ArticlePDF Available

Abstract and Figures

The tabun is a clay oven that was common in rural areas in the southern Levant in the 20th century AD; linguistic and literary sources, ethnographic information and archaeological remains offer insights into the manufacture and use of this female-gendered baking installation. Despite its earliest attestation in the writings of medieval Palestinian geographer al-Muqadassi, the term tabun has been adopted by archaeologists to describe any ancient oven in excavation reports. This has both obscured our understanding of ancient ovens and resulted in the dissemination of erroneous information about ancient baking and cooking in popular works about daily life in biblical times.
Content may be subject to copyright.
The tabun and its misidentification in the
archaeological record
Jennie Ebeling1and M. Rogel2
The tabun is a clay oven that was common in rural areas in the southern Levant in the 20th century
AD; linguistic and literary sources, ethnographic information and archaeological remains offer
insights into the manufacture and use of this female-gendered baking installation. Despite its
earliest attestation in the writings of medieval Palestinian geographer al-Muqadassi, the term
tabun has been adopted by archaeologists to describe any ancient oven in excavation reports.
This has both obscured our understanding of ancient ovens and resulted in the dissemination of
erroneous information about ancient baking and cooking in popular works about daily life in
biblical times.
Keywords tabun, bread oven, ethnography, ancient technology, women
The tabun (pl. tawabin) was one of several types of
bread baking installation used in rural areas in the
southern Levant into the 20th century; its continued,
yet limited, use has been documented recently in
Jordan (Ali 2009;Ebeling 2014a;2014b), Palestine
(Traditional Palestinian Tabun Oven) and Syria
(Mulder-Heymans 2002). Writing in the early 20th
century, German theologian Gustaf Dalman (1987)
described two types of tawabin used in Palestine and
Transjordan, and ethnographers and other researchers
in the century since have contributed to our under-
standing of its technology, use and social implications.
Although the earliest attestation of the word tabun
dates to the 10th century AD, it is used widely and
anachronistically in published descriptions of
thermal features from archaeological contexts in the
region. As a result, there is a great deal of confusion
about the origins of the tabun and its identification
in the archaeological record.
The goals of this study are to consolidate existing
information about the tabun and show how the use
of the term tabun by archaeologists has obscured our
understanding of ancient bread ovens. We will begin
by defining tabun using linguistic and literary
sources, ethnography and archaeology. We will then
demonstrate how the use of limited ethnographic
information has led to inaccurate interpretations of
ancient baking technology in archaeological site
reports and popular works about daily life in biblical
times, and suggest some reasons why archaeologists
and others ignore the archaeological data when inter-
preting ancient daily life for a broad audience. In the
conclusion, we will offer some suggestions for improv-
ing our understanding of ancient thermal features
going forward.
Dalmans contribution
Before describing the history of the tabun, we must
give due credit to Dalman, whose eight-volume
Arbeit und Sitte in Palästina (1987) contains the most
systematic and detailed research on everyday life in
Palestine at the beginning of the 20th century. For
the present purposes, his descriptions of baking
methods and bread ovens remain the most systematic
and thorough and, most importantly, his research
was conducted while these installations were still in
common use; therefore, Dalmans work will serve as
an anchor throughout our discussion. Dalman relied
on his own observations, ethnographic reports and
Department of Archaeology and Art History, University of Evansville, 1800
Lincoln Avenue, Evansville, IN 47722, USA;
University of Southern
Indiana, 2160 Bellemeade Avenue, Evansville, IN 47714, USA
Jennie Ebeling (corresponding author) Department of Archaeology and Art
History, University of Evansville, 1800 Lincoln Avenue, Evansville, IN
47722, USA. email:
© Council for British Research in the Levant 2015
Published by Taylor & Francis
DOI 10.1080/00758914.2015.1108022 Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3328
folklore, in addition to historical, linguistic and
archaeological data, to present a full typology of
baking installations used in the region a century ago.
Dalman (1987:29140) described seven different
methods used to bake bread and typically assigned
the local Arabic names to each type: (1) in the
embers of a fire; (2) on the saj, a concave metal disc
placed over a fire on which flat bread is baked; (3)
using a zantu, a mushroom-shaped clay platter on
which dough was stretched and placed next to a fire
for baking; (4) in a tabun, a low, truncated-dome-
shaped clay oven heated from the outside in which
the bread is baked on the floor; (5) in a tannur,a
cylindrical clay oven in which fuel is lit at the
bottom and dough is baked on the upper inner
walls; (6) in a furn, an oven in which bread is baked
on the floor next to burning fuel, usually wood; and
(7) in an arsa or wagdia, ovens with a built-in shelf
on which bread was baked. Dalman reported that
the first two methods baking in embers and on
the saj were common among Bedouin and other
nomadic and semi-nomadic people and used by
farmers when away from home. The tabun was used
in rural settings in Palestine and Transjordan, while
the furn was commonly found in urban bakeries. The
arsa/wagdia ovens were more common in southern
Palestine, while tannur ovens were more common in
Lebanon and Syria. In addition, Dalman described a
variety of other thermal features used for heating,
cooking and baking, including hearths and braziers.
However, the tabun was the most widely used rural
baking method in the southern Levant both west
and east of the Jordan River at the time of his writing.
The linguistic and literary data
Dalman (1987: 74) believed that the term tabun
derived from the Arabic taban —‘hide’—which is
related to the Hebrew taman (see also Forbes 1966:
64) while others translate the Arabic taban as conceal-
mentor intelligence(Arraf 2006: note 16). The term
is absent in the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud. The
first documented use of the word tabun is in the writ-
ings of the 10th century AD Jerusalem native geogra-
pher al-Muqadassi (1890:2223), who described local
baking thus:
The people of Syria have ovens, and the villagers
especially make use of the kind called tabun.
These are small, and used for baking bread,
and are dug in the ground. They line them with
pebbles, and kindling the fire of dried dung
within and above, they afterwards remove the
hot ashes and place the loaves of bread to bake
upon these pebbles, when they have become
thus red-hot.
The term reappeared nearly a millennium later in
numerous late 19th and early 20th century reports
written by western travellers and local and foreign
researchers who described seeing or hearing about
this ubiquitous baking installation (e.g. Benzinger
1907:6466; Canaan 1962;Crowfoot and
Baldensperger 1932: 14; Dalman 1987:7487; Jäger
1912: 45, fig. V6; Masterman 1901: 409; Musil 1908:
13233; Wetzstein 1882: 46768). However, by that
time, the term was used over a wide geographic area
to describe various types of clay ovens. For example,
Dalman (1987: 128) reported that his furn-type oven
was called a tabun in Egypt, while the term tabun
was also used to refer to ovens more similar to
Dalmanstannur type in Egypt, Tunisia and other
parts of North Africa (Frankel 2011:8283, 97). In
1960s Iran, tabun was the name of an installation
used by nomads to bake bread that resembled the
installation described by al-Muqadassi (Wulff 1967:
292). To complicate the situation further, tawabin
documented in 20th century Jordan were commonly
called both tabun and furn (Dalman 1987: 78).
Behnstedt (2009: 69) explains:
The problems of interpretation partly result from
the ambiguity of Arabic terms and are mainly
cartographic. One and the same word might des-
ignate a baking oven, a baking pit, a bakery, a
furnaceor according to the form of the oven
different terms might be used. A baking oven
might be rectangular, bell-shaped, cylindrical or
conic. Forms like tabun tabuna tabona used
in Upper Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Palestine,
but also in Tunisia, and sporadically even in
Yemen, do not necessarily refer to a certain
type as suggest Dalman
Another modern use of the word tabun is as a general
term for a clay oven found in an archaeological context
in the Levant (see further below).
We should note that the terms tannur and furn
appear much earlier in the literature. Tinuru was prob-
ably borrowed along with the object by the
Sumerians from an as yet unidentified language and
culture (Bottéro 2004: 47). Bottéro (2004: 47) under-
stood a continued use of the term and technology
over thousands of years in the Middle East and
beyond, and identified it with, ‘…the Arab tannur,
the Iranian tanura, the Turkish tanur, and the Indian
tandur. The tannur is mentioned 15 times in the
Hebrew Bible and numerous times in the Mishna.
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3329
Furn, from the Latin furnus, is also mentioned in the
Mishna (Frankel 2011: 10102. For a discussion of
the term furn, see Cubberley et al. 1988:98101; for
tannur, see Tkacova 2013:48). Furn is still used in
Jordanian Arabic as a general term for oven (personal
To summarize, the term tabun is used to describe
different types of thermal features in different times
and places. Dalmans definition of tabun, while rel-
evant to early 20th century Palestine and
Transjordan, is not necessarily relevant when discuss-
ing earlier and later ovens in this region, never mind
beyond it.
The ethnographic data
In addition to Dalman, our understanding of the
modern tabun is informed by the writings of travellers,
ethnographers, folklorists, anthropologists, archaeolo-
gists and other foreign and local researchers who either
provided descriptions of the tabun in passing, or con-
ducted specific research into traditional baking tech-
nologies. This overview of the tabuns physical
characteristics and geographical distribution,
methods of construction and use, social aspects and
decline in the late 20th and early 21st centuries will
provide a baseline with which the archaeological
data can be compared.
Physical characteristics and geographical distribution
Tawabin are low, truncated-dome-shaped structures
made of clay with a large opening at the top covered
with a lid. Dalman (1987:7475) identified two
types (Fig. 1). The first type (henceforth called type
one) consisted of a truncated-dome-shaped clay ring
(not a whole vessel) placed over a pit that was lined
with pebbles, sherds or mosaic pieces upon which
bread was baked. This type of tabun was heated on
the exterior by burning animal dung and straw, and
was used west of the Jordan River and in southern
Transjordan, or modern Israel, Palestine and southern
Jordan. The second type (henceforth type two) is a
similarly shaped whole vessel, with a cut-out side
opening at the base called a sannur. It was common
in Ajlun, Golan and the Hauran (Dalman 1987: 78),
or modern northern Jordan, Golan Heights and
southern Syria.
Although the largest tabun reported by Dalman had
a base diameter of c. 150 cm (1987:7879 quoting
Wetzstein 1882: 467), the following measurements
are more typical: base diameter 60110 cm, height
2550 cm, outer rim of top opening diameter
3040 cm and inner rim top opening diameter
26.529 cm; the walls, which were always constructed
of a single layer of clay, were typically 3 cm thick
(Dalman 1987: 75, 7879; compare Avitsur 1975:
240; Ebeling 2014b;McQuitty 1984: 261; van der
Steen 1991: 135).
Tawabin were unique among the clay ovens reported
by Dalman in that they were heated from the outside,
with slow-burning fuel piled around and on top to
keep them constantly lit. The sannur located at
ground level in the type two tabun was used to admit
burning fuel to raise the ovens temperature prior to
baking (see below for more about fuel and method
of use).
