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Bronze Age Levant

Early Bronze Age

Early Bronze Age I

The Early Bronze Age I, BCE - BCE, was a transition era from the Chalcolithic. The EB I was contemporary with Late Predynastic and Early First Dynasty in Egypt.

The Early Bronze Age I is marked by rural proto-urban (unwalled) cities. The EB I is continuous with the Chalcolithic, especially in the north. Houses are mostly either: apsidal, with a curve at one end; ellipsoidal, with both ends curving; or, occasionally, caves. Burial customs included: caves, most commonly; shaft tombs; charnel houses, where bodies were laid out like in a tomb; nawamis, field stone chambers which still stand in the Sinai today; and cremation. The Canaanean Blade first appeared in the EB I (no sooner), a blade with a trapezoidal cross-section. Later in the Early Bronze Age I, Egypt begins interacting with the Negev, South Coast and Sinai. There were regional ceramic families. A notable site is Bab edh-Dhra, inhabited from 3,1000-2,000 BC.

There are four Early Bronze Age I ceramic assemblages in the Levant: Proto-Urban A, B, C and D. These do not have clear temporal bonds and we will explore from north to south:



Proto-Urban C

In Esdraelon. Located in northern Israel (Jezreel Valey and Galilee). Very shiny, which is a new feature. Coonnected with northern levantine and Anatolian ceramic assemblages (ie, Dark Finish Burnished Ware or DFBW). Gray-Burnished ware. Largely in the Esdraelon culture (Jezreel Valley and North).

Proto-Urban B

Characterized by Line Group Painted Ware (LGPW), central hil country. Line group painted ware. Maybe the lines are meant to resemble netting. They have handles which could be used to carry on a string. Netting to avoid scratching etc.

Proto-Urban A

Characterized by Red Burnished Ware (RBW). Found in north and south. Jericho, Azor (coast), T. el-Far'ah North, Bab edh-Dhra. Clay turns red in presence of oxygen or black in absence of oxygen while firing. Similar form with looped handle to proto-urban B, but this is burnished and shiny.

Proto-Urban D

Impressed slashed Ware (ISW). Central and southern Israel. Largely in Umm Hammad, a Transjordan (modern Jordan) site and probably earliest EB I assemblage. May be among earliest of EB I cultures, thus dislaying similarities to Chalcolithic ceramics.

Early Bronze Age II

Urban life begins in the Early Bronze Age II (3050 - 2700 BC). The EB II was contemporary with Late I and II Dynasties of Egypt.

The Early Bronze Age II is the Southern Levant's first urban period. Notable Early Bronze Age II finds include the Tell Kineret Tomb, Arad and et-Tell (Biblical Ai). As the trade infrastructure developed, Egypt no longer required a permanent presence on the coastal plains. However, Egyptians had a huge presence in the Negev and Sinai to exploit the region's valued metals, especially copper. Egyptian presence in the Levant is confirmed by Abydos Ware, a valuable pottery native to the Negev and Sinai that has been found in tombs in Abydos and other Egyptian towns.

Early Bronze Age III

The Early Bronze Age III (2700 - 2300 BC) is contemporary with III-VI Dynasties in Egypt. The primary distinction between Early Bronze Ages II and III is the emergence of Khirbet Kerak Ware (KKW). Construction of temples continued, with a highlight being the enormous altar in EB III layer at Megiddo. The crescentric axe (aka epsilon axe) is an unusually shaped tool that first appears in the EB III.

The Southern Levant's relationship with Egypt evolved. Egyptians were present in EB I; Egyptians left in EB II but continued strong trade; and in EB III, Egypt and Byblos (access point for Lebanon's timber) began direct maritime trade and bypassed the Southern Levant. The Early Bronze Age III brought violence between Egypt and the Southern Levant, clearly evidenced in: the Wadi Mighar inscriptions; the 5th dynasty tomb of Ante at Deshahe in Egypt; other reliefs; and Autobiography of Weni, a text by a royal palace worker named Weni (2,373-2,296 BC).

Early Bronze Age IV

The Early Bronze Age IV (2300 to 1900 BC) was contemporary with VII-XI Dynasties in Egypt.

Also known as the Intermediate Bronze Age, the Early Bronze Age IV was markedly different between the Northern and Sourthern Levant. The Northern Levant continued urbanizing, and the particularly sophisticated kingdom of Ebla even developed its own form of writing. Meanwhile, the Southern Levant underwent a gradual urban collapse over hundreds of years, leaving behind few artifacts and no hints of writing. Unmaintained fortification walls eroded away, leaving cities unwalled. Some urban centers were abandoned, leading to a boom in rural settlement and pastoral nomadism. Pastoralism worked well because wool could be produced (eating the animal itself was rare) and there was a high demand for wool in Syria and Egypt. Below are possibilities why the Southern Levant de-urbanized during the Early Bronze Age IV:




Pollen cores do not indicate a localized ecological catastrophe.


If Egypt stopped trading, this could destroy the markets.


Summed disasters (diseases, etc) may have dealt a death blow.

