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1200–1000 BC – Iron Age I

In archaeological terminology, the period of the judges is Iron Age I (1200-1000 BC). The archaeological record alone is rather opaque. The transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age in the thirteenth and twelfth centuries BCE, is heralded by a crisis of unprecedented magnitude, which hit the ancient civilizations around the Mediterranean, and within decades brought an end to a world order which existed for a millennium. The cause, or causes, of this catastrophe is one of the hotly debated issues in Near Eastern and Mediterranean archaeology.

In the 12th Century BC, the eastern Mediterranean world, including the land of Canaan, experienced a severe crisis. Until that time, the region was dominated by Egypt and the Hittite Empire in Anatolia, which conducted a struggle in various parts of Syria, Lebanon and Canaan. One of the roots of their might was that these two kingdoms had iron weapons, while other states only had arms made of bronze, a much weaker metal. The Hittites had kept iron technology as a well-guarded state secret.

Around 1200 BC, the situation changed unexpectedly, when the region was attacked by armies of foreign nomads, who arrived from faraway places like the Balkans and the Aegean Sea. Among them were the Philistines, who probably came from the Greek Islands. The Hittite Empire gradually disintegrated and was probably defeated by the nomadic tribes. It vanished from history, but the secrets of iron technology were now spread around the world. The Sea Peoples, who clashed with the Egyptians in the 13th century BC, may have learned their techniques from the metallurgically advanced peoples in eastern Europe. Under their influence longer swords of up to 75 centimetres began to be forged.

With the decline of Egyptian control in the 12th and 11th centuries BC, struggles for power took place among the Canaanites, Philistines and Israelites. The Philistines were one of a number of Sea Peoples who reached the eastern Mediterranean region during the final years of the Late Bronze age and the initial stage of the Iron age (ca. 1250-1100 BCE). The Sea Peoples were an amalgamation of various ethnic groups, primarily of Aegean and south-eastern European origin. They arrived in the eastern Mediterranean during the upheavals at the end of the Bronze age, and were responsible, in part, for the major changes that occurred during this transitional period.

The Philistines, who seemed to be of Aegean origin, settled on the southern coastal plain of Canaan/Land of Israel, in the area that later became known as Philistia. Though bringing unique aspects in their material culture (such as Aegean style pottery, cultic objects and architecture, and political organization), they quite rapidly adopted local Canaanite language and culture, and within some 150 years to a large extent were highly assimilated with the surrounding cultures. With their arrival, they did usher in important innovations, introducing for example efficient military and political organization and superior iron weaponry.

Dr. Avi Ofer's archaeological survey conducted in the hills of Judea during the 1990s showed that in the 11th-10th centuries bce, the population of Judah almost doubled compared to the preceding period. The so-called Rank Size Index (RSI), a method of analyzing the size and positioning of settlements to evaluate to what extent they were a self-contained group, indicates that during this period - King David's supposed period - a strong center of population existed at the edge of the region. Jerusalem is the most likely candidate for this center.

Iron Age Chronology and the United Monarchy of David and Solomon is the subject of an ongoing controversy in both biblical studies and archaeology. Doubts have been raised about the historicity of the biblical account, and consequently about the ascription of archaeological strata to this period. In bare archaeological terms, the debate is reduced to a chronological question - when does Iron Age I end and Iron Age II begin? Rural, non-urban populations showing little signs of social hierarchy settled the highlands of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee in Iron Age I. These undergo a process of urbanization and state-formation during Iron Age II. The ‘conventional’ chronology, which places the Iron Age I|II transition (in Dor terminology: the Ir1|2 transition) around 1000 BC, is based on the biblical dating of the rise of the Jewish nation-state of David and Soloman. The 'low chronology', inspired by the ‘minimalist’ or ‘nihilist’ stance, which regards the biblical narrative of this period as myth, dates the Iron Age I|II transition later, c. 900 BC.

Though the city of Dor stands somewhat apart from these developments, it plays a key role in this debate. It has an uninterrupted sequence of urban occupation levels spanning Iron Age I and Iron Age II. We can thus use the archaeology of Dor to reconstruct the development of Phoenician pottery in these phases. This pottery was extensively exported and is found in most major Iron Age centers in Israel and abroad. Conversely, there are large amounts of foreign imports at Dor. The Phoenician sequence can therefore correlate the various chronologies in the Levant and across the Mediterranean and thus transcend obstacles of regionalism.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2012 18:43:08 ZULU