Posts Tagged ‘levant’

Clay shards discovered in Lower Galilee may mark oldest evidence for use of oil in entire Middle East.

Olive oil was used in the Land of Israel as early as 8,000 years ago, archaeologists working at an antiquities site in the Lower Galilee said Wednesday, heralding the earliest evidence for use of the staple in the country and possibly the entire Middle East.

The findings by an Israeli team were published recently in the Israel Journal of Plant Sciences and announced Wednesday.

Tests of potsherds, some dating back to 5,800 BCE, found in 2011-2013 during a salvage excavation ahead of the widening of Road 79, showed traces of olive oil remarkably similar to modern versions, researchers said.

Ianir Milevski and Nimrod Getzov of the Israel Antiquities Authority methodically sampled pottery vessels found in the excavation at Ein Zippori in the Lower Galilee in order to ascertain what was stored in them and how they were used by the site’s ancient inhabitants.

“Although it is impossible to say for sure, this might be an olive species that was domesticated and joined grain and legumes – the other kinds of field crops that we know were grown then. Those crops are known from at least 2,000 years prior to the settlement at Ein Zippori. With the adoption of olive oil the basic Mediterranean diet was complete. From ancient times to the present, the Mediterranean economy has been based on high quality olive oil, grain and must, the three crops frequently mentioned in the Bible,” they said in a statement.

Their tests, conducted with Dvory Namdar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Earth Sciences, revealed that the pottery dating to the Early Chalcolithic period contained olive oil.

A comparison of the results of the extraction from the archaeological sherds with those of modern, one-year-old oil, showed a strong resemblance between the two, indicating a particularly high level of preservation of the ancient material, which had survived close to its original composition for almost 8,000 years.

Of the 20 pottery vessels sampled, two were found to be particularly ancient, dating to approximately 5,800 BCE.

The researchers said the findings went hand in hand with recent finds at Kfar Samir, a 7,700-year-old site now underwater off the coast of Haifa, where the oldest evidence of olive oil production was discovered.

“Now at Zippori, evidence has been found for the first time of the use of olive oil. Together with the Kfar Samir discovery, this is the earliest evidence of olive oil production in the country, and possibly the entire Levant (the Mediterranean basin),” the researchers said in a statement.

The discovery is apparently timed for the start of the holiday of Hanukkah, which Jewish tradition holds marks the second-century BCE re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the miracle of a one-day supply of olive oil used to light a ceremonial menorah lasting for eight days.

Milevski said the find, dating from 5,000 years before the Hanukkah story, did not supply a definite clue as to whether the oil was used for consumption, lighting, or both. “We found two large vessels and another small one; all were probably only used to store the oil. What it was used for we can only guess.”

Small clay candles, flat bowls filled with oil in which a wick was placed and lit, “date from later periods,” he added.

The society using the oil was pre-Jewish and practiced a religion revolving around the worship of fertility. “We have no writing during that period so we know little about them. We do not know what language they spoke but we assume it was an early Semitic language, from which Babylonian and Akkadian evolved and later also Hebrew and Arabic,” Milevski said.

Milevski said that on the same site the archaeologists found stone palettes with engravings of schematic female figures with animals around them. “In the same site we also found bones from the limbs of large animals engraved with images of eyes, trees and triangles symbolizing the female sex,” he said.

One of the clay pots reconstructed from sherds found at the site near En Zippori at the Lower Galilee. (Courtesy Israel Antiquities ).

A clay pot from the Early Chalcolithic period as found on site at Ein Zippori (Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority)

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Analysis of pollen grains taken from sediment beneath the Sea of Galilee have pinpointed the period of crisis that led to the Late Bronze Age collapse of civilization.

Topic: Drought in Bronze Age

TEL AVIV — More than 3,200 years ago, life was abuzz in and around what is now this modern-day Israeli metropolis on the shimmering Mediterranean shore.

To the north lay the mighty Hittite empire; to the south, Egypt was thriving under the reign of the great Pharaoh Ramses II. Cyprus was a copper emporium. Greece basked in the opulence of its elite Mycenaean culture, and Ugarit was a bustling port city on the Syrian coast. In the land of Canaan, city states like Hazor and Megiddo flourished under Egyptian hegemony. Vibrant trade along the coast of the eastern Mediterranean connected it all.

Yet within 150 years, according to experts, the old world lay in ruins.

Experts have long pondered the cause of the crisis that led to the collapse of civilization in the Late Bronze Age, and now believe that by studying grains of fossilized pollen they have uncovered the cause.

In a study published Monday in Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, researchers say it was drought that led to the collapse in the ancient southern Levant.

Theories have included patterns of warfare, plagues and earthquakes. But while climate change has long been considered a prime factor, only recently have advances in science given researchers the chance to pinpoint the cause and make the case.

The journal reports that an unusually high-resolution analysis of pollen grains taken from sediment beneath the Sea of Galilee and the western shore of the Dead Sea, backed up by a robust chronology of radiocarbon dating, have pinpointed the period of crisis to the years 1250 to 1100 B.C.

