Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Was The Earthquake That Destroyed A Canaanite Palace Related To The Santorini Volcano?

The Thera eruption of the volcano in what is now called the island of Santorini in Greece (sometimes pitched as a location of Plato's City of Atlantis) took place around 3600 years ago (possibly as early as 1642 BCE). 

This earthquake could have been the same seismic event that caused a Canaanite palace in what is now Israel to collapse around 3700 years ago - but with a date that the new article does not establish in a particularly precise or well documented manner and doesn't even attempt to assign a margin of error to the date used. 

A review of the primary source for the 1700 BCE date in the new article (quoted below) notes that this date has been assigned as 1650 BCE and 1590 BCE by most recent scholars, and that their review establishes a 50-100 year earlier date that could still be as late as 1640 BCE consistent with the Carbon-14 dating.

A team of Israeli and American researchers funded by grants from the National Geographic Society and the Israel Science Foundation has uncovered new evidence that an earthquake may have caused the destruction and abandonment of a flourishing Canaanite palatial site about 3,700 years ago.

The group made the discovery at the 75-acre site of Tel Kabri in Israel, which contains the ruins of a Canaanite palace and city that dates back to approximately 1900-1700 B.C. The excavations, located on land belonging to Kibbutz Kabri in the western Galilee region, are co-directed by Assaf Yasur-Landau, a professor of Mediterranean archaeology at the University of Haifa, and Eric Cline, a professor of classics and anthropology at the George Washington University.

"We wondered for several years what had caused the sudden destruction and abandonment of the palace and the site, after centuries of flourishing occupation," Yasur-Landau said. "A few seasons ago, we began to uncover a trench which runs through part of the palace, but initial indications suggested that it was modern, perhaps dug within the past few decades or a century or two at most. But then, in 2019, we opened up a new area and found that the trench continued for at least 30 meters, with an entire section of a wall that had fallen into it in antiquity, and with other walls and floors tipping into it on either side."

According to Michael Lazar, the lead author of the study, recognizing past earthquakes can be extremely challenging in the archaeological record, especially at sites where there isn't much stone masonry and where degradable construction materials like sun-dried mud bricks and wattle-and-daub were used instead. At Tel Kabri, however, the team found both stone foundations for the bottom part of the walls and mud-brick superstructures above.

From Science Daily.

The paper is:

Michael Lazar, Eric H. Cline, Roey Nickelsberg, Ruth Shahack-Gross, Assaf Yasur-Landau. Earthquake damage as a catalyst to abandonment of a Middle Bronze Age settlement: Tel Kabri, Israel. PLOS ONE, 2020; 15 (9): e0239079 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0239079

The body text regarding the dating states:

Tel Kabri flourished during the Middle Bronze Age (hereafter MB) and was the third largest site in the Levant at the time (after Hazor and Ashkelon). It was a fortified center of a regional polity and housed the largest MB palace found to date in the southern Levant, with an estimated area of 6000 m2. The palace is known from its modest beginning in the MB I (Kabri Area D-West, stratigraphic Phase VI) to its zenith in the MB II (Kabri Area D-West, stratigraphic Phase III) [3133], dated ca. 1900–1700 BCE (high middle chronology [34]; cf. [35]).

During its final phase, the palace underwent massive renovation, reaching its greatest size. This involved the addition of a two-room complex lined with carved stone blocks known as “orthostats” (the “Orthostat Building”), probably used for banqueting, and a wing for the accommodation of hundreds of large storage jars (pithoi) containing spiced wine—the “Southern and Northern Storage Complexes” [26, 3133, 36].

At the end of this phase, ca. 1700 BCE, the palace and its surrounding areas were abandoned [34], for reasons that are still unclear. The site then lay uninhabited for almost a millennium, after which only minimal human activity is recorded from the Iron Age and later (e.g. [31] and references therein). This study examines the possibility that the demise of this palace and settlement, during a period of flourishing and expansion, may be attributed to an earthquake. , , , 

In terms of historic earthquakes, the Dead Sea basin, one of the pull-apart basins located along the length of the DSF, preserves in its sediments the largest and most comprehensive near-continuous record of earthquakes in the southeastern Levant going back at least 70,000 years (e.g. [3941]). Examination of these records for a possible large earthquake at the time of the damage of the Tel Kabri palace indicates the occurrence of an earthquake around 3700 BP (i.e., 1700 BCE). However, there is little evidence to connect this event with the destruction at Tel Kabri. . . .

A comprehensive examination of the Tel Kabri MB II palace was carried out in order to shed light on the reason(s) for its demise during what appears to be a very prosperous period in its history. These are discussed below, in light of additional factors that could have led to the abandonment of the site.

Pollen records from the southern Levant indicate a relatively wet period between 1750–1550 BCE [53, 54], correlated to a period of high lake levels in the Dead Sea [55]. This agrees with climatic conditions in central Europe during this time (e.g. [56]). Therefore, it seems that there was no extreme environmental crisis, or vast fluctuations in the climate during the MB II, at the time of abandonment.

Economic decline also seems not to have been a factor. On the contrary, a significant renovation program was implemented in the palace during its last constructional phase (site stratigraphic Phase III), just a short time before its end, showing that considerable means were still available at the time [32, 51].

Another indicator of wealth towards the palace’s end was uncovered in the large storage rooms, which contained pithoi that were filled with at least 4000 liters of wine when the palace was destroyed [33]. That quantity of wine would have had an estimated value of 625 silver shekels, a very high sum in a society where a worker’s salary was one shekel per month and a sheep cost 1.5 shekels [33].

