Friday, February 20, 2009


The following words originally appeared on pages 1-8 of:

Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization (SAOC)

book cover

SAOC 59.

Studies in the Archaeology of Israel and Neighboring Lands in Memory of Douglas L. Esse.

Samuel R. Wolff, ed.

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Joint Publication of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (SAOC 59) and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR Books, No. 5). The studies in this impressive volume of over 700 pages are presented in memory of Douglas L. Esse, an archaeologist and assistant professor at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago until his untimely death at the age of forty-two on October 13, 1992. Esse was one of the foremost authorities on the Early Bronze Age period in the Levant, which is reflected in the publication of his Oriental Institute doctoral dissertation entitled Subsistence, Trade, and Social Change in Early Bronze Age Palestine (SAOC 50, 1991). The majority of the thirty-four chapters in this volume are concerned with the study of the Early Bronze Age, and some chapters deal with periods and issues that pre-date and post-date the Early Bronze Age, as all of the forty-six authors selected to contribute to this volume were either colleagues or students of Esse and some were not primarily Early Bronze Age specialists. Chapter One includes three "Tributes" to Esse by L. E. Stager, A. Ben-Tor, and D. Saltz that assess the impact of Esse's scholarship, excellence in fieldwork, and the friendship he showed to all of those with whom he worked. Many of the chapters are concerned with ceramic studies from various historical periods, while other chapters deal with burial customs, cult, chronology, social organization, cylinder seal impressions, faunal studies, metrology, architecture, radiocarbon determinations, and maritime trade. The Israelite sites that figure prominently in these studies include Tel Maahaz, Tel Dor, Megiddo, Arad, Ai, Tel Yaqush, Nahal Tillah, Beit Yerah, Illin Tahtit, and Ashkelon. The geographical areas that are investigated include the Soreq Basin, the Akko Plain, the Jezreel Valley, the Dead Sea Plain, and the Carmel Coast and Ramat Menashe regions in Israel and Jordan; external studies are concerned with material from Egypt, the site of Alishar Höyük in Turkey, Tell el-Umeiri in Jordan as well as with pottery connections in Arabia. One chapter is concerned with the latest historical periods, which discusses the Persian and Muslim conquests in Palestinian archaeology. This volume should especially appeal to all of those who are interested in the archaeology and history of the Early Bronze Age period in Israel and its neighboring lands, but there is also much to contemplate about the origins of human settlement, the ceramics of fourth millennium Canaan, burial customs of the early second millennium, the Middle Bronze Age at Megiddo, the faunal evidence between the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, and regional aspects of some Iron Age pottery.

  • Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 59
  • Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 2001
  • ISBN 1-885923-15-5
  • Pp. xviii + 704, 184 figures, 21 plates, 46 tables
  • Paperbound 9 x 11.75 in / 23 x 30 cm
  • $95.00



Lawrence E. Stager
Harvard University

* This remembrance is based on a tribute I gave to honor Douglas Esse at a memorial service held in Hyde Park (Chicago) on 26 October 1992, and on another, “In Memoriam: Douglas L. Esse,” Biblical Archaeology Review 19 (1993): 20–21. I am grateful to Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, for permission to reprint portions from the latter.

Douglas L. Esse, archaeologist, assistant professor, and foremost authority on the Early Bronze Age Levant, died October 13, 1992 at home with his family in Hyde Park, Chicago, after a long battle with stomach cancer. He was forty-two years old.

I knew Doug for more than a decade and a half: first as a student at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, then as a colleague in the field and in the classroom, and throughout as a very best friend. He began his fieldwork in 1975 at Tel Dan and Tel Qiri in Israel and continued to develop as a stratigrapher and strategist in the following year, when he joined our staff at Carthage. By the time we launched the Ashkelon project a decade later, where Doug served as associate director and as director of the lab in Jerusalem (now in Ashkelon), he had become one of the very best excavators I have ever known. Few archaeologists could excavate the backfill of robber trenches the way he could and retrieve in negative form so many coherent building plans. With his sharp eye for stratigraphy and attention to relevant details (duly recorded), Doug was able to trace room after room of a warehouse, where not a single foundation stone remained, only the “ghost walls” and the backfill left by stone robbers. Today we recognize this as one of several seaside warehouses destroyed by Ptolemy I shortly after 300 b.c. Their stone foundations stood still visible above ground until they were robbed out and recycled some fifteen hundred years later.

