According to Tel Aviv University, a ‘dramatic discovery’ at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee has revealed the cause of recorded history’s first Dark Age 3,200 years ago.
The Bronze Age Collapse is often forgotten, or minimised as a transition – a blip – between the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. However, if you had lived through it, it would have been a shocking, violent and almost total catastrophe. Nearly every city in the Near East was destroyed by fire and many were forever abandoned. Empires and kingdoms which had thrived for millennia suddenly splintered, collapsed and were replaced by isolated village cultures. Regional trade declined, and literacy was severely reduced. Its survivors were left only with oral legends of a ‘lost golden age’ and a centuries-long struggle for basic subsistence. Historians have described it as the worst disaster in ancient history, even more calamitous than the collapse of the Roman Empire.
The cause of the collapse, concluded from a new study of fossil pollen particles extracted from the bottom of the Sea of Galilee, was a climate crisis.
Dr Dafna Langgut, whose team extracted a 20 meter long sediment core from the bottom of the ancient lake, explained: “Pollen is the most enduring organic material in nature; it was driven to the Sea of Galilee by wind and river-streams, deposited in the lake and embedded in the under-water sediments. New sediments that are added annually create anaerobic conditions which help preserve the pollen particles. These particles tell us about the vegetation that grew in the vicinity of the lake in the past and therefore testify to the climatic conditions in the region.”
Radiocarbon dating of the organic material established the climate’s timeline and revealed periods of severe drought between around 1250 and 1100 BC. Corresponding sediments from the western shore of the Dead Sea provided similar results, and both match ancient written records describing severe droughts and famine across the Near East over the same period.
The study surmises that a reduction in rainfall in the Fertile Crescent was accompanied by devastating cold spells which destroyed crops in the northern and eastern parts of the ancient Near East. The ensuing droughts and famine led to a mass migration of refugees to the south in search of food and resources. These groups, which included the Sea Peoples described in records from the period, moved by land and sea, assaulted cities and disrupted trade routes, leading to a severe economic crisis which enveloped the whole region.
The pollen evidence shows that the dry period ended around 1100 BC and was followed by a wet period that led many of the migrants to settle, particularly in the hills of Canaan and Syria. They went on to establish the region’s Iron Age kingdoms, including Israel and Judah.
Professor Israel Finkelstein said: “In a short period of time the entire world of the Bronze Age crumbled. The Hittite empire, Egypt of the Pharaohs, the Mycenaean culture in Greece, the copper producing kingdom located on the island of Cyprus, the great trade emporium of Ugarit on the Syrian coast and the Canaanite city-states under Egyptian hegemony all disappeared and only after a while were replaced by the territorial kingdoms of the Iron Age, including Israel and Judah.”
“The advantage of our study, compared to pollen investigations carried out at other locations in the Near East, is in the unprecedented resolution of a sample about every 40 years. Pollen is usually sampled in a resolution of several hundreds of years, and this is indeed logical when one is interested in prehistoric matters and glacial and inter-glacial cycles. Since we were interested in historical periods, we had to sample in denser resolution; otherwise a crisis such as the one at the end of the Bronze Age would have escaped our attention”.
Source: Tel Aviv University