Unlike studies examining longer-term processes that may require a pollen analysis of strata 500 years apart, this pollen count was done at intervals of 40 years — the highest resolution yet in this region, said Prof. Israel Finkelstein of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University.

He added that the uniqueness of the study also lay in the combination of precise science and archaeological and historical analysis, offering the fullest picture yet of the collapse of civilization in this area at the end of the Bronze Age.

“Egypt is gone. Forever,” Professor Finkelstein said. “It never got back to that level of prosperity again.”

The first recorded hint of trouble in the north came in the mid-13th century B.C., according to the study, when a Hittite queen wrote to Ramses II, saying, “I have no grain in my lands.”

Several years ago, Professor Finkelstein and Prof. Steve Weiner of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel received a grant from the European Research Council to conduct research aimed at reconstructing ancient Israel.

The project consists of 10 tracks, including ancient DNA and molecular archaeology — an effort to identify what 3,000-year-old ceramic vessels might have contained.

For the climate change part of the project, Professor Finkelstein joined forces with Dafna Langgut, a palynologist — or pollen researcher — at Tel Aviv University, and Prof. Thomas Litt of the Institute of Geology, Mineralogy and Paleontology at the University of Bonn in Germany.

Recent studies of pollen grains conducted by experts in southeast Anatolia, Cyprus, along the northern coast of Syria and the Nile Delta came up with similar results, though with less control over the chronology, indicating that the crisis was regional.

Dr. Langgut described in an interview how the team extracted about 60 feet of cores of gray muddy sediment from the center of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, passing through 145 feet of water and drilling 65 feet into the lake bed, covering the last 9,000 years. At Wadi Zeelim in the southern Judean Desert, on the western margins of the Dead Sea, the team manually extracted eight cores of sediment, each about 20 inches long.
“We carried them on our backs,” Dr. Langgut said.

Pollen grains are one of the most durable organic materials in nature, she said, best preserved in lakes and deserts and lasting thousands of years. Each plant produces its own distinct pollen form, like a fingerprint. Extracting and analyzing the pollen grains from each stratum allows researchers to identify the vegetation that grew in the area and to reconstruct climate changes.

The laboratory work was carried out partly in Bonn and partly in Tel Aviv. To obtain the most precise results possible, Professor Finkelstein instructed the Tel Aviv scientists to focus on the period of 3,500 B.C. to 500 B.C. and analyze samples at intervals of 40 years. The process began in 2010 and took three years.

The results showed a sharp decrease in the Late Bronze Age of Mediterranean trees like oaks, pines and carobs, and in the local cultivation of olive trees, which the experts interpret as the consequence of repeated periods of drought.

The study also draws on a case study by Prof. Ronnie Ellenblum, a geographer and historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, of another regional collapse 2,000 years later to explain why, unlike in the steppe regions, a decrease in precipitation would have such a destructive effect on established city-states in green areas like Megiddo. The droughts were probably exacerbated by cold spells, the study said, causing famine and the movement of marauders from north to south.

After the devastation came a wet period of recovery and resettlement, according to the experts — a new order that gave rise to the kingdoms of biblical times.

“Understanding climate is key to understanding history,” said Professor Finkelstein, a co-author of “The Bible Unearthed,” a book published in 2001 that viewed the Bible as a national epic and a product of the human imagination. Taking issue with traditional efforts to use archaeology to verify the historicity of the biblical record, the authors promoted archaeology as a means of reconstructing the history of ancient Israel.

But biblical stories like Joseph’s interpretation of the pharaoh’s dream about seven fat cows being eaten by seven gaunt cows, signifying a period of abundance followed by famine, Professor Finkelstein said, “reflects the idea that climate is not stable.”

He added, “The authors of the Bible knew very well the value of precipitation and the calamity that may be inflicted on people by drought.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 22, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated one aspect of the extraction of core samples of sediment from the Sea of Galilee. The team passed through 145 feet of water to drill into the lake bed, not 1,000 feet.

Original article:

By ISABEL KERSHNER October 22, 2013

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Ruins on the surface of Tel Dor, located about 19 miles (30 kilometers) to the south of Haifa, in Israel. Phoenician flasks from this site, dating back around 3,000 years, were among those that contained cinnamaldehyde, the compound that gives cinnamon its flavor. These finds indicate the existence of trade that brought cinnamon from the Far East to the area of modern-day Israel.
Credit: Photo by Lang Gito, CC Attribution 2.0 Generic

Topic: Cinnamon

How far would you go to get your cinnamon fix? If you lived in the Levant 3,000 years ago (a region that includes modern day Israel), very far indeed new research indicates.

Researchers analyzing the contents of 27 flasks from five archaeological sites in Israel that date back around 3,000 years have found that 10 of the flasks contain cinnamaldehyde, the compound that gives cinnamon its flavor, indicating that the spice was stored in these flasks.

At this time cinnamon was found in the Far East with the closest places to Israel being southern India and Sri Lanka located at least 3,000 miles (nearly 5,000 kilometers) away. A form of it was also found in the interior of Africa, but does not match the material found in these flasks.

