The late third millennium BC in the southern Levant

11 Jun 2019

At ... urban settlements in agriculturally productive valleys and plains in the southern Levant broke down between 2500 and 1950BC (contemporary with the First Intermediate Period in Egypt). In some places life continued as if nothing much had happened. For example, Tall al-Hammam in the Jordan Valley thrived during EBIV. The late 3rd millennium BC is coeval with the end of the EB period in the Near and Middle East. Ealry theories blamed the Amorites - but later it was found that these so called post urban people were in fact the survivors from whatever destroyed the cities and towns across the region. More recently, dourght and aridity are thought to have been the major player in the collapse of urban society - making agriculture difficult to pursue. A new study claims this has been overhyped and it was not as severe as once thought. Instead, the author is suggesting a combination of economic and poltical shenanigins were mostly to blame and rather than a sudden collapse disrupting the peasants in the fields there were people in charge that actively responded to the crisis and adapted - to what she thinks was a gradually changing environment. This all sounds a bit like modern global warming. Instead of the end of the world in a couple of years time it is more likely to go on and on for years right into the next century (or that is one opinion). Actually, the author, in the process of doing her PhD, has targeted a very weak spot in the aridity/climate change theory most favoured by mainstream. What she has done is look at those sites that survived intact and were not destroyed and left as a ruin mound. In other words, these sites (towns) survived and lived to fight another day. Tall al-Hammam entered its most successful phase of occupation (even though across the Jordan river many towns and cities were totally destroyed and not reoccupied for centuries.

Amy Karoll is a PhD candidate, a new kid on the block it could be said (assuming she is young and influenced by the theatre of global warming/climate change). She has specifically had a look at Khirbet Iskander on the central Jordanian plateau which was a fortified sedentary town during EBIV, one of several. For obvious reasons, aridity really was a problem for the people of this town, as eventually sedentary settlement on the plateau ceased (as a result of a gradually drying out). She also suggests another place was Bab edh Dhra near the Dead Sea (which I thought was abandoned at the end of the EB period - but perhaps not) and of course, Tall al-Hammam. She doesn't mention Sodom or the fact that both the last two towns have been identified with this Biblical city, but then, destruction by fire and brimstone is not part of her remit. Life in some towns continued to exist during EBIV (just as it did in Syria (the northern Levant) although most of the country on the other side of the Jordan was devastated by forces difficult to comprehend or place in context. Was it all down to earthquakes (Claude Schaefffer) or an atmospheric explosion or explosions (various others) as it is difficult to blame it on climate change as the ruin mounds were very real facts of life. They were terminal and it all happened suddenly - but Amy Karoll is right. Climate change occurs gradually, or the effects of it. Peasants do not abandon the land willingly because of drought - they learn to adapt (just as they tried to do on the central Jordanian plateau). Actually, in the end these people did adapt by switching to herding and pastoralism (following the lifestyle of others in northern Arabia). However, what Amy Karoll has ignored is the nature of the destruction levels in Cisjordan - they were pretty severe, and it happened quickly. First of all archaeologists were quick to blame conquest and the sack of towns and cities - blaming the people that in the Intermediate period were known as the Amorites. When it became obvious these people were the displaced former inhabitants of the towns, using similar pottery and other artifacts, the idea was dropped in favour of climate change (by a new generation of archaeologists). Amy Karoll may be the advance guard of another generation of archaeologists and she has delved into the climate change narrative and found it wanting. She intends to carry on researching the problem and expand it to the later MB period (when Hamman was abandoned) and the site destructions that mark the end of the LB period. A name to keep an eye out in the future - Amy Karoll.