About 3,700 years ago, the Canaanites living in what is now northwestern Israel hurriedly abandoned their stately 65,000-square-foot home – and archaeologists have long wondered why.
New research published in the journal PLOS One draws on recently discovered evidence to pinpoint the “potential culprit” behind this hasty departure: the earthquake.
As Ruth Schuster told Haaretz, excavations last year identified a “moat” full of debris that was previously thought to be an ancient mistake from the modern era. This discovery proved to be the final piece of the puzzle, underscoring the circumstances surrounding the estate’s demise.
Because archaeologists tend to view earthquakes as an “easy way out” to explain the existence of collapsing ruins – “like a joke … to assign a” ritual “purpose to archeology” that cannot be explained otherwise, according to Christine National Geographic Rumi – researchers have been careful to exclude All other possibilities. In the end, they recorded a bunch of violations that indicated a natural disaster.
“This is archeology,” said study co-author Eric Klein of the George Washington University for National Geographic. “You know, the pieces come together. You ignore the hypotheses, you get more reasonable hypotheses, and then you finally have to summon Sherlock Holmes, right? You eliminate the impossible and do the rest.”
Excavations began at the Tell Kabri site, which includes the Canaanite city as well as the destroyed palace, in 1986. Archaeologists discovered the trench in 2011; At first, they thought it was a recent innovation, perhaps providing irrigation for a nearby avocado farm or dating back to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
“It really seems like the Earth simply opened up and everything fell on its sides,” study co-author Eric Klein said in a statement. (Courtesy of The George Washington University)
But later excavations revealed unusual features across the palace, including strangely sloping floors, facing walls and broken tiles. A wine storage cellar discovered in 2013 contained jars that appeared to have been smashed by a collapsed roof.
Before exploring the possibility of an earthquake, the team looked for signs of armed conflict. They did not find weapons, charred materials, or human remains associated with a violent confrontation.
Instead, archaeologists uncovered three sections of a palace wall that had fallen into a crack simultaneously, indicating a sudden collapse rather than a slow decline.
“It really appears that the earth has simply opened up and everything has fallen off its sides,” Klein says in a statement.
If the moat was indeed the result of an earthquake, it may provide some explanation as to why the palace was built on such a disaster-prone site. As Klein and an archaeologist at the University of Haifa, Assaf Yusur-Landau, told Haaretz, three natural springs running along the Capri fault line may have served as a source of water for the Bashanali parties of the Canaanite elites. The sheer amount of wine found at the site – more than 100 jars in total – also testifies to the palace residents’ potential fondness for banquets.
“On any given day they could have a small banquet at which they had wine,” Klein told Haaretz, adding that the residents of the complex might have had “a lot of sheep and goats.”
However, the sudden earthquake brought this lavish lifestyle to an abrupt end.
People who live along the Capri fault line today may want to pay attention to the study. Tina Niemi, a geologist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, who was not involved in the research, told National Geographic that further evaluation is necessary to determine whether the earthquake arose at the nearby Capri fault line or the larger Dead Sea fault.
“When you talk about earthquakes and Israel, everyone thinks about the Dead Sea Rift,” lead author Michael Lazar of the University of Haifa told National Geographic. “That’s it, and everything away from the Dead Sea Rift is not considered a major threat.”
But he notes that Capri’s mistake “has a specific meaning to assess risk, and we need to put it back on the map.”
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