Bread was baked on the bottom of the tabun on a
layer of pebbles, stones or mosaic pieces called radaf
(type one) (Arraf 2006: 209; Avitsur 1988: 153;
Bauer 1903: 105; Benzinger 1907: 64, figs 2425;
Dalman 1987:7475) or directly on the clay floor of
the installation (type two) (McQuitty 1984: 261;
Wetzstein 1882: 467). The floor of a type two tabun
may also be covered with radaf (Dalman 1987: 79;
Ebeling 2014a;2014b) (Fig. 2). A few explanations
are given for the use of radaf: it separated the baked
bread from the dirt below (Dalman 1987: 76), retained
heat (Arraf 2006: 209) or was desirable for the texture
it gave the baked bread (Ebeling 2014b). The use of
radaf is reported with other oven types, such as the
Iranian furn (Wulff 1967: 294). When baking in
embers, bread is also usually baked on a layer of
stones (see below).
All tawabin have a large opening at the top through
which dough is inserted and positioned on the floor,
and through which the baked bread is removed.
While the bread is baking, a lid is placed on top to con-
serve heat; when the tabun is not in use, the lid serves
to separate the interior of the oven from the fuel that is
piled around and on top of it. Dalman (1987: 75)
reported clay lids measuring 3040 cm in diameter
with an attached wooden handle 20 cm in length; he
also published a photograph of a lid made entirely of
clay with a long integral handle, and a similar lid is
shown in his profile of a tabun (Dalman 1987:
fig. 12; see also Avitsur 1975: 240; Klein 2010: 20)
(Fig. 1). Lids observed in the late 20th and early 21st
centuries were usually made of metal (Amiry and
Tamari 1989: 20; Ebeling 2014b;McQuitty 1994:
56). Dalman (1987: 78) described a type two tabun
in the Golan with a sannur that was 22 cm wide and
15 cm high. In recently observed tawabin, the sannur
can range between 15 and 30 cm in width and
For more illustrations of tawabin, see Avitsur (1976: 112), Dalman (1987:
figs 12,13), McQuitty (1994: 59), Mulder-Heymans (2002: fig. 1b) and
Wetzstein (1882: 467).
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3330
height, and small covers made of clay, stone or metal
are used to separate the interior of the oven from the
fuel piled around it (Ebeling 2014b) (Fig. 3).
Methods of construction
Tawabin are made out of clay and straw or chaff (Ali
2009:9;Arraf 2006: 209; Dalman 1987: 75; Ebeling
2014b;Wetzstein 1882: 46768) with any number of
additives, including crushed stones, goat hair, cattail
flowers and sedges (Avitsur 1988: 153); goat dung
and sand (van der Steen 1991: 138); and crushed
glass and cement ( personal observation). This
account of tabun construction from Abu Gourdan,
the village next to Deir Alla, in 196064 gives a
general impression of the preparation method:
The clay was thrown in a pit, together with water
and dung, and left to stand. This gave the water
the chance to penetrate and soften the clay.
After a couple of days the mixture was kneaded
thoroughly, and left again for some days, to
make the superfluous water evaporate (van der
Steen 1991: 13, note 7 quot. Franken).
Others reported that the clay was pulverized with a
stone, picked through by hand to remove impurities,
mixed with straw or chaff and water and used
Figure 1 Dalmans two types of tawabin. Line drawing by Michael Strezewski after Dalman (1987: fig. 12).
Figure 2 Radaf (stones) on the floor of a type two tabun in northern Jordan, 2012. Photograph by Jennie Ebeling.
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3331
immediately to build the tabun (Ali 2009: 9; personal
Some reported that tawabin were made in coils (van
der Steen 1991: note 71) while others observed differ-
ent construction methods. In contemporary northern
Jordan, tawabin bases are made by slab forming
before the walls are built up in several horizontal sec-
tions that are drawn up using the hands and a scraping
tool (Ali 2009: 9, fig. 1; Ebeling 2014b) (Fig. 4). After
the tabun is complete, it is installed in its place of use,
sundried for a few days or fired in a shallow pit covered
with dried dung (Avitsur 1975: 240; Dalman 1987: 75;
Einsler 1914: 25657). Some contemporary tawabin
produced in northern Jordan are not fired, only
sundried and then firedduring their initial use. The
entire process of constructing a tabun, including
procuring and mixing the clay, building the tabun
over the course of several days and drying it to
leather hardness can take up to a week ( personal
Tawabin are installed over a shallow pit or directly
on the ground. The pits could be quite complex. In
one documented case of a type one tabun, a pit was
first lined with pebbles or sherds, then ashes were
layered immediately on top, then another layer of
sand was placed on top of the ashes, and, finally, a
layer of pebbles or sherds was placed on top of the
sand (Avitsur 1988: 153) (compare Fig. 5). Type two
tawabin are usually placed directly on the ground or
in a shallow dug hole ( personal observation).
Tawabin could also be constructed in their actual
place of use, as Arraf (2006: 209) described:
Like other small domestic ovens, it is fashioned
by women from yellowish clay or mud. They
start by marking out its contours around the
hole and lining its bottom with three layers, the
uppermost of pebbles. They then build the
dome, which has an opening and lid at the top,
and make a sort of belt around it. In the past
the tabun was surrounded by a clay structure
for protection; nowadays it is more likely to be
protected by a corrugated tin.
Although the bakers typically made their own tawabin
(Amiry and Tamari 1989: 20; Arraf 2006: 209;
Dalman 1987: 74), commercial industries have also
been documented (Einsler 1914: 25657). In early
21st century Jordan, ‘…the production of clay ovens
depended largely on demand [c]lay ovens were pro-
duced either in the courtyard of the oven-makers
house, or in the seasonal camp itself. The consumption
of clay ovens is to be found either inside the village
they were produced in, or nearby villages(Ali 2009:
15). It is clear from nearly all accounts that tawabin
were made by women (e.g. Ali 2009: 15; Amiry and
Tamari 1989: 20; Dalman 1987: 74; Einsler 1914:
Figure 3 A piece of clay is used to block the side opening of this type two tabun in northern Jordan, 2012. Photograph by Jennie
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3332
25657), although a male tabun maker was recently
documented in contemporary Jordan (personal
Tabun houses
Many descriptions indicate that the tabun is positioned
in such a way that allows fuel to be piled around its
perimeter, often in the centre of a designated tabun
house or hut (Ali 2009: 14; Avitsur 1975: 240;
Dalman 1987:7778; Masterman 1901: 109;
McQuitty 1984: 261, 26465; 1994: 60; Musil 1908:
13233) (Fig. 6). The circular, cone-shaped tabun
huts had,
a round ground plan with walls made of rubble
stones smeared on the outside with simple mud.
The roof is made either of tree trunks, brush-
wood and mud or, more rarely, of rubble stones
in the form of a cone. In the latter type the
vault-like roof is also covered with mud.
Tawabin have no chimneys (Canaan 1933: 71;
compare Dalman 1987:7778).
Figure 4 A woman builds a tabun in northern Jordan, 2012. Photograph by Jennie Ebeling.
Figure 5 A tabun covered in ashes. Benzinger (1907: Abb. 24).
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3333
According to Avitsur (1988: 153):
It can be a low hut (150170 cm), square or
rounded, made out of unhewn stones cemented
together with mud and covered with a roof that
is plastered with mud cement (in the last gener-
ation, also real cement), or (rare!) a cone made
out of a skeleton of thin branches, reeds or
sesame stalks that are plastered with mud.
There is also a cone made out of mud without
any structure. Sometimes the cone has a stone
foundation and sometimes it is built without
any foundation. The top of the cone is naturally
higher than the roof of the hut. The tabun is
located in the middle of the hut (or the cone)
allowing a very short distance, 6080 cm,
between it and the walls of the hut. When it is
rainy, the woman forms the dough in this tiny
Some tabun houses were partially subterranean
(Masterman 1901: 409); Dalman (1987:7778)
reported one in es-Serafat that was dug 70 cm into
the ground, giving the room an inner height of
200 cm and allowing the baker to stand up inside.
Recently documented examples were constructed of
stone and mud, with roofs made from stone vaults,
mud and iron girders or wooden beams and reeds
(McQuitty 1984: 264), or out of cinder blocks with
corrugated metal or concrete roofs (Ebeling 2014b).
Generally speaking, tabun houses were small with
low entrances and roofs that forced the bakers to
bend over while working inside; the small space
limited baking to one person at a time. According to
reports, the tabun house was necessary to protect the
oven, fuel and baker from rain and wind; some obser-
vers commented on the tight space and meagre light
inside these smoky structures (Avitsur 1975: 240;
Dalman 1987: 77) (Fig. 7).
Figure 6 Tabun houses. From the Avitsur Collection, Courtesy Man and His Work Center, Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv.
Figure 7 A woman sits in front of a square oven house. Bauer
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3334
The tabun house was usually located at some dis-
tance from the living quarters, in the courtyard or
even at the edge of the village (Amiry and Tamari
1989: 20), in order to keep the smoke and smell
away (Avitsur 1975: 241, 1988: 154; Dalman 1987:
77; Musil 1908: 132). Recently reported tabun houses
appear to be larger than their early 20th-century pre-
decessors and were sometimes located next to, or
attached to, a stable. A low dividing wall sometimes
separated the tabun from dung storage; in other cases
the tabun houses were used to store other materials
(McQuitty 1984: fig. 6; Mulder-Heymans 2002: para.
48). All of the recently observed tabun houses in north-
ern Jordan had a thick layer of ash on the floor that
was collected periodically and used as fertilizer ( per-
sonal observation) (Fig. 8).
Tawabin can also be built outdoors, as seen in an
early 20th-century photograph taken in Jericho
(Fig. 9). An outdoor tabun in a contemporary village
in northern Jordan was used by a woman in the dry
season and for baking demonstrations for tourists
(Fig. 2), while another tabun located in a tabun
house nearby was used in the rainy season ( personal
Fuel and description of use
The most common fuels used to fire tawabin were
animal dung and chaff (Canaan 1962: 42; Klein
2010: 20; McQuitty 1994: 58, 69). Since tawabin were
heated from the outside, it was possible to use a wide
variety of fuel; indeed, this was considered by some
to have been the defining characteristic of the tabun:
‘… it can burn any kind of fuel, including the most
low-grade burnable materials for which no other econ-
omic use can be found(Avitsur 1975: 240). Other fuels
reported include wood, dried or fresh dung, coarse
chaff, wormwood, corn, chickpea straw, jift (the
remains of olives pressed for oil) and charcoal
(Dalman 1987: 15, 77, 79, 82), and chaff, goat, sheep
and cattle manure, sesame stems, sorghum, corn,
dried wild grasses, pine needles and other conifer
needles, jift and Thorny Burnet (Sarcopoterium spino-
sum)(Avitsur 1988: 154). The amount of required fuel
varied; one account described, ‘…one bag of chopped
straw (kasal) and 45 cakes of dried dung ( jala) for a
day(Avitsur 1988: 154) (Fig. 10).
This detailed description of bread baking in a type
one tabun was provided by Avitsur (1975: 240):
The fire is laid on the outside and ordinarily the
oven is buried in a layer of embers and ashes. For
a new firing the embers and ashes are raked away
sufficiently to clear a space between them and the
oven walls. A fresh supply of fuel, usually qasl,
i.e. coarse chopped straw, is poured in this
space and the embers are heaped back on. The
glimmering embers set alight the new fuel
which blazes up belching smoke. As soon as the
Figure 8 A tabun buried in a thick layer of ashes in northern Jordan, 2012. Photograph by Jennie Ebeling.