Through his meticulous excavation and recording, he was able to recover dozens of unbaked clay cylinders at Ashkelon, which, when found in rows, indicated they had fallen from a vertical loom in a weaving factory. Since this type of loom weight is totally alien to the Canaanite culture, these homely artifacts have become valuable documents for tracing the Philistines back to their Aegean homeland, where these mud cylinders are found in abundance at Minoan and Mycenaean sites (see my “The Impact of the Sea Peoples in Canaan [1185–1050 b.c.e. ],” in The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land [1995], ed. T. E. Levy, New York and Ashkelon Discovered [1991]).

Before Ashkelon, in the early 1980s, we traveled as two companions searching for tells to excavate, first in Syria, then in Turkey. Doug was a wonderful traveling companion, generous, quick-witted and endowed with a wonderful sense of humor—the latter was always very much needed in the situations we often found ourselves. On our way to Harran where we hoped to launch a major Oriental Institute project but had our hopes dashed at the last minute, we stopped in Urfa and there decided to visit a grotto which, according to Muslim tradition, had been visited by the Patriarch Abraham (or Ibrahim). Inside the dark, dank cave was a pool filled with sacred fish. From out of the shadows appeared the keeper holding a ladle. Doug and I looked at each other somewhat uneasily. (Together we might have had a vocabulary of perhaps a dozen words in Turkish.) The keeper dipped the ladle in the pool and in a friendly gesture offered a drink to Doug and me. We automatically asked in English, “What is it?” We thought he responded by saying “sewage.” With pained expressions we knew that we had no choice but to receive his hospitality and take a drink. We then ran back to the hotel wondering when disaster would strike. The hotel manager asked us what was the matter, we told him the episode and he burst out laughing and then told us not to worry—“sewage” was not English but Turkish; su iç means “water—drink it!”

Doug received his M.A. in 1977 and his Ph.D. in 1982 “with distinction” from the University of Chicago, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. I had the privilege of serving as primary reader of his doctoral dissertation, which he revised as a book, Subsistence, Trade, and Social Change in Early Bronze Age Palestine (SAOC 50, Oriental Institute Press, 1991). It is a tour de force, a grand synthesis that analyzes the rise and fall of civilization in Palestine from about 3500 to 2200 b.c. Using the material from Beth Yerah excavated by Professors P. Delougaz and Helene Kantor in 1963 and 1964, Doug shows us how to move from the particular to the general, from potsherds to international trading networks, as he turns “heaps of broken images” into patterns that give us glimpses of the unbroken reality behind the sherds and scraps of evidence. The renowned archaeologist William Dever graciously sent Doug an advance copy of his review of the book, now published in the Journal of the American Oriental Society (vol. 112 [1992]: 495–96). Dever proclaimed Doug’s book a masterpiece of archaeological analysis and exposition—a model for us all.

His most succinct and theoretically sophisticated statement of the problem appears in “Secondary State Formation and Collapse in Early Bronze Age Palestine” published in L’urbanisation de la Palestine de l’âge du Bronze ancien (ed. P. de Miroschedji, Oxford: Biblical Archaeology Review International Series 527 [1989]: 81–96). There Doug explains how Egypt catapulted Canaan into its First Urban Age through economic and cultural stimulus. Commenting on the proceedings, the distinguished prehistorian Jean Perrot considered this piece the highlight of the conference.

In 1987 Doug was well on his way toward the summit of academic success: he was appointed Assistant Professor of Syro-Palestinian Archaeology at the Oriental Institute. Just two years later he was diagnosed with cancer. Nevertheless in 1989 he launched the Oriental Institute expedition to Tel Yaqush in the Jordan Valley, where for three seasons he and his students investigated Early Bronze Age lifeways. At the same time he continued to teach, do research, and publish. He was an excellent teacher, regarded with affection and esteem by students and colleagues alike. And there is little doubt that given a couple more years, Doug would have attained tenure at Chicago.

