, Thomas E. 1986. The Chalcolithic period. Archaeological Sources for the History of Palestine. Biblica l Archaeologist 49: 82–108.
Levy, Thomas E. 1995. “Cult, metallurgy and ranked societies – the Chalcolithic period (ca. 4500–3500 BCE).” In The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land, ed. Thomas E. Levy, 226–245. London: Leicester University Press.
Levy, Thomas E. 2006. Archaeology, Anthropology and Cult, the Sanctuary at Gilat, Israel. London: Equinox.
Levy, Thomas E., and Sariel Shalev. 1989. Prehistoric metalworking in the southern Levant: archaeometallurgical and social perspectives. World Archaeology 20: 352–372.
Mallon, Alexis, Robert Koeppel, and René Neuville. 1934. Teleilat Ghassul I. Rome: Institut Biblique Pontifical.
Merhav, Rivka. 1993. “Scepters of the divine from the Cave of the Treasure at Nahal Mishmar.” In Studies in the arch aeology and history of ancient Israel in honour of Moshe Dothan, eds. Michael Heltzer, Artur Segal and Daniel Kaufman, 21–42. Haifa: Haifa University Press. (Hebrew).
Milevski, Ianir. 2002. A new fertility figurine and new animal motifs from the Chalcolithic in the southern Levant: fin ds from cave K–1 at Quleh, Israel. Paléorient 28: 133–141.
Moorey, P. Roger S. 1988. The Chalcolithic hoard from Nahal Mishmar, Israel, in context. World Archaeology 20: 171–189.
Na mdar, Dvory, Irena Segal, Yuval Goren, and Sariel Shalev. 2004. “Chalcolithic Copper Artifacts.” In Giv’at ha-Oranim. A C halcolithic Site, eds. N. Scheftelowitz and R. Oren, 70–83. Tel Aviv: Emery and Claire Yass Publications in Archaeology of the Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University.
Neuville, René. 1930. Notes de Préhistore Palestinienne. The Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society 10: 193–221.
Olivier, La urent. 1999. The origins of French archaeology. Antiquity 73 (279): 176–183.
Perrot, Jean. 1955. The excavations at Tel l Abu Matar near Beersheba. Israel Exploration Journal 5: 17–40, 73–84, 167–189.
Perrot, Jean. 1959. Les statuettes en ivoire de Beershéva. Syria 34: 6–19.
Perrot, Jean, and Daniel Ladiray. 1980. Tombes à Ossuaries de la Région Côtiere Palestinienne au IVe Millénaire Avant l’ère Chrétiene. Paris: Association Paléorient.
Potaszkin, R. and K. Bar-Avi. 1980. “A material investigation of the metal objects from the Nahal Mishmar treasure.” In The Cave of the Treasure, ed. by Pessah Bar-Adon, 235–237. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.
Reimer, Paula J., Edouard Bard, Alex Bayliss, J. Warren Beck, Paul G. Blackwell, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Caitlin E. Buck, Hai Cheng, R. Lawrence Edwards, Michael Friedrich, Pieter M. Grootes, Thomas P. Guilderson, Haflidi Haflidason, Irka Hajdas, Christine Hatté, Timothy J. Heaton, Dirk L. Hoffmann, Alan G. Hogg, Konrad A. Hughen, K. Felix Kaiser, Bernd Kromer, Sturt W. Manning, Mu Niu, Ron W. Reimer, David A. Richards, E. Marian Scott, John R. Southon, Richard A. Staff, Christian S. M. Turney, and Johannes van der Plicht. 2013. IntCal13 and Marine13 Radiocarbon Age Calibration Curves 0–50,000 Years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55 (4): 1869–1887.
Roberts, Benjamin W, and Catherine J. Frieman. 2012. “Drawing boundaries and building models: investigating the concept of the ‘Chalcolithic frontier’ in Northwest Europe.” In Is there a British Chalcolithic: people, place and polity in the later 3rd millennium, eds. Michael J. Allen, Julie Gardiner and Alison Sheridan, 27–39. Oxford: Oxbow.
Rosen, Steven A. 1997. Lithics After the Stone Age. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press.
Rosen, Steven A. 2002. “Invention as the Mother of Necessity: An Archaeological Examination of the Origins and Development of Pottery and Metallurgy in the Levant.” In Eureka: The Archaeology of Innovation and Science, eds. Roman Harrison, Milan Gillespie and Meaghan Peuramki-Brown, 11–21. Calgary: Chacmool Society – University of Calgary Press.
Rosen, Steven A. 2011. “Desert Chronologies and Periodization Systems.” In Culture, Chronology and the Chalcolithic. Theory and Transitions, eds. Jaimie L. Love ll and Yorke M. Rowan, 71–83. Oxford: The Council for the British Research in the Levant – Oxbow Books.
Rosenberg, Danny. 2010. Early Maceheads in the Southern Levant: A “Chalcolithic” Hallmark in Neolithic Context. Journal of Field Archaeology 35 (2): 204–216.
Rothenberg, B. 1991. The Ghassulian-Beersheva Chalcolithic Enigma. Institute for Archaeo-Metallurgical Studies 17: 6–7.