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3335
smoke begins to subside and the oven is heated
up enough, the lid, buried almost to the tip of
its long handle in embers, is removed, and
cakes of dough are put inside.
The oven was then closed with a lid and embers and
ashes were heaped around and on top of it while the
bread baked for 1015 minutes; after this, the embers
and ashes were cleared away, the lid was removed and
the baked bread was taken out and replaced with
more dough (Amiry and Tamari 1989: 20; Arraf 2006:
209; Avi t su r 1 97 5 : 240; compare Dalman 1987:83).
McQuitty (1984: 261) described bread baking in a
type two tabun:
Figure 9 An outdoor tabun in early 20th century Jericho. Matson Photographic Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and
Photographs Division [LC-M3201-510].
Figure 10 A type two tabun with wood burning in its side opening and cakes of jift (olive pressings) piled nearby for future use in
northern Jordan, 2012. Photograph by Jennie Ebeling.
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3336
The method of use involves lighting a fast, wood
fire in the sannur prior to use and when an ade-
quate temperature is reached, raking out the
ashes and slapping the pancakes of bread onto
the floor of the tabun. After use, the tabun is
covered with a heap of slow-burning, heat-retain-
ing dung (see also Ebeling 2014b).
Dalman (1987: 83) reported that 315 loaves could
bake at the same time in one tabun and that each
baking interval took between 10 and 25 minutes.
Most contemporary type two tawabin in Jordan
could bake two or three loaves at a time while the
largest tabun documented held six loaves; each
baking interval lasted four to six minutes (Ebeling
In early 20th century Palestine, tabun bread was ubi-
quitous and considered very tasty. According to
Canaan (1962: 42), [t]awabin ovens are used
especially in villages. The bread, hubz tabun, is very
delicious. It does not need to be described. Others dis-
agreed about the quality: ‘…most such [bread] is
heavy, half-cooked, and indigestible. Nevertheless it,
with olives and figs, forms the staple diet of a large
section of the population(Masterman 1901: 409).
Dalman (1987:8487) provided the most detailed
description of the bread baked in tawabin. The
common type of bread was made of slightly fermented
wheat flour and measured 1525 cm in diameter and
11.5 cm thick; it sounds similar to the kind of bread
baked in tawabin in northern Jordan today (Ebeling
2014a;2014b) (Fig. 11). Dalman also listed eight
other types of bread baked in the tabun, each made
with different flours and additives. One peculiar prep-
aration kurs was done when bread was needed in
a hurry: the method involved placing the dough on the
heated outer walls of the tabun and covering it with
embers and ashes. Kurs is also a term used for bread
baked in embers (Dalman 1987:3132, 8487). In
the early 20th century, the tabun was adopted by
Jewish settlements in the Galilee and modified to
bake European breadin moulds instead of
placing dough directly on the floor (Avitsur 1988:
In addition to baking bread, Dalman (1987: 83)
reported that meat was sometimes roasted on the
radaf on the bottom of the tabun and food was some-
times cooked in vessels placed on top of it (see also
Avitsur 1988: 15455; Mulder-Heymans 2002: para.
48). Meals could also be prepared inside a tabun
after bread baking was complete and the oven was
still hot (Avitsur 1988: 15456; Palmer 2002: 179).
According to Bethlehem University Librarys website
(Traditional Palestinian Tabun Oven, para. 3), [t]he
famous traditional dish, mussakhan, whose origin is
in Tulkarem and Jenin, has a completely different
(and better!) taste and aroma when it is prepared in
atabun. Interestingly, Amiry and Tamari (1989: 46)
Figure 11 A woman in northern Jordan with a loaf of her tabun bread, 2012. Photograph by Jennie Ebeling.
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3337
reported that small pottery vessels were sometimes
fired in a tabun.
Social aspects and the decline of tawabin
According to all accounts, baking bread in a tabun was
and still is the responsibility of women (e.g. Amiry and
Tamari 1989: 25; Arraf 2006: 209; Dalman 1987: 81;
Ebeling 2014a;2014b). Many commented on how
labour intensive it was to attend to and bake in the
tabun; this is expressed in the local saying: Atabun
is like a great lady; youve got to dance attendance
on her at all times(Arraf 2006: 209; see also
Dalman 1987:7677). The cost of fuel and labour
involved in keeping the apparatus constantly heated
made sharing a tabun between a few families
common. Dalman (1987: 76) reported that one
woman might bake in the morning, another one at
midday and the third in the evening. Since baking
bread was a central part of village life and strongly
female-gendered, tabun houses may have served as
female space: The tabun played an important role
for the village women, who would sit inside its
cramped interior telling jokes and exchanging news
while their bread baked. The tabun therefore func-
tioned for women as guest-house (madafeh) did for
men(Amiry and Tamari 1989: 20). Ali (2009: 15)
reported the oral information that, in 1940s Jordan,
women would gather around the oven to discuss
village news.
However, when we consider that, ‘…the dense
smoke from these ovens is a serious health hazard,
obstructing breathing and stinging the eyes…’
(Avitsur 1975: 241; see also Bauer 1903: 10506), the
following description seems to be a more accurate rep-
resentation of the use of tawabin:
The oven (tabun) is shared by two or three
families, and is in a small hut away from the
house. It is very small, and scarcely more than
one woman at a time can move about in the
tanure [sic] in the centre, and disputes often
arise, especially if the women who use it do not
belong to the same circle of families (Breen
1906: 158).
A century later, in northern Jordan, the tabun bread
baker usually sits alone in the hot and smoky tabun
house, although family members and friends might
gather outside and at the entrance ( personal obser-
vation) (Fig. 12). Writing in 1880, Klein (2010: 21)
described people crawling into the tabun house when
the days baking was finished to warm up or even to
take a nap in the cold of winter.
While tawabin were common in rural villages in the
southern Levant in the late 19th and early 20th
Figure 12 Family members and visitors at the entrance to a tabun house while a woman bakes inside of it in northern Jordan,
2012. Photograph by Jennie Ebeling.
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3338
centuries, they are rare today. Recent researchers have
focussed on documenting tawabin use in order to pre-
serve whatever information is still available about this
dying art (Ali 2009: 15; Ebeling 2014a;2014b). The
reduced availability of dung due to the decreased sta-
bling of animals has been cited as a reason for the
demise of tawabin in northern Jordan (McQuitty
1984: 265). Broader economic and cultural shifts
(Avitsur 1988: 15460; Palmer 2002: 19293), along
with the introduction of local, male-owned and -oper-
ated bakeries and modern gas ovens in rural areas,
have reduced tabun use dramatically. While Canaan
(1962: 45) related that, in the past, [e]very family for-
merly prepared its own bread,Ali (2009: 15) reported
the oral information that, in 1940s Jordan, each
extended family could have an oven; this changed in
the 1970s when users of shared ovens expanded to
include neighbours as well. By 2012, only a few
tawabin could be found in villages west of Irbid and
the bakers related that their daughters usually refuse
to learn how to bake bread in a tabun (personal obser-
vation). Many more insights into the social aspects of
baking can be gleaned from Palestinian folklore.
Dalman (1987) included folklore and popular
expressions throughout his multi-volume work and
Canaans article Superstition and folklore about
bread(1962) describes many aspects of this staple
food and stresses its religious and social importance
in Palestinian life.
As is clear in the preceding discussion, ethnographi-
cally documented tawabin vary greatly; the very fact
that most tawabin were made by the bakers themselves
introduced variability. Although Dalman (1987) ident-
ified two general types, he also mentioned a few excep-
tions, including one with no floor and a side opening
(Dalman 1987: 89), one with a floor and no side
opening (Dalman 1987: 89) and one that was heated
from the inside with dung fuel and from the outside
with chaff (Dalman 1987: 76). He also reported
hearing about a tabun that could bake 40 (!) loaves
at a time (Dalman 1987: 83), and in Shobak, he wit-
nessed a tannur with a narrow opening at the top
and a large side opening that he recognized as a vari-
ation of the tabun type (Dalman 1987: 94).
Also interesting is Musils (1908: 132) description of
a baking house in a village near Madaba:
In the corner of the courtyard one finds the
baking oven the tabun. It is a 1.52 m high
cone shaped construction with a narrow, low
entry about a metre wide. In the middle one
sees a circular shaped depression, radaf, which
is 0.6 m in diameter, and paved with small
pebbles in Madaba people prefer mosaic
stones and around it runs an elevated edge,
samaka. Here the bread cakes are placed and
covered with an iron lid, rata at tabun,on
which straw and dry dung cakes, zible,are
What Musil described is similar to al-Muqadassis
10th century tabun. It should also be noted that
Musil called the depression in the ground not the
stones specifically radaf and the installation he
described had no clay components.
Ethnographers also described how seasonal and
situational variability dictated the use of different
kinds of ovens. Dalman (1987: 39, 88) reported that,
in the Galilee, the tabun was used in the summer
while, in the winter, bread was baked on a saj placed
on an indoor hearth that also heated the house.
McQuitty (1994: 72) reported hearing that, [a]
settled Bedu family will start to use a tabun as soon
as they move into permanent dwellings even though
their habits are no less nomadic than formerly. Fuel
availability and changing diet were also factors:
‘…today, some bedouin families camping in an area
for a few months may build one, which, in part is
indicative of decreasing availability of brushwood,
khatab, but also reflects importance shifts in bedouin
diet to include more bread(Palmer 2002: 179). In
addition, different ovens were sometimes used conco-
mitantly. Mulder-Heymans (2002: para. 49) reported
that in Abtaa in southern Syria, ‘…people use both
the Tannur in an ovenhouse, and a Tabun and
Waqdiah in the open area. I was told that all three
were used for bread baking.
Baking in embers, tawabin and nomads
Baking in embers is believed by some to have been the
oldest method of baking bread (Curtis 2001: 120; King
and Stager 2001: 66) (Fig. 13). In Dalmans (1987: 74)
opinion, the tabun was an improvement on baking in
embers, and ethnographic descriptions illustrated the
continuum from baking in embers to the tabun.A
detailed description of this technique was provided
by Fabri, who travelled in the Sinai in 1483 (1958:
108): From the earliest days of the journey he had
watched the Arabs making their bread, noting how
they spread a sheepskin on the ground, pour the
flour out upon it, and then mixed this to a paste
with water. When the dough is ready, and shaped
into broad flat cakes, they move the ashes from the
place where the fire was, and put the paste in the hot
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3339
place there, and cover it with ashes and charcoal, and
so it cooked…’. When cooked and taken hot from the
embers it was, Felix knew, a very tasty bread…’.