This discovery “raises the intriguing possibility that long-range spice trade from the Far East westward may have taken place some 3,000 years ago,” researchers write in a paper to be published in the journal Mediterranean Archaeology andArchaeometry. Although cinnamon can be purchased today at any grocery or bulk food store, 3,000 years ago, people in the Levant would have needed to take part in trade that extended beyond the edge of the known world in order to acquire it, something this discovery suggests they were willing to do.

This trade may go back ever further into antiquity and involve other goods and parts of the Middle East. The researchers note, for example, that black pepper from India has been found in the mummy of Ramesses II, a pharaoh of Egypt who lived more than 3,200 years ago.

From the Far East to Israel

At the time of this trade, Israel’s coastal inhabitants included the Phoenicians, a people so renowned for their seafaring skills the ancient writer Herodotus claimed they had succeeded in sailing around Africa around 600 BC (something scholars are doubtful of today).

But, while these people were great seafarers, they probably did not sail all the way to the Far East to get these goods, perhaps instead using intermediaries along the way.

“We don’t think they sailed directly [to the Far East]; it was a very hard task even in the 16th century A.D.” Dvory Namdar, a researcher with the Weizmann Institute of Science and Tel Aviv University, told LiveScience in an interview. Her research colleague Ayelet Gilboa, of the University of Haifa, also agreed in an interview that it was very doubtful there was a direct voyage.

They explained that the flasks that contained cinnamon were made locally in northern coastal Israel which back then was part of ancient Phoenicia. They appear to have been designed to hold precious contents, featuring a narrow opening with thick walls. Flasks like these have been found in special places such as treasuries and temple storerooms, the researchers noted.

Namdar and Gilboa explained that the bark from the cinnamon tree would have been brought in from the Far East in a dry form and, when it reached Phoenicia, was mixed with some form of liquid and put in these flasks. Then, afterwards it was shipped all over Phoenicia and also to neighboring regions such as Philistia (much of which is located in modern day southwest Israel) and Cyprus.

Cinnamon mixed in wine?

A further mystery the team faces: What was the cinnamon used for? The cinnamon from these flasks would have tasted “roughly the same as today,” Namdar said.

One possibility, Namdar and Gilboa said, is that people of the time mixed the cinnamon in with wine, an idea supported by the fact that the flasks were quite small, whereas wine was stored in bigger containers. “If you mix it with a bigger [container of wine], then you get flavored wine,” they said. Indeed, cinnamon is often used in wine-based recipes today, including ones for mulled or spiced wine.

The project was supported by a European Research Council Advanced Grant.

Original article:
By Owen Jarus, August 20, 2013


Bark from Cinnamomum verum, which is found naturally in southern India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar; another form of cinnamon comes from Cinnamomum cassia, found naturally in China, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. More research is needed to determine the origin of the cinnamon found in the ancient flasks.
Credit: Photo by H. Zell, CC

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Topic: Ancient life in the Levent

Eastern valley shows off traces of Neolithic Age

MALATYA – Anatolia News Agency

Home to humans in every age, cultural officials have determined that the Levent Valley in the eastern Anatolian province of Malatya possesses traces of life going back 10,000 years

The Levent Valley is home to thousands of large and small caves carved by the human hand, according to officials. There are still 20 villages in the village (L). AA photo

Recent archaeological work in the Levent Valley in the eastern province of Malatya’s Akçadağ district has revealed traces of life from the Neolithic Age.

Levent İskenderoğlu, chairman of Malatya’s branch of the Conservation Implementation and Control Branch (KUDEB), said the 28-kilometer-long Levent Valley was a very attractive place thanks to its geological formations.

The valley is home to thousands of large and small caves carved by the human hand, he said. “One can see the traces of life in these caves with the naked eye.”

KUDEB has recently completed inventory work in the valley, he said. “The work, carried out by scientists – KUDEB’s technical staff including art historians and archaeologists – has revealed that life existed there until the Paleolithic age. We have seen traces of life from the Neolithic period in the valley caves.

There are also traces of the Hittite, Roman, Seljuk and Ottoman periods. Life is still continuing in villages. We can say that life has been continuing in the Levent Valley, which is a natural wonder, for 10,000 years. People have chosen this area to life in every age.”

20 villages exist

Iskenderoğlu said that within the scope of the work, they had discovered the existence of 26 areas that have geological importance, adding that there were nearly 20 villages in the valley including Levent, Kozalak, Bağ and Sarıhacı.

The official also said they would publish the result of the work in a book.

Kozalak village headman Hüseyin Ünal said the former name of their village was Hartut and added that living in the valley was fantastic. “The air is clean, the water is clear, the soil is fertile in this valley. It gives happiness to people living there.”

Ünal said people in the region made a living by cultivating beans, sugar beet, apricots and chickpeas.

He said the Çerkeztepe tumulus, which is located in the spot where the Bağ and Sakalıuzun villages merge in the valley, had been declared a protected site by the Culture and Tourism Ministry, adding that there were 5,000-year-old structures between Yalınkaya and Kozalak.

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