Burial customs included: shaft tombs (Jericho); megalithic dolments, made of a horizontal stone atop upright stones (Golan Heights; Upper Galilee); tumuli (aka cairns), mounds of stone and debris (central Negev); cists, rectangular burials; burial caves; and pits.

A notable Early Bronze Age IV structure is Beer Resisim, an encampment for an extended family or small clan. Beer Resisim was occupied over a ~400 year period for ~30-50 years at a time. Similar to Beer Reisisim is Ein Ziq, also located in an arid region that is now so dry that modern bedouins dare not breach it due to its utter inability to support life. Another important site is Ain Samiya, where a silver goblet was found that depicts Tiamat, Narnuk, other Mesopotamian icons, and even Mesopotamians themselves holding up a sun disk. This shows a strong Syrian and Mesopotamian influence.

While Early Bronze Age IV ceramics fit well into the overall Early Bronze Age's assemblage, there are some deviations: the wheel is limitedly used, indicating ceramics are purely practical rather than an art form; caliciform wares, a chalice arising from a North Levantine influence; painted or incised parallel lines; and a return of regionalism. One regional item found only in the EB IV is the four-spouted lamp. Four wicks together burn oil four times faster than a single wick, and one explanation is that people began using fish oil, which burns dimmer than olive oil and required more wicks. Also, presence of the fenestrated axe continues from the EB III.

Early to Middle Bronze Age

After urbanism's rise in the EB II-III and collapse in EB III, it returns in MB IIA-C.



EB/MB differences

Settlement patterns; de-urbanization; a lack of rectilinear houses; radical changes in ceramic forms and quality.

EB/MB similarities

Metallurgy; continuous (albeit evolving) ceramic traditions.

Middle Bronze Age

Middle & Late Bronze Political Organization

Middle and Late Bronze Age (1900-1200 BC) political organization was limited to city-states with a high degree of complexity. The kingdom of Ashkelon has yielded textual sources attesting to several Amorite kings. Mechanisms driving Amorite spread included merchantile activity (trade ports developed into civilizations) and mercenary activity. Amorites moved into the highlands, which were perfect for cultivating olives and orchards; these highlands became the epicenter of power.

Middle Bronze Age I

The Middle Bronze Age I (1900 - 1700 BC) is contemporary with XII and even early XIII Dynasties in Egypt. The Middle Bronze Age I (aka Middle Bronze Age IIA, with EB IV → MB I) was marked by an emergence of northern states, and the arrival of the new Amorite ethnic group (originating ~2,000 BC in Syria and later coalescing into an ethnic group). Material culture peaks ~1,700 BC, although fortified cities already existed: Tel-Ashkalon (~ 50 hectares, largest site north of Egypt); Tel-Burgah; and Tel-Kabri. A distinction of the Middle Bronze Age IIA is red burnishing, likely an attempt to imitate metal vessels.

Egypt provides all major textual sources, including: execration texts; Tale of Sinuhe and Beni Hasan reliefs. The Beni Hasan reliefs are from an Egyptian monarch's tomb, and depict: asiatics (Amorites) arriving with all their belongings; Semites and Egyptians peacefully interacting during the Middle Bronze Age; and a caravan of asiatic donkeys.

Middle Bronze Age II

The Middle Bronze Age II (1700 - 1640 BC) was contemporary with the Late XIII Dynasty of Egypt. The Middle Bronze Age II was marked by emergence of southern states. As Egypt began to unravel, so did hegemony by its centralized government. Levantine Middle Bronze Age II developments include: fortification and enclosure of the water system in Jerusalem; and consistency amongst MB II/III gates, which are the weakest parts of a fortification. These two developments indicate that communities systematically addressed a common threat. Major textual sources include: the Mari texts, preserved by Hammurabi's campaign in Mesopotamia; Alalakh VII texts in the northern Levant; many isolated tablets in the southern Levant, including Hazor, Shechem, Hebron and other. The 66 ha town of Hazor: had an upper and lower town over a 66 ha region; was mentioned in the Mari texts, differentiating it from Ashkalon; and yielded a handful of MB and LB cuneiform tablets. Timnah (Tell Batash), a town on the southern coastal plane, is another notable Middle Bronze Age II site.

Middle Bronze Age III

The Middle Bronze Age III (1640 - 1530 BC) was contemporary with XV Dynasty (Hyksos Period) of Egypt.

The Middle Bronze Age III was marked by the Hyksos kingdom emerging in Egypt and terminates when the Hyksos are expelled from Egypt. Amorites ruled much of the Levant until Hurrians from modern central Syria (mostly east of the Euphrates) pushed the Amorites into the nothern Levant. Long-distance trade was extensive, including maritime transport of opium from Cyprus to the Levant. Unique to the MB III is: chocolate-on-white ware (~1,500 BC); discontinuation of red burnish; and Tell el-Yehudiyeh Ware, a conglomeration of ceramic forms featuring extensive anthropomorphism. Major textual sources include: Hebron tablet; Manethos' account of Hyksos' rule in the Egyptian town of Avaris, preserved by Josephus in ~100 AD.

