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Archaeologists say that the earthquake destroyed the Canaanite palace 3,700 years ago archeology



The Canaanite Palace site on Tell Kabri in Israel was severely damaged by a major earthquake around 1700 BC, causing it to be abandoned shortly thereafter, according to new research by archaeologists from Haifa University and George Washington University.

Traces of a 3,700-year-old wine cellar at Tell Kebri. Image credit: Eric Klein / The George Washington University.

Tell Kabri is an archaeological site with an area of ​​34 hectares, located in Western Galilee, Israel.

Its location on a large hill overlooking the flood plains of the Gat’on Wall made it suitable for human habitation, with an abundant supply of water and soil for agriculture.

Tell Kabri flourished during the Middle Bronze Age and was the third largest site in the Levant at that time.

It was the fortified center of a regional system of government and housed the largest palace ever found in the southern Levant, with an area of ​​about 6000 square meters.

During its last phase (1900-1700 BC), the palace underwent a massive renovation, reaching its largest size. This included the addition of a complex of two rooms lined with carved stone blocks known as orthostats, possibly used for banquets, and a pavilion to hold hundreds of large storage jars containing spiced wine.

At the end of this stage, around 1700 BC, the palace and surrounding areas were abandoned for reasons that remain unclear.

Professor Assaf Yasur Landau of the University of Haifa said, “For several years we have been wondering about the reason for the sudden destruction of the palace and the site and their abandonment after centuries of prosperous occupation.”

“Several seasons ago, we began to uncover a trench running through part of the palace, but initial indications are that it was recent, and it may have been dug within the last few decades, a century or two at most.”

“But then, in 2019, we opened a new area and found that the trench ran for at least 30 meters (98 feet), with an entire portion of the wall it fell into in antiquity, and with other walls and floors pointing towards it from both sides.”

These jars were found in a palace in the Canaanite city of Tell Kabri. Image credit: Eric Klein / The George Washington University.

Identifying past earthquakes can be extremely difficult in the archaeological record, especially in locations where there are not so many stone stones and where degradable building materials such as sun-dried clay bricks and wattle-and-daub have been used instead.

At Tell Kebri, Professor Yasser Landau and his colleagues found stone foundations for the lower part of the walls and the upper mud brick structure.

“Our studies demonstrate the importance of combining large and partial archeology methods to identify ancient earthquakes,” said Dr. Michael Lazar, from the University of Haifa.

“We also needed to evaluate alternative scenarios, including climate, environmental and economic collapse, as well as war, before we could be confident in proposing a seismic event scenario.”

Researchers were able to see areas where the plaster floors appeared crooked, the walls were tilted or dislodged, the mud bricks from the walls and ceilings had collapsed into the rooms, and in some cases quickly buried dozens of large jars.

“It really looks like the Earth simply opened up and everything fell on its sides,” said Eric Klein, a professor at George Washington University.

“It is unlikely that the destruction was the result of violent human activity because there are no visible traces of fire, nor weapons such as arrows that might indicate a battle, nor any unburied corpses associated with the fighting.”

“We can also see some unexpected things in other rooms in the palace, including in and around the wine cellar we dug a few years ago.”

“Floor sedimentation means a rapid collapse, not a slow accumulation of decaying mud bricks from existing walls or the roofs of an abandoned building,” said University of Haifa professor Ruth Shack Gross.

“The rapid collapse and rapid burial, in addition to the geological condition of Tell Kabir, raise the possibility that one or more earthquakes destroyed the walls and ceiling of the palace without setting it on fire.”

The team’s paper was published online in PLoS ONE.


Lazar et al. 2020. Earthquake damage as catalyst for abandonment of a Middle Bronze Age settlement: Tel Kabri, Israel. PLoS ONE 15 (9): e0239079; Doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0239079

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