The Relationship between Settlement Changes in the Aegean and the Levant during the Chalcolithic/Early Bronze (3800-3000 BC) and the Late Bronze/Early Iron Age (1200-1000 BC) Transitions
My research project focused on two problems in the broad context of ongoing studies of settlement history in Crete, which have only been preliminarily touched upon in the past by other scholars. That is, the problems of hypothetical links between historical events and cultural processes in the Aegean and the Levant during two different transitional periods: the Chalcolithic/Early Bronze (3800-3000 BC) and the Late Bronze/Early Iron Age (1200-1000 BC).
The Chalcolithic/Early Bronze transition is characterized by increasing concern about security in the Aegean, leading to the relocation of settlements, and followed by the establishment of many new settlements showing little or no continuity from the earlier period. These “new” settlers, who appeared in Crete around the middle of the fourth millennium BC, brought with them numerous new elements of material culture, advanced technology, and complex social organization. Some of these innovations have been interpreted as being of Anatolian or Levantine origin. That the west Anatolian people played an important role in the transition between the Final Neolithic and Early Bronze in the Aegean is clear, but the direct links between particular groups of people represented by archaeological “cultures,” especially located far away from each other, are difficult to prove.
However, there are some elements in the material culture and settlement organization of EB I Crete (3100–2700 BC) which are different from those known in other Aegean regions, and have no known parallels in the neighboring coastal area of West Anatolia. These elements undoubtedly have some “flavor” of the Levantine character. The question as to whether they were brought to Crete by people coming directly from the Levant or were common features of Near Eastern cultures widely distributed throughout the East Mediterranean, was one of the most important issues that I examined during my research fellowship in the Albright.
After three months of study, I am now able to clarify some points of this issue. My first remark concerns the hypothesis by R. Koehl that Ghassulian “colonists” arrived on Crete and introduced characteristic Cretian EB I features, namely, tholos tombs, pithoi with relief decoration, and dark-on-light painted pottery. This hypothesis should be rejected. According to most accepted chronological systems, the end of Ghassulian culture (3800/3700 BC) is much earlier than the beginning of EB I in Crete (3100/3000 BC). For these two phenomena to be linked together, considerable changes in the chronology of the regions would be required. However, rejecting this hypothesis of direct influence does not mean that the processes of decline of the Chalcolithic cultures and the emergence of EB I societies in the southern Levant were completely unrelated to changes in settlement patterns in the Aegean. More work is needed, however, to coordinate these changes in the Levant and southern Anatolia, and to construct a more detailed sequence of settlement history for the entire coastal region of the eastern Mediterranean.
A second important result of my research is the conclusion that several new features of the early Cretian Bronze Age find parallels not in the Chalcolithic, but in the EB I Levant. Comparisons between the EB I periods in the Levant and in Crete make more sense, as regards accepted chronology – the end of this period in the Levant is contemporary with its beginning in the Aegean.
The second part of my project addressed issues related to the origins of the so-called Sea Peoples. Among the most controversial points in this discussion were hypothetical links between the Philistines and the Aegean (or even Crete). The differences between scholars defending alternative interpretations of the Sea Peoples phenomenon depend on their approach to the issue of identification of people on the basis of their material culture. My approach to the subject was of a different character, and I focused on searching for new settlement-related evidence which might bring answers to the questions concerning the problems of political collapse, social crisis, and settlement decline in the last decades of the 13th century BC, and the subsequent settlement relocation around 1200 BC. This problem has been almost entirely ignored by the scholars who defended the acculturation rather than migrations hypotheses for the explanation of the changes in the eastern Mediterranean in the 12th century BC.
Field investigations in Crete carried out for the last thirty years have demonstrated that an unprecedented settlement-system collapse near the end of the 13th century BC was connected to large-scale movements of people within the Aegean, and may have affected the areas further to the east (Anatolia, Cyprus, and the Levant; see the results summarized in my book, Defensible Sites in Crete, ca 1200–800 BC, ). Some of the people who were responsible for the destruction and instability were local Aegean groups and their appearance in Cyprus was connected with the political and social collapse across the region, rather than with the flourishing trade and “attractiveness” of their culture, as some scholars have proposed.
My research carried out at the Albright Institute this year aimed at updating my knowledge of recently published evidence from the Levant, and to confront this evidence with new observations from recent work in the Aegean.
Most of my research was conducted in the Albright Library, but I also benefited enormously from field trips (Fig. 1: En Gedi), which allowed me to learn more about the landscape and settlement distribution within it (one of the main foci of my investigations in the Aegean) in different periods. A number of lectures, excellently guided tours to museums and historical monuments in Jerusalem, and even more numerous individual discussions with other fellows and visiting scholars have certainly stimulated my future research and ideas regarding comparative studies between different people and areas.
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