Early 20th century Bedouin made bread in a similar
way near Cairo (Dalman 1987: 30), in Mosul (Dalman
1987:33quotingJaussen 1908:6466, note 2) and in
Nazareth (Rogers 1865:21920). These and other
descriptions show that baking in embers was done
either directly on the ground or on stones, sometimes in
a dug hole, and often using dung for fuel (Burckhardt
1831: 57; Dalman 1987:1820; McQuitty 1994: 58;
Waines 1987: 269). Burkhardt (1831: 58) described
called radaf, the same name used for the stones or
pebbles that lined the bases of the southern Levantine
tabun. The combination of baking in a dug hole, on
stones and with dung fuel is also seen in Rogers (1865:
130) description of baking near Nazareth:
We saw a group of old women leaning over a
square hole dug in the ground. Saleh told me
that this was the village oven. The bottom of it
glowed with red heat. The fuel, composed of
peat and dried dung, was partially covered with
stones, upon which thin flat loaves are thrown
and quickly baked.
It is not difficult to see the connection between this
oven and the dug tabun that al-Muqadassi and Musil
described (above).
Interestingly, a similar bread-baking method was
documented in northern Iran in the 1960s:
Another type of oven, known as a tabun, is used
by the nomads of the north and the north-west.
A fire is kept for a while in a clay-lined hole in
the ground. When its walls are sufficiently hot
the embers are taken out with an iron shovel,
the flattened cake of dough is placed on the
bottom of the hole, a steel plate or an earthen-
ware dish is placed over it, and the whole is
covered with the hot embers. After three to five
minutes the bread is baked (Wulff 1967: 292).
All of this suggests an association between nomads,
baking in embers and the tabun (Frankel 2011:
As we have demonstrated, the tabun is a complex
phenomenon that shows great variability in form,
fuel, methods of use, location and more; therefore, the
tabun should not be considered a static, well-defined
type, but rather a family of ovens. However, while indi-
vidual examples may differ, some common character-
istics of 20th-century tawabin in Palestine emerge:
they are low, truncated-dome-shaped clay structures
Figure 13 Bread baked in embers in Ghor al Mazraa, Jordan, in 2012. Photograph by Jennie Ebeling.
For a possibly earlier reference to baking bread in a dug hole associated
with nomads, see Frankels (2011:9697) discussion of the Arab cauldron
in the Mishna.
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3340
with a large opening at the top covered with a lid; they
are heated primarily from the outside and can be kept
constantly heated or lit; when located indoors, they
are positioned in the centre of the room to allow fuel
to be piled around and on top of them; and bread is
baked on the floor of the installation.
The archaeological data
We now turn to a discussion of tawabin in archaeolo-
gical contexts in the southern Levant. Our chronologi-
cal survey of the primary research publications on
ancient ovens in the region will demonstrate that
there is no evidence for tawabin prior to the 7th
century AD. We will also show how archaeologists
have looked to quite limited and/or problematic eth-
nographic evidence to interpret archaeological ovens
and, as a result, have created a confused picture of
oven technology and use in antiquity.
History of research
Although not an archaeologist, Dalman (1987:
10204, fig. 18) noted that most of the archaeological
ovens with which he was familiar were similar to the
tannur oven that he observed, and he did not provide
archaeological parallels for the modern tawabin that
he described. Quoting al-Muqadassi, he suggested
that the tabun appeared in the region after the Arab
conquest in the 7th century AD and possibly earlier
(Dalman 1987: 80), but did not offer archaeological
evidence to support this claim.
Avitsur documented traditional technologies in
Palestine and Israel in the mid 20th century and pub-
lished several articles on cereals and bread production
specifically (1975;1988). While mainly focussed on
documenting the modern use of different types of
ovens, including the tabun, he gave examples of
tannur-type ovens in Iron Age and later strata in
archaeological reports (Avitsur 1976: 10910). Like
Dalman, Avitsur did not identify tawabin in ancient
contexts. However, this did not stop him from
suggesting the following:
The tabun is a baking oven of a unique type
developed to overcome the shortage of wood
fuel resulting from the denudation of the
natural forest cover in most regions of the land
of Israel, except Upper Galilee. This wide-scale
cutting down of trees and bushes probably hap-
pened when the population density reached a
peak during the Byzantine period or perhaps
already at the end of the Roman period,
3rd7th centuries AD. As a result it became
necessary to use substitute fuels and to develop
an oven adapted to burn these fuels [references
to dung, olive pulp, and chopped straw as fuel in
the Hebrew Bible and Mishna] make one suspect
that the tabun was not a sudden inspired inven-
tion but is really the final outcome of the devel-
opment from the ancient, internally fired oven
to the externally fired oven, i.e. tabun type
(Avitsur 1975: 23940).
Since large numbers of tawabin dating to the
Byzantine period have not been identified, Avitsurs
suggestion remains speculative.
An unusually detailed study of ancient ovens was
included in the Tell Masos excavation report
(Gunneweg 1983: 10612). In his discussion,
Gunneweg made the claim that, …‘[o]vens 1 and 10
resemble the Arab tabun;Oven10qua forma and
Oven 1 qua functio(Gunneweg 1983: 111). An exam-
ination of the profiles of these ovens (Gunneweg 1983:
figs 11a, b) reveals that neither is similar to ethnogra-
phically observed tawabin. Oven 1 is particularly inter-
esting in the context of this discussion because it was
found in a pit and surrounded by ashes, but no ashes
were found inside the oven (Gunneweg 1983: 111).
The detailed description of this oven in the text, and
the accompanying line drawing, reveal a complete,
probably externally heated, Iron Age oven that has
no ethnographically attested equivalent in the region.
McQuitty documented traditional baking ovens in
Jordan in 1983 and used this information to identify
and describe ancient ovens. In an article published in
1984, she identified the earliest example of a tabun in
Jordan at Iron Age Pella based on the following
on an archaeological site it would be expected
to find a large area of fine white dung ash around
the tabun with a concentration of darker burning
and charcoal by the sanur [i]n the 10th century
BC levels at Pella, uncovered by the Australian
team during their 19834 excavation season,
such an arrangement was found. The use of
tawabeen in antiquity therefore seems similar to
that of today (McQuitty 1984: 261).
She provided no other archaeological evidence for
ancient tawabin in this article.
In a later article, McQuitty returned to the subject of
ovens in Jordan and focussed on material dated to the
7th century AD and later (McQuitty 1994: 60, 68). She
began by describing various aspects of contemporary
Other types of externally heated ovens, like baking bells, are known from
Bronze Age Italy (Cubberley et al. 1988: 99) and Classical Greece (Sparkes
1962: pl. IV 2).
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3341
ovens in Jordan and suggested that one should expect
to find differences between urban and rural ovens
(McQuitty 1994: 60). She then proceeded to discuss
ten ovens dated to the 11th century AD at Aqaba/
Ayla that appeared to be similar to the modern
tannur (McQuitty 1994: 63). At post-12th century
AD Khirbet Faris, however, seven excavated ovens
were similar in shape to modern tawabin, located in
tabun houses and associated with ash layers up to
1 m deep (McQuitty 1994: 69). She also mentioned
other tawabin reported in 7th11th-century AD con-
texts in Jordan and a possible tabun in an 18th
century village north of Jerusalem (McQuitty 1994:
70). Interestingly, she did not mention the tabun
from Iron Age Pella in this article but still stated: To
date, the archaeological evidence points to the use of
tawabeen as being more widespread than any other
type of oven during the Islamic periods, at least in
southern Bilad ash-Sham(McQuitty 1994:6970).
Despite these issues, McQuittys use of detailed
descriptions, drawings and residue analysis of ash
makes her a pioneer in the study of ovens in archaeo-
logical contexts in Jordan.
Since McQuittysIronAgetabun at Pella is so
widely cited in recent publications (Frankel 2011: 98;
Hardin 2011: 165, note 7; Meyers 2013: Chapter 7,
note 22; Shafer-Elliot 2013;Singer-Avitz 2011: note
1, 287; see further below), and since it was not
included in her 1994 article, we took a closer look at
the ovens found in the Iron Age structures in Area
VIII at Pella and published in the final report
(McNicoll et al. 1982: fig. 9; McQuitty 1984: fig. 7).
Despite a number of round installations identified as
tawabin in the plan of Area VIII (McNicoll et al.
1982: 10), the accompanying text does not mention
them at all (McNicoll et al. 1982: 60) and they do
not appear to be illustrated in the photographs.
Thus, it is impossible to identify tawabin in Iron Age
contexts at Pella because of the absence of measure-
ments, descriptions and illustrations in the final
Van der Steen (1991) published the ovens from Iron
Age Tell Deir Alla and offered a typology of contem-
porary traditional ovens in Jordan. In her survey and
discussion of the Tell Deir Alla ovens and ovens in
the excavation reports of other sites, van der Steen
did not identify any tawabin; all were of the tannur
type (van der Steen 1991: 135). Daviau (1993) recon-
structed houses in Bronze Age Palestine and, although
she did not develop an oven typology informed by eth-
nography, suggested that bread could have been baked
on the inner walls of the ovens, similar to baking in a
modern tannur (Daviau 1993: 60).
Mulder-Heymans (2002) published an experimental
and ethnoarchaeological study of ovens in Syria and
the Golan. After presenting a general typology of
ovens and schematic illustrations of the tannur,
tabun,saj and arsa/waqdia, she described excavating
atannur at Tell Hadar as motivating questions about
the construction and use of ovens. She then described
the building and use of an experimental tabun by
Druze men in the Golan and provided ethnographic
observations about baking practises in Syria and a
description of a tannur industry there. In the introduc-
tion she defined her terminology: The following terms
are used in this paper for the typology of bread ovens
used in the past and the present in the Near East
(Mulder-Heymans 2002: para. 5). By grouping the
pastand the presenttogether, what seems to be an
abbreviated version of Dalmans oven typology in
early 20th century Palestine becomes the de-facto
typology for the ancient finds.
The most interesting part of her research for the
present study is the detailed description of the construc-
tion of a moveable tabun(Mulder-Heymans 2002:
para. 45). The oven, which was 45 cm high and 45 ×
60 cm at the base, was made out of a mixture of
Jordan River clay, studio clay and straw, and reinforced
with coat hangers. The day after the tabun was fired
along with several pots placed inside it, a fire was lit
inside the oven with manure and sticks as fuel, and
lentil soup was cooked in a pot set on top of it. She
described flat bread(Mulder-Heymans 2002: para.
41) being baked on the exterior walls of the oven
although the schematic drawing in the article shows
bread loaves baking on both the interior and exterior
walls (Mulder-Heymans 2002: fig. 1b). The ovens
shape, size and portability, the location of the fuel
and dough, and the method of use in general stands
in contrast to everything we know about the traditional
tabun; therefore, it is unclear how this experimental
work contributes to our understanding of ancient or
modern ovens in the region.
Baadsgaard (2008) produced the most comprehen-
sive spatial analysis of baking ovens from Syro-
Palestinian cities in the Iron Age. Her study, which is
based on archaeological site reports, reveals that
most of the ovens were located near entryways,
which in turn might evidence female influence, co-
operation and networking, the main focus of her
article. Referencing McQuitty (1994), she wrote,
[t]he location and distribution of ashes and fire
marks are useful indicators of whether the oven
was heated from within (tannur), or from without
(tabun)(Baadsgaard 2008:2122), and concluded
that, [d]espite confusion over terminology, most
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3342
ovens from the Iron Age resemble the tannur in form
and use(Baadsgaard 2008: 26). Ali (2009) published
an ethnographic study of recent traditional ovens
(tabun and arsa types) in northern Jordan. Although
the study was motivated by archaeological questions,
he did not introduce new examples of archaeological
tawabin, instead citing ovens described in McQuitty
(1994) and Adams (2002: 22, which seems to refer to
ovens associated with metal working at Wadi Feinan).