Furthermore, the palace seems to have had several traits that strengthened its environmental resilience: zooarchaeological finds are consistent with a diverse and non-specializing animal economy using different ecological niches within the nearby territories without creating excessive environmental stress ([57] and references therein). The use of fuel for commodities consumed by the palace was also evaluated. A study of the plaster floors [58] concluded that most of their volume was prepared from pulverized chalk, while only a few localities included very thin (less than 1 cm) superimposed lime plaster surfaces. Similarly, the pithoi used in the wine storage rooms were shown to be fired at low temperatures not exceeding 600°C, in contrast to findings from other Bronze Age palatial workshops [59]. Taken together, both studies indicate that demands on local wood fuel supplies were not excessive, as pyrotechnology was conducted on a rather fuel-conservative scale. Kabri seems to have been maintaining a sustainable relationship with its environment.

Finally, it seems to us that the destruction of Kabri is unlikely to have been caused by violent human activity. There are no visible signs of conflagration, no weapons such as arrows like those uncovered in the destruction layer of Ugarit (ca. 1190 BCE–[60, 61]) that would indicate a battle, nor any unburied bodies related to combat. No hoards that would indicate preparation for a siege or an organized abandonment have been found, nor mass graves that indicate pandemic fatalities. Additionally, the MB II is a peaceful period in terms of Egyptian military activity. The demise of Kabri occurs during the Second Intermediate Period in Egypt and thus postdates the earlier Middle Kingdom incursions into Canaan, such as that of Khu-Sebek, which took place during the days of Senusret III in the 19th century BCE. At the same time, the abandonment of the site predates the renewals of Egyptian campaigns during the 18th dynasty, beginning with Ahmose, ca. 1540–1530 BCE [62]. Furthermore, there seems to be an overall decrease in the level of intra- and inter-group violence in Canaanite society, which is reflected in a dramatic decrease in the number of warrior tombs as well as weapons in burials from MB I to MB II [63]. 
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59. Waiman-Barak P, Susnow M, Nickelsberg R, Cline EH, Yasur-Landau A, Shahack-Gross R. Technological aspects of Middle Bronze Age II production of pithoi at Tel Kabri, Israel: specialized pottery production in a palatial system. Levant. 2018;50: 32–51.

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The paper mostly relies for the date on reference 34 which states:

We note again that the end of Phase III has already been dated by ceramic material to the late Middle Bronze II period and that there is no direct evidence for Middle Bronze III pottery from the palatial phases (see above). If Model A is correct and the end of Phase III at Kabri dates to around Figure 4 Modeled probability range for the transition from Phase IV to Phase III of the Middle Bronze Age palace of Tel Kabri based on Model A. Figure 5 Modeled probability range for the end of Phase III of the Middle Bronze Age palace of Tel Kabri based on Model A at 1700 BC, this will also give a result for the end of Middle Bronze II that is approximately 50 yr higher than the traditional chronology date of ~1650 BC for the transition from Middle Bronze II to Middle Bronze III (e.g. Dever 1992, 1997). 

These results are also considerably higher—by about a century—than the low Middle Bronze Age chronology, in which the transition from Middle Bronze II to Middle Bronze III is dated to ~1590 BC (Bietak 2013), even when the most recent range of the 95.4% probability distribution in our model is considered. Our end date for Phase III is thus 50–100 yr higher (older) than expected, at least according to current chronological frameworks. 

Therefore, we wanted to test how low (i.e. how young) the end date for Phase III theoretically could be. 

For Model B (Exponential Model), we considered the samples only from archaeological Phase III and assumed that their dates are distributed exponentially towards the end of the use of the building, using a Tau_Boundary paired with a Boundary in OxCal. This essentially tests how recent the end of the Middle Bronze Age palace of Kabri could possibly be, given the 14C data. 

For Model C (Uniform Phase), we eliminated all samples with potential inbuilt age (i.e. wood charcoal samples) and only considered short-lived samples from archaeological Phase III and assumed that their dates are uniformly (rather than exponentially) distributed throughout the Phase. 

According to Model B (exponential), the end date for Phase III still falls around 1700 BC, but with a slightly larger error margin that now also includes the first half of the 17th century BC, between 1712 and 1670 BC at 68.2% probability, or between 1731 and 1640 BC at 95.4% probability. Model C (uniform) also places the end date for archaeological Phase III around 1700 BC, again with a slightly larger error margin compared to Model A (stratigraphical). 

According to Model C (uniform), archaeological Phase III ends between 1732 and 1676 BC at 68.2% probability, or between 1742 and 1640 BC at 95.4% probability. 

However, we note that Models B and C disregard the site’s stratigraphic evidence (using samples of earlier stratigraphical phases as termini post quos) and were only created to test how low (young) the end of Phase III could technically be, given the 14C data. We regard Model A as representative for the site and conclude that the palace (and Phase III) at Kabri ended around 1700 BC, thus 50–100 yr earlier than expected based on current chronological models for the Middle Bronze Age Levant.


Darayvus said...

No way man, that's silly.
The IntCal20 calibrations do have Thera's eruption likely around 1600 BC, but that is a full century after the earthquake in the Galilee. And hundreds of miles apart.

andrew said...

Not sure that the dating of the earthquake is very solid.

Darayvus said...

Thanks for expanding this post with an explanation. I'll read it.

Darayvus said...

... okay, Wikipedia is not a good source for marking Thera that early. Again, please read the IntCal20 articles in Radiocarbon 62.4 (August 2020). And Baillie and others have pointed to Alaska's Aniakchak for the 1640s winter in the northern latitudes... which were redated to the 1620s.

Consensus is pushing Thera to around 1600, maybe even later.