The Early Bronze Age in the Levant is most frequently characterised as the first great period of urbanism in the Near East, the material culture of the region reflecting a general trend towards living in urban settlements and social organisation along city lines. Scholars have therefore entitled this period variously as “the Emergence of Cities” [Mazar 1990:91ff]….
Social and cultural developments in the Levant at this time cannot be understood without appreciating their wider context in the regions as a whole; developments in both Egypt and Mesopotamia serve to frame those in the Levant. Thus, the second half of the fourth millennium BCE witnessed the rise of truly complex civilisations in both river valleys, characterised by hierarchical government and administration, by the appearance of writing and literate societies, by irrigation and by large-scale public works.
Positioned centrally between them and serving as a land bridge, the Levant benefitted from the influence of both cradles of civilisation. Thus, the southern Levant (Palestine, Lebanon and southern Syria) developed clear connections with the Nile Delta region, later also with the Nile Valley; some limited Mesopotamian and Anatolian influence also filtered through via northern Syria. Northern Syria itself, of course, was positioned in close juxtaposition with the Upper Euphrates and Tigris river valleys, these serving to channel direct Mesopotamian influence into that region. Although lacking the riverine basis for urban civilisation present in both Egypt and Mesopotamia, being forced to rely on seasonal precipitation for agricultural water supply, the Levant was nonetheless able to follow their general trajectory by developing localised forms of urban culture in entirely different landscapes.
The EBA in the Levant corresponds in Egypt to the late Predynastic and Early Dynastic periods (EBI-II) and the Old Kingdom, extending across Dynasties 3-6 (EBIII). The latest urban phase of the EBA is therefore a contemporary of the so-called “Age of the Pyramids”.
Periodisation and Terminology
The use of the term “Early Bronze” to describe the period is favoured by most scholars; several exceptions exist(ed) amongst the Israeli archaeological community, some of whom prefer(red) an designation of “Early Canaanite” [cf. M. Dothan 1985:136-141]. This alternative has provoked much debate, on the grounds that utilising ethnically-oriented terminology must necessarily be doubtful, given that we do not know the ethnic composition of the Levant at the time in the absence of epigraphic remains or other clear indicators.
|Southern Levant||West Syria||Amuq Sequence||North Syria and SE Anatolia [cf. Rothman 2001]||Approximate Dates (Cal BCE)|
|Chalcolithic (Ghassulian)||Local Ubaid / Chaff-Faced Horizon||E/F||Terminal Ubaid / Late Chalcolithic (LC) 1-2||mid 5th – mid 4th millennia|
|EBI (early)||Chaff-Faced Horizon||F||LC3||3600 – 3400/3350|
|EBI (late)||Chaff-Faced Horizon||F-G||LC4||3400/3350 – 3100/3000|
|EBII||EBI/II||G-H||LC5 / post-Uruk||3100-3000 – 2800/2700|
|EBIII||EBIII||H-I||Multiple competing terminologies||2800/2700 – 2400/2300|
|EBIV||EBIV||I-J||Multiple competing terminologies||2400/2300 – 2000|
Comparative calibrated radiocarbon chronology for the 4th and 3rd millennia BCE in the Levant [adapted from Chesson & Philip 2003:4 (Table 1); adapted in turn from Philip 2002: Table 1 and Rothman 2001: Tables 1.1 & 1.2].
Transition to Early Bronze from the Chalcolithic
Several sites in the southern Levant were abandoned permanently at the end of the Chalcolithic period, and were not subject to resettlement with the advent of the EBI period. Amongst these are such significant Chalcolithic settlements as Teleilat Ghassul and Abu Hamid, both in the Jordan Valley.
A large number of sites possess EBIa settlement remains above earlier Late Chalcolithic layers however, revealing a tendency amongst EBIa settlers towards the resettlement of sites previously occupied in the Chalcolithic period or even earlier. Amongst these are such sites as Tel Teo, Meser, Palmahim and Tel Halif, all eminently suitable for ongoing settlement with abundant water resources and land already prepared for crop cultivation.
Even so, a number of significant sites in the southern Levant were founded at the start of the EB period with no connection whatsoever to the preceding Chalcolithic settlement process. Examples include Bab edh-Dhra, Yiftahel and Site H.