Frankel (2011) combined ethnography, linguistics,
historical texts mostly biblical and Talmudic litera-
ture and archaeology in his description of the differ-
ent types of baking installations mentioned in the
Talmud. While he provided a long list of tannur-type
ovens starting in the Middle Bronze Age, the only
tabun he mentioned is the one reported by McQuitty
at 10th century BC Pella (Frankel 2011: 98). In his
compilation of artistic depictions of ovens from
ancient Egypt, Lebanon and Greece, it is possible to
see that all are similar to either the tannur or furn
types. Ebeling (2014a;2014b) documented and
filmed the manufacture and use of modern examples
of Dalmans type two tawabin in 13 villages in north-
ern Jordan in 2012. Her study was not conducted
with explicit archaeological questions in mind.
In her thorough, up-to-date and well-illustrated dis-
cussion of the tannur in the ancient and modern
Middle East, Tkacova (2013) discussed baking ovens
using ethnographic research and selected archaeologi-
cal sites in northern Syria. She explicitly tackled the
linguistic ambiguity of using modern terminology in
ancient typologies and suggested using the terms
tannur-likeand tabun-likefor the ancient finds. In
her discussion of ovens from 11 sites in the Khabur
region, most dating to the Bronze Age, she identified
only one installation that resembled the modern
tabun in Bronze Age Tell Arbid (Tkacova 2013: 85).
Although it was similar in shape to Dalmans type
one tabun, it differed considerably in that it was con-
structed in two layers and located in a corner of the
room (Tkacova 2013: fig. 46).
Gur-Arieh et al. (2014) applied micro-archaeologi-
cal techniques to identify the range of temperatures
to which mud-constructed installations were exposed
in a sample of 11 installations from Bronze and Iron
Age sites in Israel and demonstrated that, ‘… all the
mud-constructed installations studied by us were
internally-fueled and therefore should be identified
as tannurs rather than the externally-fueled tabuns
(Gur-Arieh et al. 2014: 50). Zukerman (2014) pub-
lished the 39 ovens recovered in the archaeological
excavation of Tell Jemmeh and provided a lengthy dis-
cussion of the use of ancient baking ovens informed by
both ethnography and archaeology. While all ovens
are called tabun in the general discussions of the archi-
tecture and stratigraphy of the site, Zukerman expli-
citly chose to refer to them as bread ovens in his
chapter (Zukerman 2014: 642). He identified most of
the ovens as tannurs that were heated primarily from
the inside (Zukerman 2014: 646), and tentatively
suggested that three, ‘… ovens with ceramic or stone
floors can be defined as tabuns, although it is poss-
ible that some tannurs had such floors as well
(Zukerman 2014: 646). It is difficult to know what is
meant by this statement, and an examination of the
photos of these ovens, which are located in a different
chapter, revealed that none of the ovens are similar to
Dalmanstabun. In addition, two of the figures in
Zukermans chapter (9.2: A traditional Palestinian
tabunand 9.3: A traditional Pakistani tandur
[tannur]) are mislabelled, adding further confusion.
According to the literature reviewed above, not a
single oven similar to an ethnographically attested
tabun can be identified in contexts earlier than the
7th century AD. This survey of oven studies has also
revealed the confusion surrounding the identification
and naming of archaeological ovens, the uncritical
use of limited ethnographic data to interpret archaeo-
logical phenomena and the tendency to make sweep-
ing generalizations based on very little information.
These issues will be discussed further below.
Ovens in archaeological site reports and the use of the
term tabun
Despite the apparent dearth of tawabin similar to
those described by Dalman and others in archaeologi-
cal contexts predating the 7th century AD, the term
tabun is common in archaeological site reports of
southern Levantine sites of all periods. In this
section, we will suggest how this may have come to
be and further highlight some of the confusion
surrounding ancient and modern ovens. This discus-
sion is intended to be illustrative rather than
The directors of early excavations in Palestine often
included their own ethnographic insights in their
reports. For example, in his description of dug ovens
found at Tell el-Hesi, Bliss (1894) wrote, [s]cattered
all over this city were pit-ovens, common in Palestine
to-day …’ (Bliss 1894: 9); later in the volume, he
described these pit-ovens as tannurs,‘… in which the
ancient inhabitants of the tell baked their bread in
the same manner as the modern Syrians bake theirs
(Bliss 1894: 114). He also recognized a different type
of oven, ‘…a rounded construction of brick, narrowing
to a small mouth, in which a pot could have been
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3343
placed(Bliss 1894: 97), and noted that, [s]uch ovens
are found near Baalbec to-day(Bliss 1894: 97). In
Schumachers report of his excavations at Megiddo
(1908), he compared ancient ovens to the tannurs
used by the modern fellahin (Schumacher 1908: 17,
see also 48), while Sellin and Watzinger (1913: 88)
described the ovens excavated at Jericho as similar to
those, ‘… still built today by fellahin and Bedouins.
In his discussion of food in ancient Gezer,
Macalister (1912: 41) reconstructed ancient baking
in, ‘… an apparatus resembling the tannur or oven of
the modern fellahin which are common in every
stratum. However, he combined the characteristics
of contemporary tannur and tabun ovens in his
description of ancient bread baking: The loaves,
which are flat discs, are placed inside, lying on the
floor (which is covered with clean pebbles) or plastered
on the wall. Outside the oven is heaped the fire, the fuel
of which is generally dried manure (Macalister
1912: 41).
Similarly confused is the oven description
in McCowns report of Badès excavations at Tell en-
Nasbeh (1947: 251):
Modern Arab ovens are of two main types: a
large domed masonry structure (tabûn) with a
door at one side, and a smaller type (tannûr)
made of thick walls of clay, or of a large
pottery vessel which is plastered over with mud
and potsherds. The remains of several large
specimens of tannûr were found. However,
enough remains to show that in TN [Tell en-
Nasbeh], as elsewhere, the ancients used in con-
struction almost exactly the same technique as
the modern Palestinians. In shape they were
like a miniature tabûn.
Although none of the above publications used the
term tabun to name an ancient oven, the idea that
ancient ovens seemed similar to modern tawabin
comes through. We might imagine that western men
had rather limited opportunities to study closely a
technology so strongly associated with women; there-
fore, their ethnographic understanding was imprecise
and sometimes inaccurate.
Discussions of ovens in early site reports were
usually quite brief. For example, Macalister (1911:
17172) commented on a house, ‘…remarkable for
the number of ovens it contains; the only other infor-
mation he provided, however, is a hand-drawn plan
with circles marking the locations of ovens (pl.
XLIX.4). In the Samaria reports, ovens are hardly dis-
cussed other than to identify floor levels and only one
photo of an oven was published (Reisner et al. 1924a:
70, 136, 151, 159; Reisner et al. 1924b: pl. 54a). In the
publications of the Oriental Institutes excavations at
Megiddo, the authors reported that, [t]he most
common type of oven was composed of a large
bell-shaped vessel of coarse unbaked clay. Numerous
potsherds (often of earlier periods) were plastered
around the outside to retain the heat. These ovens
were a common feature and were found in practically
every house(Lamon and Shipton 1939: 91). A
photo showing an oven is labelled Typical Iron Age
Oven(Lamon and Shipton 1939: fig. 104) without
reference to ethnographic sources and no other infor-
mation about this or any other oven is included in
the publication. This lack of documentation coupled
with the use of imprecise ethnographic observations
makes it difficult to assess ancient ovens uncovered
in early excavations and compare them to modern
In the 1960s, if not earlier, archaeologists moved
away from offering their own explicit ethnographic
observations in interpretations presented in archaeolo-
gical publications. At the same time, however, the term
tabun was adopted by some to describe any ancient
oven. In the publication of Ashdod, Dothan and
Freedman (1967: 72, pl. XII 4) wrote: Among the
installations inside the building, there are a number
of ovens (tabuns) …’ At Tell Dothan, Lapp (1964:
26) described, ‘…a well-preserved hearth and oven
(tabun). In the publication of Tell Nagila, a photo is
labelled: Restored oven (tabun) found in Area A
(Amiran and Eitan 1965: 116, fig. 5). At Masada,
Yadin (1965) reported finding an ‘…oven of a tabun
type(Yadin 1965: 61) as well as a room with, ‘…no
traces of ovens or tabuns …’ (Yadin 1965: 66). In
addition to the lack of clarity about what differentiated
an oven from a tabun for Yadin, it is interesting to note
that the word oven, not tabun, is used in the final
reports of his excavations at Hazor (Ben-Tor 1989;
Yadin et al. 1958;1960;1961). While we cannot ident-
ify why the term was introduced into archaeological
nomenclature, the rather arbitrary naming of ovens
persisted into the 1970s and 1980s. For example,
tabun was used on its own and its meaning was not dis-
cussed in the publications of Gezer (Dever et al. 1970:
22, pl. 17a, 20a, 22b), Pella (McNicoll et al. 1982: 10)
and Numeira (Coogan 1981: 76, fig. 3), while at Tell
Mevorakh, excavators uncovered a, ‘…clay oven
(tabun)(Stern 1984: 49). The word ovenwas used
in the final publications of other sites, like Beer-
Sheba (Herzog 1984: pl. 11.2), Tel es-Saidiyeh
While Gunneweg (1983: 111, note 2) already suggested that Macalister
was describing a tabun and not a tannur, it appears that Gunneweg
himself was not clear on the characteristics of modern tawabin.
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3344
(Pritchard 1985: 10, fig. 44) and Zeror (Ohata 1966:
39; pl. XXVI). In a preliminary report of excavations
at Meiron, ancient ovens were called either tabun
(Meyers et al. 1976: 79, 81, 91) or ovens (Meyers
et al. 1976: 80), while in a report of excavations at
Tell el-Hesi that was published in the same ASOR
Annual volume as the Meiron report, they were
called ovens (Rose et al. 1976: 123, 126, 12829).