Whether digging in the field, or through old explorers’ accounts of the Holy Land, or Ottoman tax records, Doug was a virtuoso in seeing how bits and pieces fit together to provide fresh insights. By digging into the Museum Archives of the Oriental Institute, Doug discovered a prosperous Canaanite city at Megiddo (Stratum VI), built at the beginning of the eleventh century b.c. and destroyed at the end of that century. The original excavators from the Oriental Institute had published only a small portion of this stratum in Megiddo II. The confusion resulted in part from major staff changes made in 1934 by the inimitable founder and director of the Institute, James Henry Breasted. From the original plans and unpublished photographs of the excavations, Doug was able to recover streets and pillared buildings, along with dozens of crushed collared-rim jars and the skeletons of numerous individuals who had perished in the fiery destruction. From this startling evidence he was able to reconstruct the plan of the city and recover some of its history. It appears that Megiddo continued to prosper as a Canaanite city well into the Iron Age, including among its ruins some presumed hallmarks (such as pillared houses and collared-rim pithoi) of the early Israelites. Doug began to explore the meaning of these discoveries in an article published just before his death as “Collared Pithoi at Megiddo: Ceramic Distribution and Ethnicity” (Journal of Near Eastern Studies 51 [1992]: 81–103). All future studies dealing with the emergence of Early Israel and its relation with Canaan must take these new discoveries into account.

During the last three years, when the cancer was wracking his body, Doug somehow managed to continue his Early Bronze research at Tel Yaqush in northern Israel. During the last exciting season at the site, Doug’s father Vernon (now deceased), Doug’s wife Ann, son Joey (then age 9) and daughter Allison (then age 6) participated in the excavations. Throughout the long ordeal, his priorities and passions never changed: family, friends, and archaeology, in that order. During the last months of his life, embattled but not embittered by the cancer, he told me about the articles he was writing, and, alas, never finished, and the classes he would be teaching the next quarter at the Oriental Institute. Highest on his list of priorities was further research toward publication of his new discoveries about Iron Age I Megiddo (now being completed for publication by his former student and now Ph.D., Timothy Harrison), and a volume dealing with tombs excavated by Kantor and Delougaz (to be issued as an Oriental Institute Publications, with the title Nahal Tabor: An Early Bronze Cemetery in the Northern Jordan Valley, Israel ). His spirit and courage were indomitable right up to the end. Ann, his wonderful wife of twenty-one years, put beside him in the coffin a Marshalltown trowel and three Early Bronze Age potsherds—the tool of his trade and the artifacts that he was able to transform into documents by which he read the past. In The Waste Land, a scathing critique of modernity, T. S. Eliot asks us:
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, you cannot say, or guess, for you know only a heap of broken images, where the sun beats, and the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, and the dry stone no sound of water.
Doug loved the ancient mounds of ruin with their “stony rubbish” and “heaps of broken images,” and the challenge they posed to piece together a past more coherent than the present. In both his profession and his life (they were inseparable) Doug knew that the truth of existence, the truth of reality, is not some absolute proposition about truth, nor ultimate despair, but something in between, a quest (whether in archaeology or in life) for something beyond the broken images of past and present, a quest for the unbroken reality behind the broken images. We sorely miss Doug Esse, the best and brightest of his generation of archaeologists, the kindest and most gentle person of any generation.



Amnon Ben-Tor
Hebrew University
* Delivered at a memorial service held at the Israel Museum on March 17, 1993, lightly edited

It is customary on occasions such as this for friends of the deceased to meet and say good things about him—nothing negative. But show me someone who had anything bad to say about Doug when he was still alive. He had, really, a wonderful gift of getting along with people. Everybody liked Doug—Israelis, Americans and Druze! Let me say a word about the Druze: We all know that they are a very tough people, especially the Druze men. They never show their feelings. It is difficult for men like Husein Hason from the village of Buqªata, who got to know Doug at Yaqush; even he couldn’t help but get emotional when the news about Doug arrived in Israel.