Early Bronze I
(at right) Khirbet Kerak Ware Ceramic Vessel
Beth Shean, Stratum XII, Early Bronze III 2700-23000 BCE
University of Pennsylvania Museum 34-20-362
NB: Journal, serial and monograph abbreviations may be consulted on the Abbreviations page.
1988 “Moumassakhin 1987: poterie du Bronze ancien IV”, Syria 65 (1988), pp.410-412.
2000 “Notes à propos de Moumassakhin, agglomération à la lisière de la steppe”, Bulletin d’Etudes Orientales 52 (2000), pp.73-82.
1995 “The Complex Nomads: Death and Social Stratification in EB IV Southern Levant”, in Campbell, S. & Green, A. (eds), The Archaeology of Death in the Ancient Near East, [Oxbow Monograph 51], Oxford: Oxbow Books, 1995, pp.85-116.
1993 “Early Bronze Age ‘Bed-Models’ Reconsidered”, TA 20.1 (1993), pp.33-40.
1978 Cylinder Seals of Third-Millennium Palestine, [BASOR Supplementary Series 22], Cambridge, MA, 1978.
Braemer, F., Echallier, J.-C. & Taraqji, A.
1993 “Khirbet el-Umbashi (Syrie): rapport préliminaire sur les campagnes 1991 et 1992”, Syria 70 (1993), pp.415-429.
1996 “Khirbet el-Umbashi (Syrie): rapport préliminaire sur les campagnes 1993 et 1994”, Syria 73 (1996), pp.117-127.
2004 “More Evidence for Early Bronze Age Glyptics from the Southern Levant”, Levant 36 (2004), pp.13-30.
2000 “Questions of Definition in the Early Bronze Age of the Tishreen Dam”, in Marro, C. (ed.), Chronologies des pays du Caucase et de l’Euphrate aux IVème-IIIème millénaires, [Institut Français d’études anatoliennes d’Istanbul – Varia Anatolica 11], Paris: E. de Bochard, 2000, pp.53-63.
Carter, E. & Parker, A.
1995 “Pots, People and the Archaeology of Death in Northern Syria and Southern Anatolia in the Last Half of the Third Millennium BC”, Campbell, S. & Green, A. (eds), The Archaeology of Death in the Ancient Near East, [Oxbow Monograph 51], Oxford: Oxbow Books, 1995, pp.96-116.
Chesson, Meredith S.
1999 “Libraries of the dead: Early Bronze Age Charnel Houses and Social Identity at Urban Bab edh-Dhra’, Jordan”, JAA 18 (1999), pp.137-164.
2003 “Households, Houses, Neighbourhoods and Corporate Villages: Modeling the Early Bronze Age as a House Society”, JMA 16.1 (2003), pp.79-102.
Chesson, M.S. & Philip, Graham
2003 “Tales of the City? ‘Urbanism’ in the Early Bronze Age Levant from Mediterranean and Levantine Perspectives”, JMA 16.1 (2003), pp.3-16.
1986 “The Beehive Buildings of Ancient Palestine”, BA 49 (1986), pp.20-24.
Dever, William G.
1970 “The ‘Middle Bronze I Period’ in Syria-Palestine”, in Sanders, J.A. (ed.), Near Eastern Archaeology in the Twentieth Century, Garden City: Doubleday, 1970, pp.132-163.
1973 “The EB IV – MB I Horizon in Transjordan and Southern Palestine”, BASOR 210 (1973), pp.37-63.
1980 “New Vistas on the EB IV (‘MB I’) Horizon in Syria-Palestine”, BASOR 232 (1980), pp.35-64.
1982 Review of Amiran, R., et alii, Early Arad: the Chalcolithic Settlement and Early Bronze City I: First – Fifth Seasons of Excavations 1962-1966, IEJ 32 (1982), pp.170-175.
1988 “The Collapse of the Urban Early Bronze Age in Palestine: Toward a Systemic Analysis”, in de Miroschedji, P. (ed.), L’urbanisation de la Palestine à l’âge du Bronze ancien: Bilan et perspectives des recherches actuelles, [BAR International Series 527 (ii)] Oxford: BAR, 1988, pp.225-246.
1995 “Social Structure in the Early Bronze IV Period in Palestine”, chapter 17 in Levy, T.E. (ed.), The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land, New York: Facts on File, 1995, pp.282-296.
1998 “The Palatial Ebla Culture in the Context of North Mesopotamian and North Syrian Main Powers”, Subartu 4.2 (1998), pp.67-81.