McQuittys oft-cited articles (1984;1994) claimed
the existence of a tabun-like oven in an Iron Age
context and possibly encouraged the use of the term
tabun for any ancient oven. Instead of creating clear,
archaeologically based terminology, she and others
perpetuated the use of vaguely defined, ethnographi-
cally derived terminology to describe ancient phenom-
ena. Although a few archaeologists have commented
on the ambiguity of the term tabun and the confusion
surrounding it (e.g. Baadsgaard 2008: 26; Reich 2003:
14142; van der Steen 1991: 135), this does not seem to
have changed the way archaeologists named their
ancient ovens. Many excavation reports published in
the last two decades used the term tabun without defi-
nition or discussion, including Hazor (Ben-Tor and
Bonfil 1997;Ben-Tor et al. 2012), Lachish (Ussishkin
2004), Ashdod (Dothan and Ben-Shlomo 2005),
Megiddo (Finkelstein et al. 2000;2006), Horvat Uza
(Beit-Arieh 2007), Tel Mor (Barako 2007), Tell el-
Mazar (Yassine and van der Steen 2012), Tel
Jemmeh (Ben-Shlomo and Van Beek 2014), among
others. As in the early excavation reports, ovens are
typically discussed in a very limited way, with a few
notable exceptions (e.g. Gunneweg 1983;Zukerman
2014). Archaeologists have even used the term to
describe such varied phenomena as a fireplace at
Roman Apollonia-Arsuf (Roll and Tal 2008: 144)
and a cooking oven at Early Bronze Khirbet
Iskander (Richard 1987: 37).
Another problem is the widespread use of the term
tabun to describe externally heated ancient ovens. In
numerous publications, ancient ovens have been
reduced to either a tannur/internally heated type or a
tabun/externally heated type (e.g. Baadsgaard 2008:
2122, quoting McQuitty 1994;Gur-Arieh et al.
2014: 50; King and Stager 2001: 67; McCown 1947:
251; Zukerman 2014: 646). This dichotomy appears
to be a modern invention that is based on neither eth-
nographic nor archaeological data. While at first
glance this modern typologyseems to be a useful
classification tool, in reality its use has contributed
to an erroneous and oversimplified view of ancient
baking technology that is in tension with the ethnogra-
phically observed use of the term tabun. In summary,
the combination of imprecise ethnography, poor
documentation, careless use of ethnography to inter-
pret archaeological phenomena and the novel and
confusing use of the term tabun by archaeologists
has resulted in an incoherent picture of ancient ovens.
Tawabin in publications about daily life in biblical times
The ethnographic and archaeological studies reviewed
above have been used uncritically by the authors of
studies on ancient technologies; as a result, inaccurate
information about ancient ovens has been dissemi-
nated to a broad audience. For example, in his exemp-
lary volume on food and drink technology in ancient
Egypt, the Near East, Greece and Rome, Curtis
(2001: 207) presented a confused picture of Near
Eastern bread ovens: Constructed of clay and
gypsum mixture, the tannur oven was an upright,
beehive-shaped structure of large enough proportions
to be essentially immobile, although there were
smaller, portable ones, sometimes called today
tabun. The details are inaccurate, the conflation of
ancient and modern technology is problematic and
the lack of variability implied in this odd description
makes this definition essentially useless.
Popular and accessible publications about daily life
in biblical times, most of them written by archaeolo-
gists, have also perpetuated oven confusion. This is
most clearly seen in this description of ovens in King
and StagersLife in Biblical Israel (2001: 67):
Two kinds of ovens, designated tabun and tannur,
were used; each had several variations. Tabun,a
Palestinian Arabic word, is not found in the
Bible; tannur is the common biblical word for
oven. Both were made from a mixture of clay
and chopped straw and shaped like a beehive.
The opening on top was capped with a lid.
Fuel in the form of flat cakes of dried manure
kneaded with straw was heaped against the
tabun on the exterior, which heated the stone
pebble floor inside the oven on which the bread
was baked. Dung, even human excrement,
served as fuel in extreme situations [a]
tannur was fueled by a wood fire on the bottom
of the oven, and the loaves were placed on the
hot interior walls to bake .
As we have shown, there is no evidence for tawabin in
the Iron Age and the use of a modern Arabic term to
describe ancient technology is anachronistic. Similar
confusion about oven use is evident in other recent
popular works about daily life by authors that relied
on secondary sources (e.g. Ebeling 2010a;
MacDonald 2008;Meyers 2013;Shafer-Elliot 2013),
personal observations (Dever 2012) or seemingly no
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3345
sources at all (Borowski 2003;2004) in their descrip-
tions of ovens in ancient Israel.
The past is not to be found in the present
Nearly all of these accounts not only present an inco-
herent picture of ancient ovens based on limited ethno-
graphic information: they also contradict the
archaeological evidence. By using modern terminol-
ogy, the present and past are mixed, and, in extreme
cases, observable ethnographic phenomena are
equated to 3000-year-old cooking technology. At
best, these studies provide an inaccurate account of
essential daily life activities; at worst, they denigrate a
technology that is definitively associated with women
and perpetuate the myth of the unchanging Arab.
The latter has a long history in Palestinian archaeology.
Macalister in particular has been criticized for using
the observed customs of Palestinian villagers to infer
past behaviour by making, ‘… the uniformitarian
assumption that in the unchanging Eastthe ways
of the modern villagers were identical to those of
their remote ancestors(Chapman 1991: 220).
Baking bread, along with grinding grain and fetch-
ing water at the well, was one of many visual clichés
associated with Middle Eastern life that were trans-
mitted in popular late 19th- and early 20th-century
photographs (Graham-Brown 1988: 130). Such
images were even included in early excavation
reports to illustrate ancient lifeways: staged photo-
graphs of Palestinian women using ancient grinding
equipment, for example, appear in publications of
excavations at Gezer (Bliss and Macalister 1902: fig.
54), Megiddo (Schumacher 1908: fig. 81) and Tel en-
Nasbeh (McCown 1947: pl. 91.4). Ebeling (2010b)
argued that such images led to the neglect of the
study of ground stone artefacts and, ‘… somehow
authenticated these images, which seem to have, over
time, sunk into the collective archaeological con-
sciousness as depictions of how life really was”’.As
we have shown in this paper, the same can be said of
traditional bread ovens.
The idea that oven technology did not change over
the course of millennia can also be seen in recent
studies of traditional bread ovens in the Levant.
Some researchers have asserted not only that baking
practises in the past were similar or identical to those
today, but also that this suggests a connection
between people in the past and present. For example,
Ali (2009: 16) stated that: The use of clay ovens in
Jordan can be traced back to the Neolithic period,
and have been used since without interruption up to
the present. Similarly, in the conclusion of her 1984
article, McQuitty wrote: The remarkable similarity
of ovens in the present to those throughout antiquity
indicates a continuity of population and its traditions
in spite of changing empires and rulers(McQuitty
1984: 265). As we have shown, such sweeping state-
ments some with possible political overtones
stand on a rather flimsy base. Indeed, modern bread
ovens are not only highly variable, but they also
attest to a resourcefulness that impressed Dalman
(1987: 74) and Avitsur (1988: 15256). Finally, conflat-
ing modern and ancient bread ovens presents this tech-
nology as static and diminishes the ingenuity of the
women who made and used them.
In this paper, we have consolidated the ethnographic
data about tawabin, showed that no tabun-like ovens
are known from archaeological contexts before the
7th century AD and highlighted the confusion sur-
rounding the use of the term in archaeological and
popular publications. Although we are critical of the
oven studies published over the last few decades, we
do not wish to disvalue ethnoarchaeological studies
in the Middle East generally. Parkers (2011) study of
the social aspects of bread baking in Turkey shows
how the careful application of ethnographic data can
help us better interpret the material remains of ovens
found in excavations. In addition, the classic studies
of traditional life in the Middle East (see Hardin
2010: chapter 2) continue to provide useful infor-
mation and inspiration. Given the great changes in tra-
ditional lifeways in the region during the last century,
it is important that ethnoarchaeological studies be
conducted before these technologies are gone. When
asked if they thought people would still be baking in
tawabin 20 years from now, nearly all of the infor-
mants interviewed in northern Jordan in 2012
responded no(personal observation). Opportunities
to learn from those who make and use modern ovens
will disappear with the demise of this tradition.
We have demonstrated that the use of the word
tabun by archaeologists is problematic. We also
touched upon several other types of ovens in our
survey and noted similar issues. We will briefly
mention a few of them here. Terms such as tannur
and furn have multiple and often conflicting meanings
(see The linguistic and literary data, above) and their
unqualified use is ambiguous and confusing. Even if
we choose to apply a relatively well-defined oven
typology such as Dalmans to the ancient finds, the
variability within any specific oven type and the
overlap between them is so great that assigning a
specific name to a specific oven becomes meaningless
without further qualification. For example, Dalman
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3346
(1987:8896) identified some six types of tannurs.
When an archaeologist calls a thermal feature a
tannur, then, to which of the six types are they refer-
ring? Perhaps most importantly, applying historical
and ethnographic terminology to archaeological
phenomena blurs the line between description and
interpretation. Therefore, to avoid further confusion,
we suggest that the terminology used for ancient
thermal features should be descriptive only and lin-
guistically independent of historically- and ethnogra-
phically-derived terminology and typology. Until
such a typology is developed, archaeological installa-
tions with evidence of thermal activity should simply
be called ovens(or, better yet, thermal features,as
the term ovenimplies a specific function baking
bread that can rarely be demonstrated) in publi-
cations. Simply calling an ancient oven tabun or
tannur does nothing to advance our understanding of
these ancient features; on the contrary, it perpetuates
the problems we have described.
Although thousands of ovens have been excavated
in the southern Levant to date, very few have been
documented well, and even recent publications
include very little specific information such as dimen-
sions, spatial location, evidence of thermal activity,
ashes, etc. A few researchers have published sugges-
tions for documenting archaeological ovens
(McQuitty 1994: 73; Mulder-Heymans 2002: table 1;
Tkacova 2013:4853) and such tools can be helpful
guides. While a compilation of thermal features in
the archaeological record is beyond the scope of this
paper, our brief survey revealed a handful of complete
ovens that illustrate the variability of the archaeologi-
cal finds and may inform a more realistic typology in
the future.
The recent interest in household archaeol-
ogy will hopefully motivate archaeologists to better
document their ovens, which in turn will allow for
meaningful future work.
The likely Arabic root of the word tabun with its
earliest attestation in 10th century AD Palestine, the
lack of archaeological parallels prior to the 7th
century AD and its association with nomads suggest
the introduction of the tabun into the Levant sometime
after the Arab conquest. Although there currently
exists a gaping hole between al-Muqadassis
description of tabun and ethnographic references to
it in the 19th and 20th centuries, we feel confident
that it can be filled with further multi-disciplinary
This study was supported by a National Endowment for
the Humanities Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the
American Center of Oriental Research in Amman,
Jordan in autumn 2012. We thank NEH and ACOR
for making this research possible and are especiallygrate-
ful to ACOR Director Barbara Porter for her advice and
assistance and Diaa Mazari Gharaibeh for working tire-
lessly to make the most of our days spent interviewing
bread bakers in northern Jordan. We also thank the fol-
lowing for their support and assistance: Abdel Rahman
Alasmar, Amanda Lane, Carol Palmer, Gloria
London, Alysia Fischer, Yorke Rowan, Lauren
Weingart, Kate Hodge, Omry Smith, Etan Ayalon and
the University of Evansville.