Rothenberg, B., and J. Glass. 1992. The beginnings and the development of early metallurgy and the settlement and chronology of western Arabah, from the Chalcolithic per iod to the Early Bronze Age IV. Levant 24: 141–157.
Rowan, Yorke M., and Jonathan M. Golden. 2009. The Chalcolithic Period of the Southern Levant: A Synthetic Review. Journal of World Prehistory 22 (1): 1–92.
Rowan, Yorke M., Thomas E. Levy, David Alon, and Yuval Goren. 2006. “Gilat’s Ground Stone Assemblage: Stone Fenestrated Stands, Bowls, Palettes and Related Artifacts.” In Archaeology, Anthropology and Cult. The Sanctuary at Gilat, Israel, ed. Thomas E. Levy, 575–684. London: Equinox.
Rowlands, Michael. 2007. “The politics of identity in archaeology.” In The Arcaheology of Identities: A Reader, ed. Timothy Insoll, 59–71. London: Routledge.
Scheftelowitz, Na’ama. 2004. “Stone Artefacts.” In Giv`at Ha-Oranim. A Chalcolithic Site. Salvage Excavations Report 1, eds. N. Scheftelowitz and R. Oren, 59–69. Tel Aviv: Emer y and Claire Yass Publications in Archaeology of the Institute of Archaeology.
Segal, Dror, Israel Carmi, Zvi Gal, Howard Smithline, and Dina Shalem. 1998. Dating a Chalcolithic burial cave in Peqi’in, Upper Galilee, Israel. Radiocarbon 40: 707–712.
Segal, I . 2002. The Copper Axe at Cave V/49. Atiqot 41: 99–100.
Shalem, Dina, Zvi Gal, and Howard Smithline. 2013. Peqi’in. A Late Chalcolithic Burial Site, Upper Galilee, Israel, Land of Galilee. Kinneret: Kinneret Academic Collage – Institute for Galilean Archaeology – Ostracon.
Shalev, Sariel. 1991. “Two different copper industries in the Chalcolithic culture of Israel.” In Decouverte du Metal, eds. Christiane Eluere and Jean-Pierre Mohen, 413–424. Paris: Picard.
Shalev, Sariel, Yuval Goren, Thomas E. Levy, and Peter J. Northover. 1992. A Chalcolithic M ace Head from the Negev, Israel: Technological Aspects and Cultural Implications. Archaeometry 34: 63–71.
Shalev, Sariel, and Peter J. Northover. 1987. “Chalcolithic metalworking from Shiqmim.” In S hiqmim I, Studies Concerning Chalcolithic Societies in the Northern Negev Desert, Israel (1982–1984), ed. Thomas E. Levy, 357–371. Oxford: B.A.R.
Shalev, Sariel, and Peter J. Northover. 1993. The Metallurgy of the Nahal Mishmar Hoard Reconsidered. Archaeometry 35: 35–41.
Shugar, Aaron N. 1998. Recent Research in Chalcolithic Metallurgy: Investigation of Abu Matar, Israel. International Mining and Minerals 1 (5): 114–116.
Shugar, Aaron N. 2000. Archaeometallurgical investigation of the Chalcolithic site of Abu Matar, Israel: a reassessment of technology and its implications for the Ghassulian culture. Ph.D. thesis, Institute of Archaeology, University College London, London.
Shugar, Aaron N. 2001. “Chalcolithic Metallurgy in the Southern Levant: Recent Research in Ore Selection and Alloying.” In The Proceedings of the Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations Graduate Students’ Association Annual Symposia 1998–2000, 77–96. Benben Publications.
Shugar, Aaron N. 2003. “Reconstructing the Chalcolithic Metallurgical Process at Abu Matar, Israel.” In Archaeometallurgy in Europe Conference, 449–458. Milan: Associazione Italiana di Metallurgia.
Star, Susan Leigh, and James R. Griesemer. 1989. Institutional Ecology, ʻTranslationsʼ and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907–39. Social Studies of Science 19 (3): 387–420.
Tadmor, Miriam. 1989. “The Judean Desert Treasure from Nahal Mishmar: A Chalcolithic Traders’ Hoard?” In Essays in Ancient Civilization presented to Helen J. Kantor, eds. Albert Jr. Leonard and Bruce Beyer Williams, 249–261. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
Tadmor, Miriam, Dan Kedem, Friedrich Begemann, Andreas Hauptmann, Ernst Pernicka, and Sigrid Schmitt-Strecker. 1995. The Nahal Mishmar Hoard from the Judean Desert: Technology, Composition, and Provenance. ‘Atiqot 27: 96–148.
Trompette, Pascale, and Dominique Vinck. 2009. Revisiting the notion of Boundary Object. Revue d’anthropologie de s connaissances 3 (1): 3–25.
Yellin, Joseph, Thomas E. Levy, and Yorke M. Rowan. 1996. New Evidence on Prehistoric Trade Routes: The Obsidian Evidence from Gilat, Israel. Journal of Field Archaeology 23 (3): 361–368.
How to Cite
Gošić, M. (2016). Skeuomorphism, Boundary Objects and Socialization of the Chalcolithic Metallurgy in the Southern Levant. Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology, 10(3), 717-740.