Survey of Archaeological Periods—Bronze and Iron Age Levant

Early Bronze Age

The Bronze Age extends from 3300BC to 1200BC – the time of the great migration. As any good archaeological age, the Bronze Age is split up into three periods: early, middle, and late.

Early Bronze is split into four periods of time: EBI, EBII, EBIII, and EBIV, though this last period has been highly controversial. The following period, Middle Bronze, is also cut into chunks, but now everything gets confusing. MB is divided into MBIIA and MBIIB/C, MBI now being obsolete, as that period has been transferred over into the Early Bronze age in the form of EBIV. So the dating for these periods looks something like this:

The history of Palestine is that of growth, collapse, and growth—ups and downs and ups again. The Early Bronze Age is a perfect example of the “up” aspect, following by the “down” at the end. This rise and fall of social complexity in Palestine is seen at the very beginning of the Early Bronze Age — change from one culture to another (Hoerth, et. al. 1998: xvii).

During EBI, we find in Palestine a very poor place, filled with small unwalled villages and many farmsteads.

EBII brought a bit of a change, as the villages became walled, though there were still farmsteads. EBIII stood as a time of richness; very few, but large walled cities could be found along with a few farmsteads. At this point in the story of the Bronze Age we find Palestine bubbling over with life. We do see some destructive behavior in the dirt, but these are most likely internal conflicts (not outside invaders) – Palestinian city against Palestinian city. This is not the time of the Patriarchs; instead, this is Palestine before the Patriarchs.

EBIV, though, brought a collapse. The large walled cities are no longer in use; in their place, many small (unwalled) villages appear and, once again, many farmsteads. EBIV was a time not of richness but of poverty. “Palestine was sparsely populated, mainly by pastoralists and village dwellers” (Mazar 1990: 151). It is here that Abraham enters Palestine - when it is deflated and ready to be “taken.”

Middle Bronze Age

MBIIA (note that MBI is the same as EBIV) is a time of cosmopolitan revival. The decline of EBIV enters MBIIA with expansion and builds a mighty core. There are now over four hundred sites in Palestine. Many walled cities are found, but they fight against one another. According to Dever, “65% of the population lived in large fortified cities. The proliferation of these is the most characteristic feature of the period” (2006: 153). The revival coincides with the Semitic Amorite dynasties in the east, and the second half of the revival in MBII coincides with the Hyksos in Egypt. These two great “empires” both having Semitic roots.

“MBIIA is distinguished by an almost total revolution in all aspects of material culture: settlement pattern, urbanism, architecture, pottery, metallurgy, and burial customs” (Mazar 1990: 175). As always, sites differ from region to region. Jezreel and Beth-Shean were continued from the northern coast, connecting to the Jordan Valley. In the northern coastal plains, there existed large fortified cities, mostly on virgin soil. On the southern coastal plain, sites were less extensive. At some other sites, MBIIA levels are poor or lacking.

Thus, there seems to have been a wave of northern coastal settlements that extended to other northern valleys, including large fortified cities, forts, and rural sedentary settlements (Mazar 1990: 178).

Concerning pottery, the new fast wheel brought new shapes. Characteristic are the globular jars/jugs, carinated thin bowls, flat large bowls, piriform juglets, and large dipper jugglets. Red burnished ware appears on many of the small vessel (Mazar 1990: 182).

In metals, bronze now replaced copper, and the MB IIB-C developed from the MB IIA types. The duckbill axe disappeared, and a smaller and narrower chisel-shaped axe prevailed. Daggers had a multi-ridged blade, and spearheads were elongated.

Mazar says that MBII culture “appears in crystallized form,” stating that “one cannot follow any gradual evolution from EB IV/MB I to MB IIA” (Mazar 1990: 188). He believes that this clear cut change in the northern coastal plains is evidence for an immigration from farther north. As translation works, this spread and eventually became what we now call MB II. In MB II B-C, developed miniature artifacts of figurines, jewelry, and more are found. The few written documents are cuneiform Akkadian.

Late Bronze

The Late Bronze Age in Palestine existed in the shadow of Egyptian domination (Mazar 1990: 232). Population and density of settlement declined. The fringe areas were left, and some important sites are now left empty (Mazar 1990: 239). Just as the greatness of EB III met the demise of EB IV, so the greatness of MB IIB-C met the demise of the Late Bronze age. City against city, and outside Habiru brought destruction throughout the land.

The Late Bronze Age, like EB IV, contained a lack of fortifications. At most, none have been found, though some continued to use the Middle Bronze defenses (Mazar 1990: 243). Hazor is one of those sites. The double casemate wall was continually rebuilt through the Late Bronze Age (Mazar 1990: 243).

Town planning of Canaanite cities is almost all unknown, as only limited areas have been excavated. At Hazor and Meggido, Middle Bronze plans continued. The Megiddo palace shows a gradual development, and several large buildings are defined as local patrician houses (Mazar 1990: 246).

Late Bronze Temples provide data on some aspects of Canaanite religion. Some were erected during the previous age, and although some underwent severe changes, some basically remained the same.

International trade was an important part of the Late Bronze Age, including Cypriot, Mycenaean, Syrian, and Egyptian pottery, and this extended from the Middle Bronze Age—there is no distinct break between the two periods (Mazar 1990: 257). Pottery included nichrome ware, Cypriot ware, Mycenaean ware, etc. As far as metallurgy, Cyprus was the main source of copper during this period. (Mazar 1990: 264)

Just as EBIV was the end of the greatness of times before, so LB was the end of the greatness of times gone by, but this was not limited to Palestine. The known world itself seems to have been turned upside down by the time of the “Great Migration” that introduced the Iron Age.

Iron Age

The dawn of the Iron Age ended the city-state period of multi-ethnic Canaanite culture and introduced the enthno-political/regional structure of the Israelites, Sea Peoples, and the remaining indigenous Canaanites. Across the Jordan there were Israelites, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, and Arameans (Mazar 1990: 295).

With the founding of the different Philistine cities along the coastal plains, comes Philistine bichrome pottery which was developed from the locally produced Mycenaean IIIC1b Ware (Mazar 1990: 313), which also borrowed from local Canaanite traditions, mainly in the use of red and black ink (Mazar 1990: 314).



Dever, W.

2006 Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? Eerdmans

Hoerth, A., Mattingly, G., and Yamauchi, E.

1998 Peoples of the Old Testament World. Baker Academic

Mazar, A.

1990 Archaeology of the Land of the Bible. New York: Doubleday.

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