Adams, R. 2002. From farms to factories: the development of copper
production at Faynah, southern Jordan, during the Early Bronze
Age. In, Ottaway, B. and Wager, E. (eds), Metals and Society:
2132. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Aharoni, Y. 1973.Beer-Sheba I: Excavations at Tel Beer-Sheba
19691971 Seasons. Tel Aviv: Institute of Archaeology.
Ali, N. 2009. Ethnographic study of clay ovens in northern Jordan. In,
Gebel, H. G. K. and Kafafi, Z. (eds), Modesty and Patience:
Archaeological Studies and Memories in Honour of Nabil Qadi
(Abu Salim):918. Berlin: ex Oriente.
al-Muqadassi, M. A. 1890.Palestine under the Moslems. Translated from
Arabic by G. LeStrange. London: Palestine PilgrimsText Society.
Amiran, R. and Eitan, A. 1965. A Canaanite-Hyksos city at Tell Nagila.
Archaeology 18(2): 11323.
Amiry, S. and Tamari, V. 1989.The Palestinian Village Home. London:
British Museum.
Arraf, S. 2006. From the field to the table: bread in Palestinian culture
and tradition. In, Ben-Yossef, N. (ed.), Bread: Daily and Divine:
191215. Jerusalem: The Israel Museum.
Avitsur, S. 1975. The way to bread: the example of the land of Israel.
Tools and Tillage II: 22841.
1976.Man and His Work. Jerusalem: Carta/Israel Exploration
1988. Baking installations and tools. In, Regev, Y. and Shiller, E.
(eds), Selected Articles Related to Production Processes and
Lifeways in Israel: 13961. Jerusalem: Ariel.
Baadsgaard, A. 2008. A taste of womens sociality: cooking as coopera-
tive labor in Iron Age Syro-Palestine. In, Nakhai, B. A. (ed.), The
World of Women in the Ancient and Classical Near East:1344.
Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars.
Barako, T. J. 2007.Tel Mor: The Moshe Dothan Excavations, 19591960.
Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority.
Complete and restored examples are known from Megiddo (Schumacher
1908: fig. 136), Hazor (Yadin et al. 1961: pl. XLVIII.2), Tell Nagila (Amiran
and Eitan 1965: fig. 5), Beer-Sheba (Aharoni 1973: pl. 15.1), Tel Qasile
(Avitsur 1976: 110, fig. 289), Jericho (Kenyon 1981: pl. 111a, 190b,
199ab), Tel Masos (Gunneweg 1983: 107, fig. 11AB), Tell Deir Allah
(van der Steen 1991: fig. 1); Shechem (Campbell and Wright 2002: figs
3031), Lachish (Ussishkin 2004: fig. 8.4344), Tel Rehov (Mazar 2011:
113), Tell Jemmeh (Ben-Shlomo and van Beek 2014: figs 3.97, 3.110,
3.111, 3.137, 6.53, 6.54, 6.55, 6.80, 6.81, 6.115, 6.116, 6.118) among
other sites.
Master et al.s publication of Frees excavations at Tell Dothan (2005:
14752) includes three well-preserved ovens in Area B that are dated to
the Mameluke period. While the documentation is incomplete, one com-
plete (!) oven that looks very similar to a modern tabun is shown in
Figs. 13.10 and 13.11. These three ovens are in the shape of a truncated
dome, appear to be made of a single layer of clay, and are located away
from the main residential area and positioned in the centre of small rooms.
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3347
Bauer, L. 1903.Volksleben im Lande der Bibel. 2nd ed. Leipzig:
Kommissionsverlag von H. G. Wallmann.
Behnstedt, P. 2009. Words and things. In, Al-Wer, E. and de Jong, R.
(eds), Arabic Dialectology:6375. Leiden: Brill.
Beit-Arieh, I. 2007.Ḥurvat Uza and Ḥorvat Radum: Two Fortresses in
the Biblical Negev. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University Institute of
Ben-Shlomo, D. and Van Beek, G. W. (eds). 2014.The Smithsonian
Institution Excavation at Tell Jemmeh, Israel, 19701990.
Washington, DC: The Smithsonian Institution.
Ben-Tor, A. (ed.). 1989.Hazor IIIIV: An Account of the Third and
Fourth Seasons of Excavation, 19571958 (Text). Jerusalem:
Israel Exploration Society.
, Ben-Ami, D. and Sandhaus, D. (eds). 2012.Hazor VI: The
19902009 Excavations. The Iron Age. Jerusalem: Israel
Exploration Society.
and Bonfil, R. (eds). 1997.Hazor V: An Account of the
Fifth Season of Excavation, 1968. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration
Benzinger, I. 1907.Hebräische Archäologie. 2nd ed. Freiburg: Mohr.
Bliss, F. J. 1894.A Mound of Many Cities. New York: Macmillan & Co.
and Macalister, R. A. S. 1902.Excavations in Palestine during the
Years 18981900. London: Committee of the Palestine
Exploration Fund.
Borowski, O. 2003.Daily Life in Biblical Times. Atlanta: Society of
Biblical Literature.
2004. Eat, drink and be merry: the Mediterranean diet. Near Eastern
Archaeology 67(2): 96107.
Bottéro, J. 2004.The Oldest Cuisine in the World: Cooking in
Mesopotamia. Translated from French by T. L. Fagan. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
Breen, A. E. 1906.A Diary of My Life in the Holy Land. Rochester, NY:
John P. Smith Printing Company.
Burckhardt, J. L. 1831.Notes on the Bedouins and Wahabys.Vol. I.
Translated from German by W. Ouseley. London: Colburn and
Campbell, E. F. and Wright, G. R. H. 2002.Shechem III: The
Stratigraphy and Architecture of Shechem/Tell Balatah. Vol. 1
(Text). Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research.
Canaan, T. 1933.The Palestinian Arab House: Its Architecture and
Folklore. Jerusalem: Syrian Orphanage Press.
1962. Superstition and folklore about bread. Bulletin of the American
Schools of Oriental Research 167: 3647.
Chapman, R. L. 1991. British-Holy Land archaeology: nineteenth
century sources. In, Davis, M. and Ben-Arieh, Y. (eds), With Eyes
Toward Zion III: Western Societies and the Holy Land: 20826.
New York: Praeger.
Coogan, M. D. 1981. Numeira 1981. Bulletin of the American Schools of
Oriental Research 255: 7581.
Crowfoot, G. M. H. and Baldensperger, L. 1932.From Cedar to Hyssop.
London: The Sheldon Press.
Cubberley, A. L., Lloyd, J. A. and Roberts, P. C. 1988. Testa and clibani:
the baking covers of classical Italy. Papers of the British School at
Rome 56: 98119.
Curtis, R. L. 2001.Ancient Food Technology. Leiden: Brill.
Dalman, G. 1987.Arbeit und Sitte in Palästina.Band IV: Brot, Öl und
Wein. 2nd ed. Hildesheim: G. Olms Verlag.
Daviau, P. M. M. 1993.Houses and Their Furnishings in Bronze Age
Palestine. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.
Dever, W. G. 2012.The Lives of Ordinary People in Ancient Israel. Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
, Lance, H. D. and Wright, G. E. 1970.Gezer I: Preliminary Report of
the 19641966 Seasons. Jerusalem: Nelson Glueck School of
Biblical Archaeology.
Dothan, M. and Ben-Shlomo, D. 2005.Ashdod VI: The Excavations of
Areas H and K (19681969). Israel Antiquities Authority Reports
24. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority.
and Freedman, D. N. 1967.Ashdod I: The First Season of
Excavations, 1962. Atiqot 7. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities
Ebeling, J. 2014a.Traditional Bread Making in Northern Jordan Part 1.
[video online] Available at: <
[Accessed 25 April 2015].
2014b.Traditional Bread Making in Northern Jordan Part 2: The
Oven. [video online]. Available at: <
watch?v=TaVca6KkMZQ>[Accessed 24 April 2015].
2010a.Womens Lives in Biblical Times. London: T&T Clark, Intl.
2010b. The problematic portrayal of ancient daily life in early exca-
vation reports. In The Annual Meeting of ASOR. Atlanta, GA,
November 2010.
Einsler, L. 1914. Das töpferhandwerk bei den bauernfrauen von
Ramallah und umgegend. Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-
Vereins 37(3): 24960.
Fabri, F. 1958.Once to Sinai. Translated from German by H. F. M.
Prescott. New York: Macmillan.
Finkelstein, I., Ussishkin, D. and Halpern, B. (eds). 2000.Megiddo III:
The 19921996 Seasons. Tel Aviv: Institute for Archaeology, Tel
Aviv University.
, Ussishkin, D. and Halpern, B. (eds). 2006.Megiddo IV: The
19982002 Seasons. Tel Aviv: Institute for Archaeology, Tel Aviv
Forbes, R. J. 1966.Studies in Ancient Technology. Vol. VI: Heat and
Heating, Refrigeration, Light. Leiden: Brill.
Frankel, R. 2011. Devices for baking bread in Talmudic literature.
Cathedra 139: 79114.
Graham-Brown, S. 1988.Images of Women: The Portrayal of Women in
Photography of the Middle East, 18601950. New York: Columbia
University Press.
Gur-Arieh, S., Shahack-Gross, R., Maeir, A. M., Lehmann, G.,
Hitchcock, L. A. and Boaretto, E. 2014. The taphonomy and pres-
ervation of wood and dung ashes found in archaeological cooking
installations: case studies from Iron Age Israel. Journal of
Archaeological Science 46: 5067.
Gunneweg, J. 1983. The ovens of the first campaign. In, Fritz, V. and
Kempinski, A. (eds), Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen auf der Hirbet
el-Msas (Tel Masos) 19721975: 10612. Wiesbaden:
Hardin, J. W. 2010.Lahav II Households and the Use of Domestic Space
at Iron Age II Tell Halif: An Archaeology of Destruction. Winona
Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.
2011. Understanding houses, households, and the Levantine archae-
ological record. In, Yasur-Landau, A., Ebeling, J. R. and Mazow,
L. B. (eds), Household Archaeology in Ancient Israel and Beyond:
926. Leiden: Brill.
Herzog, Z. 1984.Beer-Sheba II: The Early Iron Age Settlements.Tel
Aviv: Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University.
Jäger, K. 1912.Das Bauernhaus in Palaestina. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck
& Ruprecht.
Jaussen, P. A. 1908.Coutumes Des Arabes Au Pays de Moab. Paris:
Kenyon, K. 1981. Excavations at Jericho, III: The Architecture and
Stratigraphy of the Tell. Plates. In, Holland, T. A. (ed),
Jerusalem: British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem.
King, P. J. and Stager, L. E. 2001.Life in Biblical Israel. Louisville:
Westminster John Knox Press.
Klein, F. A. 2010. Reports about the life, customs and practices of the
Fellahin in Palestine. Part 1. In, Palestinian Life, Customs and
Practices: German Articles from the Late 19th and Early 20th
Centuries:1123. Translated from German by R. Schick.
Amman: Bilad al-Sham History Committee, University of Jordan.
Lamon, R. S. and Shipton, G. M. 1939.Megiddo I. Seasons of 192534:
Strata IV. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lapp, P. W. 1964. The 1963 Excavation at Taannek. Bulletin of the
American Schools of Oriental Research 173: 444.
Macalister R. A. S. 1911.The Excavation of Gezer: 19021905 and
19071909. Vol. I. London: John Murray.
1912.The Excavation of Gezer: 19021905 and 19071909. Vol. II.
