The Flooding of the Coastal Plain
Today's Haaretz has an interesting article on the flooding of the coastal plain of Israel in the Early Bronze Age. The dating in the article is a little bit confusing, as it never gives an absolute date, just 5,500 years ago, and 3500 B.C. is usually assigned to the Chalcolithic period (cf. Mazar's dating: 4300-3300 B.C.).
The concentration of population, commerce and trade in Israel's coastal plain is not a phenomenon unique to our era. Even before the events the Bible describes in the Land of Israel, during the early first Bronze Age, 5,500 years ago, numerous communities dotted the coastal strip, from the vicinity of Gaza to the Galilee. The first royal dynasties appeared around that time in Egypt, and clay vessels uncovered in southern coastal communities indicate that the area (apparently under Egyptian control) served as an important trade route for the Egyptians.
And then, 5,500 years ago, say the archaeologists, there was a dramatic change. The coastal region was almost completely abandoned while concurrently in other areas an urban revolution was underway, with large fortified cities being built. After the era of urban, commercial prosperity, for almost a thousand years, the coastal plain mostly contained but a few small and scattered communities.
"The phenomenon is amazing," says archaeologist Dr. Avraham Faust, director of Bar-Ilan University's Institute of Archaeology. "There was a fairly large population in the coastal plain, and at the end of a relatively short process it emptied almost completely. In the alluvial areas, nearly all of the communities disappeared. The Egyptians also abandoned the coastal plain and trade no longer passed that way."
Faust adds: "The key question that engaged us is why? What caused the community to disappear?" His research with Dr. Yosef Ashkenazy, a climate researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, suggests a comprehensive explanation of the phenomenon: The Canaanite coastal settlements were abandoned in the face of environmental change. Increased precipitation led to the flooding of parts of the coastal plain and to a rise in the level of groundwater, which eventually resulted in the spread of swamps, and that apparently caused the residents to leave the area.
HT: Joseph I. Lauer