Doug was my first student. I was amazed—I couldn’t get over it—that somebody could get excited, like me, about Early Bronze Age (EB) platters, about the typology of carinated bowls, and about metallic ware. It was the first time that I met somebody else here who was interested. And I am talking about something that happened twenty years ago or more—and I am still amazed. Let’s admit it, there is a certain degree of suspicion between American archaeologists and Israeli archaeologists, especially when it comes to fieldwork. Americans just don’t do things the way we do them, and we don’t do things or we don’t see things the way they do. Yet Doug, an American, was “one of us.” He excavated with me at Tel Qiri, and already in 1979, he was an area supervisor at Tel Qashish. Without any preliminaries, we trusted him, and as we look at his locus cards today, as we work on the final report, his locus cards are excellent, as though written by any one of us, not by any one of “them.” Look at his mastery of Hebrew. Show me another American archaeologist working in this country whose Hebrew was like Doug’s. And all those differences of approach make you wonder, how is it possible that at the same time that he was “one of us,” he was also “one of them” at Ashkelon.

And it’s not like we didn’t have our differences about archaeological issues. We argued about typology, we argued about cylinder seal impressions, we were still arguing about his last article on cylinder seal impressions from Beit Yerah (Eretz-Israel 21 [1990]: 27*–34*). I would like to quote one or two sentences from a letter that he wrote me on January 14, 1982: “Work on the thesis is progressing, but it seems as if I spend incredible amounts of time doing things like registering, drawing, xeroxing, and moving pieces of paper from one pile to another. Is all this truly Wissenschaft? I feel more like a bureaucrat than a scholar. I have labeled the plates in the upper right-hand corner with EB II or EB III [he sent me a whole bunch of plates of pottery]. If you will note very carefully, the material which appeared in your Israel Exploration Journal publication, figures 16 and 17, seems to be very similar to that from my EB II phases. I noticed that you are dating your Qashish material mainly to EB III.” As you can see, in spite of all, there was Wissenschaft. We were arguing about EB II, EBIII. . . .

I would like to end with one last sentence from his letter in which we can see how much he was “one of us.” There is no Israeli who ever spent a certain amount of time in the United States—a week, two weeks, three weeks—who couldn’t or didn’t write the following in his diary: “Ann is fine. She is spending a relaxing summer working in the garden. We have got to grow our own tomatoes—the commercial tomatoes in this country are terrible.”

We shall miss him.



Daniella Saltz
* This eulogy was delivered on October 26, 1992, at the memorial service for Doug held in Hyde Park, Chicago. I thank Ann Esse for transcribing the tape of the memorial service, which I have very lightly edited for the sake of coherence and to bridge breaks in the tape.

The time was nearly eighteen years ago, in the winter of 1974/1975. The place was Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem, which then had almost no buildings except for the Institute of Archaeology. I had just left class at the Institute and went down to the bus stop. The area was barren and deserted. I stood under a street light waiting for the bus. Suddenly, I heard an American male voice, coming from somewhere in the dark, calling my name. I turned but could see no one. The bus came. He came out of the shadows. We boarded the bus. He introduced himself as Doug Esse, and thus began one of the most important friendships of my life. Very shortly afterwards I met Ann, Doug’s perfect other half in every way.

I would like to share with you a few random memories of some of those eighteen years together. I know we all have our own memories, and many of our individual memories are intertwined with those of others. I know many of my memories are also shared by Larry Stager, Carol Hoffman, Terry Benninga, and others of you who are here and not here today. Indeed, I think it is our love of Doug and Ann that has been a part of what has made many of us friends these many years.