London: John Murray.
MacDonald, N. 2008.What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat? Diet in
Biblical Times. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Master, D. M., Monson, J. M., Lass, E. H. E. and Pierce, G. A. 2005.
Dothan I: Remains From the Tell (19531964). Winona Lake,
IN: Eisenbrauns.
Masterman, E. W. G. 1901. Food and its preparation in modern
Palestine. The Biblical World 17(6): 40719.
Mazar, A. 2011. A tenth century BC oven from Tel Rehov. Cathedra 139:
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3348
McCown, C. C. 1947.Tell en-Nasbeh: Excavated underthe Direction of the
Late William Frederic Badè. Vol., 1, Archaeological and Historical
Results. Berkeley and New Haven: Palestine Institute of Pacific
School of Religion and American Schools of Oriental Research.
McNicoll, A., Smith, R. H. and Hennessy, B. 1982.Pella in Jordan 1: An
Interim Report on the Joint University of Sydney and the College of
Wooster Excavations at Pella 19791981. Canberra: Australian
National Gallery.
McQuitty, A. 1984. An ethnographic and archaeological study of clay
ovens in Jordan. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of
Jordan 28: 25967.
1994. Ovens in town and country. Berytus 41: 5376.
Meyers, C. 2013.Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Meyers, E. M., Meyers, C. L. and Strange, J. F. 1976. Excavations at
Meiron in Upper Galilee 1974, 1975: second preliminary report.
In, Freedman, D. N. (ed.), Annual of the American Schools of
Oriental Research 4: 7398.
Mulder-Heymans, N. 2002. Archaeology, experimental archaeology and
ethnoarchaeology on bread ovens in Syria. Civilisations 49:
197221. Available at: <>
[Accessed 25 April 2015].
Musil, A. 1908.Arabia Petraea III. Vienna: Kaiserlich Akademie der
Ohata, K. 1966.Tel Zeror I. Tokyo: The Society for Near Eastern
Studies in Japan.
Palmer, C. 2002. Milk and cereals: identifying food and food identity
among Fallahin and Bedouin in Jordan. Levant 34: 17395.
Parker, B. J. 2011. Bread ovens, social networks and gendered space: an
ethnoarchaeological study of Tandir ovens in southeastern
Anatolia. American Antiquity 76 (4): 60327.
Pritchard, J.B. 1985.Tell es-Saidiyeh: Excavations on the Tell,19641966.
Philadelphia: University Museum, University of Pennsylvania.
Reich, R. 2003. Baking and cooking at Masada. Zeitschrift des
Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 119 (2): 14058.
Reisner, G. A., Fisher, C. S. and Lyon, D. G. 1924a.Harvard
Excavations at Samaria, 19081910. Volume 1. Text. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press.
, Fisher, C. S. and Lyon, D. G. 1924b.Harvard Excavations at
Samaria, 19081910.Volume II. Plans and Plates. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press.
Richard, S. 1987. Archaeological sources for the history of Palestine. The
Early Bronze Age: the rise and collapse of urbanism. Biblical
Archaeologist 50 (1): 2243.
Rog ers, M. E . 1865.DomesticLife in Palestine.Cincinnati: Poe and Hitchcock.
Roll, I. and Tal, O. 2008. A villa of the Early Roman Period at
Apollonia-Arsuf. Israel Exploration Journal 58 (2): 13249.
Rose,D.G.,Toombs,L.E.andOConnell, K. G. 1976. Four seasons of
excavation at Tell el-Hesi: a preliminary report. In, Freedman, D. N.
(ed.), Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 4: 10508.
Schumacher, G. B. 1908.Tell el-Mutesellim, volume I, report of finds.
Translated from German by M. Martin. Leipzig. Available at:
of-tell-el-mutesellim>[Accessed 25 April 2015].
Sellin, E. and Watzinger, C. 1913.Jericho, Die Ergebnisse der
Ausgrbungen. Leipzig: Hinrichs.
Shafer-Elliot, C. 2013.Food in Ancient Judah. Sheffield: Equinox.
Singer-Avitz, L. 2011. Household activities at Tel Beersheba. In, Yasur-
Landau, A., Ebeling, J. R. and Mazow, L. B. (eds), Household
Archaeology in Ancient Israel and Beyond: 275301. Leiden: Brill.
Sparkes, B. A. 1962. The Greek kitchen. The Journal of Hellenic Studies
82: 12137.
Stern, E. 1984.Excavations at Tel Mevorakh (19731976) Part Two: The
Bronze Age.Qedem 18. Jerusalem: Institute of Archaeology, The
Hebrew University.
Tkacova, L. 2013.Near-Eastern Tannurs Now and Then: A Close-Up
View of Bread Ovens with Respect to the Archaeological Evidence
and Selected Ethnographical Examples from Khabur Region.BA
Thesis, Masaryk University.
Traditional Palestinian Tabun Oven. Bethlehem University Library
Website. Available at: <
athuna/tabun/>[Accessed 25 April 2015].
Ussishkin, D. (ed.). 2004.The Renewed Archaeological Excavations at
Lachish (19731994). Volume I. Tel Aviv: Institute of
Archaeology, Tel Aviv University.
van der Steen, E. J. 1991. The Iron Age bread ovens from Tell Deir Alla.
Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 35: 13553.
Waines, D. 1987. Cereals, bread and society: an essay on the staff of life
in Medieval Iraq. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the
Orient 30(3): 25585.
Wetzstein J. G. 1882. Sitzung am 15 Juli 1882. Zeitschrift für Ethnologie
14: 46470.
Wulff, H. E. 1967.The Traditional Crafts of Persia. Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press.
Yadin, Y. 1965.The Excavation of Masada, 1963/64: Preliminary
Report. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.
, Aharoni, Y., Amiran, R., Ben-Tor, A., Dothan, M., Dothan, T.,
Dunayevski, I., Geva, S. and Stern, E. 1961.Hazor IIIIV: An
Account of the Third and Fourth Seasons of Excavations,
19571958 (Plates). Jerusalem: Magnes Press.
, Aharoni, Y., Amiran, R., Dothan, T., Dunayevski, I. and Perrot, J.
1958.Hazor I: An Account of the First Season of Excavations,
1955. Jerusalem: Magnes Press.
, Aharoni, Y., Amiran, R., Dothan, T., Dunayevsky, I. and Perrot, J.
1960.Hazor II: An Account of the Second Season of Excavations,
1956. Jerusalem: Magnes Press.
Yassine, K. and van der Steen, E. 2012.Tell el-Mazar II: Excavations on
the Mound 19771981. Field I. Oxford: British Archaeological
Zukerman, A. 2014. Bread ovens and related installations. In, Ben-
Shlomo, D. and Van Beek, G. W. (eds), The Smithsonian
Institution Excavation at Tell Jemmeh, Israel, 19701990: 64250.
Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.
Ebeling and Rogel The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record
Levant 2015 VOL. 47 NO. 3349
... McQuitty, 1984: 259;Rova, 2014: 121;Smogorzewska, 2012: 242;van der Steen, 1991: 135), these studies thus suggest a technological stasis for hundreds and even thousands of years. In contrast, Ebeling and Rogel (2015) criticize this method and call for a historical approach. A number of research works indeed find typological shifts in ancient installations over time (Balossi Restelli, 2015;Parker and Uzel, 2007;van der Steen, 1991). ...
... The Small-Lined (SL) FI is known in archaeological literature as ṭabūn. Through analogies to modern communities, scholars often associate it with domestic baking (Ebeling and Rogel, 2015). Similar to the former type, it is rounded and made of mud. ...
Full-text available
Ovens, hearths and furnaces were used by early Islamic societies for baking, cooking, and the production of various artefacts. The archaeological evidence from one research area in central Israel, from the seventh–eleventh centuries, accordingly presents a variety of fire installations. This paper offers an interpretation of their function through the analyses of terminology in contemporary texts, ethno-archaeological data, and spatial relations in the archaeological record. The paper suggests that domestic baking and cooking left almost no remains in the archaeological context. Instead, fire installations in the research area were almost exclusively related to crafts.
... Ethnographic studies of tandir ovens suggest that they were generally used for the making of bread but could be used for a multitude of other activities, such as boiling, roasting, or parching (Gur-Arieh et al. 2013;Gur-Arieh 2018, p. 69). They have been used for thousands of years, discovered at sites dating to the Neolithic period throughout the Near East, Central Asia, and the Southern Caucasus (Canaan 1962;Forbes 1966;Weinstein 1973;Bottéro 1985;Emberling and McDonald 2001;Mulder-Heymans 2002;Lyons and D'andrea 2003;Parker and Uzel 2007;Parker 2011;Smogorzewska 2012;Balossi-Restelli and Mori 2014;Ebeling and Rogel 2015). Deposits in the oven were ash and charcoal-rich, containing carbonised cereals (Hordeum, Triticum spelta, Triticum aestivum/durum/turgidum, and Panicum miliaceum), and small quantities of chaff and fruit seeds (Citrullus lanatus), which relate directly to the fuelling of the oven (wood charcoal) and food preparation (cereal grains). ...
Full-text available
This paper presents the results of an archaeobotanical analysis of plant macro-remains recovered during excavations of a rural tepe site at Qaratepe, Azerbaijan, occupied during the Sasanian and Islamic periods between the 2nd and 13th centuries ad. The material derives from a 4 year Oxford University expedition which occurred between 2015 and 2018, ‘The Archaeological Exploration of Barda Project (AEB)’, established to investigate the provincial structure of the eastern Caucasus region in the Late Antique and early Islamic periods. Traditionally, archaeological practice in Azerbaijan has not embraced environmental archaeological techniques and despite the region’s importance to the understanding of early agriculture and the diffusion of crop species during the Islamic period, little archaeobotanical research has been conducted there to date. This assemblage therefore forms a rare and unique contribution to the field of archaeobotany in the Late Antique and Islamic periods in Azerbaijan and provides the first archaeobotanical evidence of crop husbandry at a rural settlement during these periods. In total, 8,676 carbonised plant remains representing a minimum of 60 species were recorded from 80 samples analysed, providing important insights into plant utilisation in Azerbaijan (Full taxonomic list available in on-line supplementary material (ESM)). Archaeobotanical evidence has revealed the range of crops cultivated and consumed at the site between the 2nd and 13th centuries. Results demonstrate that naked wheat (Triticum aestivum/durum/turgidum), barley (Hordeum vulgare), and broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) were the primarily cultivated crops between the 2nd and 6th centuries, key crops that have been present in the Southern Caucasus for several millennia. The study has also identified the cultivation of rice (Oryza sativa), watermelon (Citrullus lanatus), and melon (Melo sativa) in the 13th century, indicating a change in agricultural production in the Islamic period and the introduction of several new cultivars and agricultural adaptions.
... The 'Small-Lined fire installation' (SL) is known in the literature as ṭabūn and is usually uncritically associated with domestic baking (Ebeling and Rogel 2015). It is rounded and lined with mud, built on floors, with an internal diameter is of 40-80 cm, and its remains vary between 0.3 and 1 m in height. ...