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Last Days of Ugarit

9 December 2020

This came from http://cojs.org/the-last-days-of-ugarit/ … one of the many cities and towns destroyed at the end of the LB age was Ugarit. For a time, the excavator, Claude Schaeffer, went along with mainstream at the time and thought the city was probably captured and burnt by marauding sea peoples. Clay tablets from a baking kiln in Ugarit even seem to reveal marauding elements were active in Syria at the time. However, Schaeffer abandoned this idea and opted for a natural disaster. It included earthquake. In fact, he thought in terms of a huge earthquake as he could not think of anything else that might have caused the destruction, which was extensive and all encompassing from one side of the city to the other. In his excavation report in Ugaritica [volume 5] :1968 the reasons were set out. Schaeffer and his team noted, even in his first season, back in 1929, the presence of a fine powdery soil, pale yellow in colour, and sometimes white, comprising the top most layer of the tell. This level or layerhad no actual stratification within it yet was in places 2m thick [6 feet]. In this dry soil lay the remains of buildings obliterated by natural disaster. It involved earthquake, and fire. The whole city had been covered in white ash and yellow soil, mixed. It was irrefutable evidence that Ugarit's end was very hot, and dry.

The pale yellow layer was subsequently covered with the passage of time, by brown earth and debris. Above this lay a dark brown humus, evidence of a period of inactivity at the site, dating to the Iron Age, the 7th and 6th centuries BC. There is evidence of a few houses  on the tell from the Hellenistic period, and likewise the odd piece of Roman period archaeology. There was never again a city or town established on or beneath the tell.

Beneath the yellow dusty layer of the late LB period were strata of buildings and activity throughout the LB and MB periods. The colour and composition of the soil at this time suggests a wetter climate. Schaeffer concluded that there was probably a period of extreme aridity at the end of the LB, leading up to the destruction of the city. There is another way of looking at it and that is the heat of the destruction event was so hot it created the pale yellow soil layer, which we may note was integrated, or mixed, with the white ash. What might do that?

There was also a major earthquake in the Amarna period and it seems to have been mentioned in one of the EA letters from the city of Akhnaton in Egypt. Going back to the final destruction we are told that dressed stone blocks collapsed, and buried the kiln in which hundreds of tablets were being fired. The final destruction of the palace and most of the other buildings, if not all of them, show a devastating event when even the most solid of walls collapsed or was overturned. Evidence of fire is everywhere. Ash layers up to half a metre thick lay on the floors of rooms and in the courtyard of the palace. The fire was so intense that some dressed limestone blocks in walls were melted into pure lime. Streams of lime solidified into large boulders and stalachtites. These formed a hard brittle matrix around objects. What was also apparent was that the earthquake and the fiery demise also occurred at the same time. Schaeffer added, over many years the excavators did not find a single human victim of the tragedy, or a skeleton. It seems the population had enough time to flee. Neither was there any trace of a foreign invasion, or invaders. So, what happened.

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