1985 “Terminology for the Archaeology of the Biblical Periods”, in Aviram, J. et alii, Biblical Archaeology Today, Jerusalem: IES, pp.136-141.
1989 “The Chalcolithic and Early Bronze I Occupations at Tell Teo”, in de Miroschedji, P. (ed.), L’urbanisation de la Palestine à l’âge du Bronze ancien: Bilan et perspectives des recherches actuelles, [British Archaeological Reports International Series 527] Oxford: BAR, 1988, pp.29-40.
Esse, Douglas L.
1984 “A Chronological Mirage: Reflections on Early Bronze IC in Palestine”, JNES 43 (1984), pp.317-330.
1989 “Secondary State Formation and Collapse in Early Bronze Age Palestine”, in de Miroschedji, P. (ed.), L’urbanisation de la Palestine à l’âge du Bronze ancien: Bilan et perspectives des recherches actuelles, [British Archaeological Reports International Series 527 (ii)] Oxford: BAR, 1988, pp.81-96.
1991 Subsistence, Trade and Social Change in Early Bronze Age Palestine, [Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 50], Chicago: Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, 1991.
Esse, D. and Hopke, P.K.
1986 “Levantine Trade in the Early Bronze Age”, in Olin, J.S. & Blackman, N.J. (eds), Proceedings of the 24th International Archaeometry Symposium, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1986, pp.327-339.
1995 “Two Notes on Early Bronze Age Urbanization and Urbanism”, TA 22 (1995), pp.47-69.
Finkelstein, I. & Gophna, R.
1993 “Settlement, Demographic and Economic Patterns in the Highlands of Palestine in the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Periods and the Beginning of Urbanism”, BASOR 289:1-22.
Finkelstein, I. & Ussishkin, D.
2000 “Area J”, in Finkelstein, I., Ussishkin, D. & Halpern, B. (eds), Megiddo III: The 1992–1996 Seasons, Tel Aviv, 2000, pp.25–74.
2000 “Cylinder-Seal Impressed Vessels of the Early Bronze Age III in Northern Palestine”, in Philip, G. & Baird, D. (eds), Ceramics and Change in the Early Bronze Age of the Southern Levant, [Levantine Archaeology 2], Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000, pp.295-314.
2002 Die frühbronzezeitliche Keramik von Ḫirbet ez-Zaraqōn: Mit Studien zur Chronologie und funktionalen Deutung frühbronzezeitliche Keramik in der südlichen Levante, [Abhandlungen des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins Band 27, 2; Deutsch-Jordanische Ausgrabungen in Ḫirbet ez-Zaraqōn 1984-1994, Endberichte 5], Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz Verlag, 2002 [reviewed Timothy P. Harrison, BASOR 333 (2004), pp.83-85].
2003 “Cash Crop Production and Storage in the Early Bronze Age Southern Levant”, JMA 16.1 (2003), pp.59-78.
Getsov, N.Y. Paz & Gophna, R.
2000 Shifting Urban Landscapes during the Early Bronze Age in the Land of Israel, Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 2000.
1995 “Early Bronze Age Canaan: Some Spatial and Demographic Observations”, chapter 16 in Levy, T.E. (ed.), The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land, New York: Facts on File, 1995, pp.269-280.
1999 “Uniformity as Ideology in the Early Bronze Age II”, in Faust, A. & Maeir, A. (eds), Material Culture, Society and Ideology: New Directions in the Archaeology of the Land of Israel, Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University, 1999, pp.15-30. (עברית)
2002 Early Urbanizations in the Levant: A Regional Narrative, New York: Leicester University Press, 2002. [reviewed Russel B. Adams, BASOR 333 (2004), pp.85-86].
2003 “Early Bronze Age Megiddo and Beth Shean: Discontinuous Settlement in Sociopolitical Context”, JMA 16.1 (2003), pp.17-32.
Greenberg, R. & Paz, Sarit
2004 “An EB IA-EB III Stratigraphic Sequence from the 1946 Excavations at Tel Beth Yeraḥ”, IEJ 54.1 (2004), pp.1-23.
Harrison, Timothy P.
1997 “Shifting Patterns of Settlement in the Highlands of Central Jordan during the Early Bronze Age”, BASOR 306 (1997), pp.1-37.
