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Archeological History of Israel

80004000Neolithic Period
40043761Creation40003150Chalcolithic Period
31502900Early Bronze Age I
29002600Early Bronze Age II
26002300Early Bronze Age III
22001950Middle Bronze Age I
19211655Patriarchal Age19501550Middle Bronze Age II
16551491Bondage in Egypt 15501400Late Bronze Age I
14511095Age of the Judges14001200Late Bronze Age II
12001000Iron Age I
1095925Davidic Kingdom1000800Iron Age II
925586Two Kingdoms800586Iron Age III
586536Babylonian Captivity
536333Persian Rule

Archeology provides a valuable link between Israel's past and present. Thousands of sites have been excavated throughout the country, providing an opportunity to study its rich history and shedding light on the culture, society and daily life of its inhabitants throughout the centuries.

The territory of modern Israel was occupied intermittently half a million to some 40,000 years ago during the Lower and Middle Paleolithic ages - the Old Stone Age. The transition from the Palaeolithic to the Neolithic (8th-4th millennia BC) cultures was marked by the change from plant-gathering and animal-hunting to plant-growing and animal-domestication. During this period, the level of the Mediterranean Sea rose again, as the glacial period came to an end, and the coastline stabilized, to roughly its present contours. The Coastal Plain became narrower and was covered by sparse forest and grasslands, with swamps in low-lying areas. The number of animal species had declined and consisted mainly of gazelles and wild cattle.

In Neolithic times there was more rainfall in this region than there is today. This savannah environment permitted human hunter-gatherers to live on wild grains and on the meat of hunted animals (deer, gazelle, wild ass and birds). Typical villages consisted of several dozen rounded stone dwellings, two to four meters in diameter, built close together. The inhabitants of these Neolithic villages were hunters, as evidenced by hundreds of flint arrowheads and bones of undomesticated animals found in the dwellings; they also gathered wild grain, which they ground on the primitive grindstones found in the settlements.

The "Chalcolithic" copper-using culture succeeded the Age of Stone - both stone and copper tools were used side by side. The numerous changes observed in Chalcolithic social and economic organization are characteristic of chiefdom organizations. During the Chalcolithic period (4th millennium BCE), an agricultural revolution took place in the region. Hunting and gathering of grain were replaced by cultivation of barley and wheat and by herds of domesticated goats and sheep. Small settlements with planned stone dwellings and stone-lined grain silos dug into the ground were uncovered throughout the valley. Harvesting of the grain was done with sickles of bone or wood, into which toothed flint blades had been inserted; the grain was ground on grindstones, many of which were found in the dwellings.

The Chalcolithic population relied for survival on agriculture and herding. Animal bones found in the excavations attest to domesticated sheep and goats, but also to game animals as food sources. The botanical findings indicate that the inhabitants consumed wheat, peas and lentils, amongst other crops. Olive wood was widely used in construction and olives were, undoubtedly, a food source. Remains of an unknown culture of the Chalcolithic period (4th millennium BCE) have been discovered in the Golan since the 1960s. This culture has unique characteristics, but also shares features common to the Chalcolithic culture that flourished in other parts of the Land of Israel. The Golan is a region of basaltic rock with plentiful rainfall, and its extensive pasturelands have attracted transient herders in all periods of time. During the Chalcolithic period, they settled in small permanent villages and in isolated farmsteads, built on the banks of valleys with small perennial springs.

The Bronze Age is the name given by archaeologists to that stage in human culture, intermediate between the Stone and Iron Ages, when weapons, utensils and implements were, as a general rule, made of bronze. For over 5,000 years humans have known of and been using bronze, the product obtained by adding tin to copper. Bronze is more fusible than copper and thus better suited for casting; it is also harder and less malleable. The bronze of classical antiquity consisted chiefly of copper, alloyed with one or more of the metals, zinc, tin, lead and silver, in proportions that varied as times changed, or according to the purposes for which the alloy was required. The Bronze Age was the period of time when bronze was not only used to make many items which the people valued and treasured, but also weapons. Spear heads, arrow heads and a wide range of jewellery. Besides varied and beautiful weapons, frequently exhibiting high workmanship, amulets, coronets, diadems of solid gold, and vases of elegant form and ornamentation in gold and bronze are found.

Unlike the other ancient arms, swords were a direct consequence of the introduction of metal. There are no stone predecessors of this kind of weapon. Axes, arrows and spears have a long wooden handle or shaft and a small cutting or piercing head which was fashioned of flint during the Neolithic. Swords on the other hand have short wooden or ivory handles and long cutting edges, which could only be achieved with a metal harder than copper. Bronze, easier to cast than copper and significantly harder, was first used for making swords. Its natural temper could be further augmented by repeated heating and cooling and hammering.

In the 12th Century BC, the eastern Mediterranean world, including the land of Canaan, experienced a severe crisis. This formative period saw the emergence of the Israelites, who began as a loosely organized, rural society. Beginning with the decline of the great powers of the Ancient Near East around 1200 BC, it lasted over six hundred years, until the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The Bible records many of the important events of these times.

Copper and copper-base metals continued to be the major metal in use during the first part of the Iron Age (end of 2nd beginning of 1st Millennium BC). Bronze scrap re-melting continued (mainly v-shaped clay crucibles, slags, clay tuyres) and structures of open camp- fires full of metal production remains were found in several sites in Israel associated mainly with the Philistines and the Sea People settlements on the coast.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2015 20:03:50 ZULU