Late Bronze Age

General textual sources for the Levantine Late Bronze Age include: temple and tomb reliefs and inscriptions from Egypt's New Kingdom; and Late Bronze Age tablets, from Alalakh, Qatna, Hazor, Kumidi, Megiddo, Beth-Shean, Aphek, Ta'anach and more.

Late Bronze Age IA

The Late Bronze Age (1530 - 1470 BC) was contemporary with Dynasty XVII to Thutmose III in Egypt. The Late Bronze Age IA: begins with Hyksos' conquest of Egypt; continues through expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt; and ends with Thutmose III's annual campaigns. The Late Bronze Age IA was highly destructive to the Levant, with over 30 sites identified as obliterated, and led to a population decline. The extent of Egypt's fortresses in this region remains unclear, although by the Late Bronze Age II the Egyptians had built fortress way-stations and depots. Major textual sources include: the Alalakh archive from ~1,500-1,430 BC; Egyptian temple and tomb reliefs and inscriptions; and the Carnarvan Tablet. The Carnarvan Tablet describes how Levantine Amorite princes had divided up the land, pestering Egyptian settlements and causing Egypt to aggressively smite the asiatics.

Battle of Megiddo

The Battle of Megiddo occurred c 1470 BC.

During the ~60 years after Hatshepsu's death, Canaanites mustered a coalition in an attempt to end centuries of Egyptian attack. The Canaanites met at Megiddo to fight the Egyptians, but the Egyptians discreetly took the Aruna pass and successfully sprung upon Megiddo from behind. After this, the Canaanites failed to coalesce again and resistance was on a mere local level.

Late Bronze Age IB

The Late Bronze Age IB (1470 - 1400 BC) was contemporary with the reign of Thutmose III to the Amarna Period.

Late Bronze Age IIA

The Late Bronze Age IIA (1400 - 1300 BC) was contemporary with Amarna period and aftermath in Egypt.

Fortifications continued through 1,470 BC, but were rare by the Late Bronze Age II A (Hazor is an exception). Egypt balkanized the region, as it was easier to control vassals than to interact with the capital city of a territory. This decentralization of power led to de-urbanization. Mud brick fortifications quickly dissolved after a few winters without maintenance. Pastoral nomadism rose, as indicated by cemeteries found without settlements.

Egypt's Amarna Period (c 1350 BC)

Egypt had solid control over the Levant during the Amarna Period (aka Pax Aegyptiaca), signified by the reigns of Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV (Akhenaton). However, Egypt neglected to maintain the infrastructure of the region and city-states began to fight. This is evidenced by the highly regarded Amarna Letters. Egypt neglects infrastructure maintenance in the region and the city-states start fighting. There were international exchange networks, evidenced by ceramics in tomb contexts (from the late MBA onward), and also the Amarna Letters. The Amarna Letters consist of cuneiform tablet letters from c 1,350 BC from the court of Amenhotep III and IV at Amarna, with over 300 letters from rulers at Levantine towns to the Egyptian pharaoh. -- Mycenaean ceramics and Cypriot ceramics. Further evidence for international contacts involves shipwrecks such as Ulu Buruun, c 1,305 BC, whose cargo is hugely diverse from cobalt ingots to gold; and Cape Gelidonya (c 1,200 BC).

Also, alphabetic writing developed at this time. Phoenician alphabetic script (exemplified by the Lachish Ewer) arose after Proto-Sinaitic (alphabet developed from Egyptian hieroglyphs) and Proto-Canaanite (22 inscriptions dating from 17th to 12th century BC, very protracted). This was a major development in an age of booming internationalism, as more people can write and work with 22 letters than 200/300 Egyptian signs. Also emerging at the same time in the north is Ugaritic, which adapts cuneiform that chooses 22 signs but still looks like cuneiform. Additionally, this era had a very high level of artistic prowess, evidenced by the Megiddo ivories -- tiny furniture inlays and box components.

Late Bronze Age IIB

The Late Bronze Age IIB (1300 - 1200 BC) was contemporary with Egypt's Dynasty 19.

Bronze Age → Iron Age

Culprits for destruction at the so-called collapse of the Bronze Age: Aramaeans; 'Apiru; other unknown groups; general social unrest; Israelites; Sea Peoples. The Philistines in Biblical Tradition: Bile (originate in Crete?) Arrive with Sea Peoples around 1,180 BC. Anachronistic references to Philistines in Gen 21:32-34; 26:1, 8, 14-15; and in Exodus 13:17; 15:14; 23:3. Story of Samson (Judges 13-16).

Alternate chronologies

A common difference is attributed the Early Bronze Age IV as a transitional, initial epoch of the Middle Bronze Age. The three major Middle Bronze Ages are then labeled as IIA, IIB and IIC.

Conventional name

Alternate name

Early Bronze Age IV
(Intermediate Bronze Age)

Middle Bronze Age I

Middle Bronze Age I

Middle Bronze Age IIA

Middle Bronze Age II

Middle Bronze Age IIB

Middle Bronze Age III

Middle Bronze Age IIC