I remember a freakishly cold day in April 1975. Doug and Ann, Carol and I and a few others were hiking through Wadi Kelt towards Jericho. The other members of the group scampered like goats along the edge of the very steep precipice. Doug and I rather sheepishly slogged through the freezing water of a channel instead, which is how we discovered a shared fear of high places or, rather, steep drop-offs. I had always thought I had acrophobia and, having labeled it, never gave it much thought. But Doug expounded a theory that remains the best explanation I have ever heard. Doug said that it wasn’t really a fear of heights, but the fear of an overpowering desire to jump, to soar, to experience some kind of total free fall. So now I think of Doug and his perceptive observation whenever I look over a sharp edge and get that dizzy-queasy feeling. This is just one example of the really fascinating intelligence Doug had. He wasn’t just smart and brilliant in the academic sense, he had an unusual mind and conversations with Doug were always both delightful and challenging.

Also in April 1975, Doug learned that he had been accepted at the University of Chicago to study with Larry. Of course he pumped me for details about Larry, whom I knew from Harvard, and of course, I told him all the wonderful things he could look forward to. Thus Doug came to Chicago, and in December of that year I had occasion to visit Chicago from Israel to do some research or attend a convention, or both. Doug and Ann, who had just moved to Chicago, invited me to stay with them. That was when our friendship really took root on a personal, as opposed to just professional, level. And I think that is the reason why there was no question that it would survive when I left archaeology for law, and why it still flourishes all these years and all these places later.

Doug went out of his way to help me navigate through the labyrinthine basement and storage rooms of the Oriental Institute. Ann taught me that you don’t have to refrigerate butter. I soon realized that with these two people, I had formed three friendships: The friendship with Doug, the friendship with Ann, and the friendship with Doug-and-Ann. Each different, but all marked by the same qualities of supreme goodness and kindness. Doug was indeed the genuinely nicest person I have ever met. Nice as he was, though, he knew how to be critical in scholarship and otherwise. Yet he was never gratuitously mean or unkind. It was remarkable. And Doug was deservedly loved and admired even by those he disagreed with.

I knew that Doug was going to be digging with Larry at Carthage in the spring of 1976, so I asked Larry to assign Doug to be my assistant. It was my favorite digging experience of all time. Doug had the most marvelous understated sense of humor, and it got us through many rough moments of cold, drenching rain and the peculiarities of our workmen. Even the workmen loved Doug because he was so kind and so fair. Needless to say, Doug was an extremely rapid learner, and his rise from assistant area supervisor in Tunisia to the head of his own excavations and surveys in Israel and Turkey was meteoric. Fortunately, he had no fear of the heights of academic success.

Then I met my husband-to-be, Dani Katsir, and Dani met Doug and Ann and in no time, Dani adored Doug and Ann as much as I did. We all got together whenever and wherever possible, in Israel, in the United States—we somehow managed. Our lives became entwined, even if our meetings were never frequent enough or long enough.

I remember an incident in the fall of 1979. Doug and Ann were spending a year in Jerusalem. My daughter Karen, who is here today and is thirteen years old, was then about nine days old. Dani had gone back to work that morning, leaving me alone, for the first time, with a tiny new infant. I was nervous. Just as Karen was about to wake up from her nap hungry, I went to the front door to bring in the newspaper. The door slammed shut behind me and locked automatically. It was a classic sitcom setup. Very funny on television, but not at all in real life. What did I do? The first thing I could think of was to run to a neighbor’s apartment and call Doug and Ann at the Albright. They dropped everything to race across town through rush hour traffic with their spare key to our apartment. They literally rescued me and calmed me down.

Doug and Ann were also Karen’s first babysitters. Five years later, they became godparents to our son Carmi. We agonized with them in their yearning for children. Their reaction was not to resent us for having Karen, but to shower her with love. So characteristic. Finally, they were rewarded with Joey and Allie. They were the family that Doug and Ann had always dreamed about.

At long last, it was all coming together, personally and professionally. Doug and Ann’s dreams were happening. Joey and Allie, the Ph.D., tenure track at the University of Chicago. Their own home to decorate and fix up, the island. Everything was going so well, and all of us were so genuinely happy because Doug and Ann deserved every bit of it.

Then came the diagnosis that nobody deserved. Especially not Doug. We all burned the phone lines. It can’t be true. It was. What can we do? Sadly, nothing. Hope. And pray. But nothing could erase the inexorable fact of Doug’s cancer. It was so unfair, unfair, unfair! Doug fought so hard and endured so much pain without complaint, without bitterness. Just to hold onto life and the family he loved so much, just a little bit longer.

