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Drought Triggered Collapse of Civilization in Levant More Than 3,000 Years Ago

Oct 25, 2013 12:33 PM EDT
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Sea of Galilee
Drought triggered the collapse of previously thriving civilizations in around modern-day Israel more than 3,200 years ago, researchers found. The discovery, published in Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, solves a long-held mystery regarding the region's history.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

Drought triggered the collapse of previously thriving civilizations in around modern-day Israel more than 3,200 years ago, researchers found. The discovery, published in Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, solves a long-held mystery regarding the region's history.

Led by researchers from Tel Aviv University and the University of Bonn in Germany, the report included an unusually high-resolution analysis of pollen grains retrieved from sediment beneath the Sea of Galilee and the western shore of the Dead Sea. This, as well as a chronology of radiocarbon dating, placed the time of the crisis between 1250-1100 BC.

"Pollen is the most enduring organic material in nature," Dafna Langgut, a pollen researcher from Tel Aviv University who carried out the work of sampling, said in a statement. "These particles tell us about the vegetation that grew in the vicinity of the lake in the past and therefore testify to the climatic conditions in the region."

The specimens, taken from evidence dating back over the past 9,000 years in some cases, revealed a significant decline in Mediterranean trees such as oaks, pines and carobs during the Late Bronze Age. This was mirrored in a similar decline in the local cultivation of olive trees. The researchers attribute these patterns to repeated periods of drought, which were probably made worse by cold weather, triggering famine and marauding throughout the region.

Recent studies of pollen grains from southeast Anatolia, Cyprus, Syria and the Nile Delta suggest the crisis was widespread.

The results were devastating. Because of the change in climate, "in a short period of time the entire world of the Bronze Age crumbled," said Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University.

The drought was followed by a wet period of recovery that, the researchers say, led to resettlement and ultimately the rise of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

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