And Doug held on, tenaciously, long beyond anyone’s expectation or anyone else’s endurance. After one of his numerous operations, Doug was reminiscing with me about his previous operation in Israel in 1985. At that time, he suddenly had to have knee surgery. His leg was in a cast, and he stayed with us in Jerusalem during his convalescence. It was such a great time--that convalescence. We spent so many wonderful hours laughing and talking and playing with the kids. Bert and Ernie’s “Sesame Street Sing Along” album made permanent grooves in his brain. It was such a good feeling to be able to do something for Doug that time and to watch him get better and stronger.

But this time, all we could do was hope and pray, and watch him get thinner and weaker. I have so any more Doug stories, and know all of you have your own favorites. Doug had so many facets, and each of us knew and shared different ones. I am aware that Doug had his banjo side, his fishing side, and his church side. Sides that I knew about but did not share with him. Others of you did. Doug was like a diamond in that respect. Facets shining in every direction, with a special sparkle for each of us.

As a factual matter, the course of our lives was permanently affected by our friendship with Doug and Ann. So many of the roads we took were taken because of them. My husband’s present career, for example, was a direct result of the light streaming through the stained glass windows of their Victorian home in Morgan Park during our visit to Chicago in 1983.

But it is emotionally that we are the most affected by our love for Doug and Ann. And because we loved Doug so much, his death is so unbearable.

For Doug’s fortieth birthday, I bought him one of those cynical cards. On the outside, it read, “40 isn’t the end of the world,” and on the inside it continued, “but you can see it from there.” Days after, Doug learned that he had stomach cancer. The card was no longer funny or cynical. I felt awful. Doug was typically reassuring, making light of the matter, masking his own fear with a determination to fight. He tried to keep our spirits up. To him, the statistic that only one in five stomach cancer victims will survive five years meant—or so he told us—that someone had to be in that 20%, and he intended to be the one in five. He should have been.

He loved his work and he loved us all so much. He had so much to live for, so much to give. He always gave and we all needed him so much. He held on tenaciously, miraculously enduring the agony of bad days and bad weeks, just to be able to be with us a little longer. To try to accustom us to what we’ll never be accustomed to—life without Doug.

Doug, I love you more than these words can convey. I can never give back all you’ve given me, but I promise that I—that we—will keep your memory alive. We will tell Joey and Allie our stories about you over the years, to make sure they know how much you loved and were loved. We have lost our friends Doug, and Doug-and-Ann, but we still have Ann, thank goodness. Ann who has been through her own hell these past three years and for whom rough days are ahead. But Ann, you were always there for us and we’ll always be there for you and support you in your, and our, grief.

Now when I hear that familiar well-loved voice calling my name in my memories, no beloved figure will step out of the shadows like he did eighteen years ago on Mt. Scopus. Doug, you are now resident in our hearts. We love you, we miss you, we thank you for touching our lives.

Postscript (October 1995)

Is it already three years since I spoke those words? I still miss Doug very much, but the passage of time has enabled me to think of and talk about Doug without crying. Ann and I talk by phone and we see them whenever we can, which is harder than it used to be since they moved to South Dakota. Dani, Karen (now sixteen), Carmi (eleven), and I just returned from a wonderful vacation in South Dakota with the Esses, where we often spoke about Doug. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this Festschrift/Memorial for Doug, even though no longer as an archaeologist. It means we are all keeping the promise to remember.

Post-Postscript (November 1997)

Just days before his death, Doug characteristically was still making plans to travel from Chicago to suburban Detroit, oxygen tank in tow, to attend Karen’s Bar Mitzvah. Doug died ten days before that ceremony, and Ann delayed the memorial service in Chicago to enable us to be there. Ann and I had occasion to remember this recently, when Ann “finally made it” and celebrated Carmi’s Bar Mitzvah with us. Tempus fugit, pain is tempered, friendship abides, and love survives.

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