2001 “Early Bronze Age Social Organization as Reflected in Burial Patterns from the Southern Levant”, in Wolff, S.R. (ed.), Studies in the Archaeology of Israel and Neighbouring Lands in Memory of Douglas L. Esse, [SAOC 59], Chicago: Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, 2001, pp.215-236.
Harrison, T. P. & Savage, Stephen H.
2003 “Settlement Heterogeneity and Multivarate Craft Production in the Early Bronze Age Southern Levant”, JMA 16.1 (2003), pp.33-57.
Helms, Svend W.
1981 Jawa: Lost City of the Black Desert, London: Methuen, 1981.
1986 “Excavations at Tell Um Hammad”, Levant 18 (1986), pp.25-50.
Hennesy, J. Basil
1967 The Foreign Relations of Palestine during the Early Bronze Age, London: Bernard Quaritch, 1967.
2002 “Mortuary Practices in Early Bronze Age Canaan”, Near Eastern Archaeology 65.2 (2002), pp.92-104.
Joffe, Alex H.
1991 “Early Bronze I and the Evolution of Social Complexity in the Southern Levant”, JMA 4 (1991), pp.3-58.
1993 Settlement and Society in the Early Bronze Age I and II Southern Levant: Complementarity and Contradiction in a Small-Scale Complex Society, [Monographs in Mediterranean Archaeology 4], Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.
Joffe, A. & Dessel, J.-P.
“Alternative Approaches to Early Bronze Age Pottery”, in Philip, G. & Baird, D. (eds), Ceramics and Change in the Early Bronze Age of the Southern Levant, [Levantine Archaeology 2], Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000, pp.31-59.
1978 The Rise of an Urban Culture: The Urbanization of Palestine in the Early Bronze Age 3000 – 2150 BC, [Israel Ethnographic Society Studies 4], Jerusalem: Israel Ethnographic Society, 1978.
Kenyon, Kathleen M.
1979 “The City States of the Early Bronze Age”, chapter 5 in Archaeology in the Holy Land, fourth edition, London & New York: Methuen, 1979.
Maisler, B., Stekelis, M. & Avi-Yonah, M.
1952 “The Excavations at Beit Yerah (Khirbet Kerak) 1944-1946”, IEJ 2 (1952), pp.165-173, 218-229.
1990 “The Emergence of Cities: The Early Bronze Age (ca. 3300-2300 BCE)”, chapter 4 in Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, [Anchor Bible Reference Library], New York: Doubleday, 1990, pp.91-150.
Mazar, A., Ziv-Esudri, Adi & Cohen-Weinberger, Anet
2000 “The Early Bronze Age II-III at Tel Beth Shean: Preliminary Observations”, in Philip, G. & Baird, D. (eds), Ceramics and Change in the Early Bronze Age of the Southern Levant, [Levantine Archaeology 2], Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000, pp.255-278.
Maisler, B., Stekelis, M. & Avi-Yonah, M.
1952 “Excavations at Beit Yerah”, IEJ 2 (1952), pp.218-229.
Marchetti, N. & Nigro, L.
1995-96 “Handicraft Production, Secondary Food Transformation and Storage in the Public Building P4 at EB IVA Ebla”, Berytus 42 (1995-1996), pp.8-36.
in press “Ebla: Crafts and Power in an Emergent State of 3rd Millennium BC Syria”, JMA 16.2 (in press)
1999 L’époque des premiers bourgs fortifiés: pertinence de ‘l’existence d’un processus d’urbanisation dans le Levant sud au troisième millénaire, Beyrouth: Institut Français d’archéologie du Proche-Orient, 1999.
1988 “Hoards of the Early and Middle Bronze Ages in the Levant”, World Archaeology 20 (1988), pp.190-208.
1989 Metal Weapons of the Early and Middle Bronze Ages in Syria-Palestine, [BAR International Series 526], Oxford, 1989.
1999 “Complexity and Diversity in the Southern Levant during the Third Millennium BC: the Evidence of Khirbet Kerak Ware”, JMA 12 (1999), pp.26-57.
2001 “The Early Bronze Age (I-III)”, in Adams, R., Bienkowski, P. & MacDonald, B. (eds), The Archaeology of Jordan, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 2001, pp.163-232.
Philip, G. and Millard, A.R.
2000 “Khirbet Kerak Ware in the Levant : the Implications of Radiocarbon Chronology and Spatial Distribution”, in Marro, C. & Hauptmann, H. (eds),Chronologies des pays du Caucase et de l’Euphrate aux IVe-IIIe millénaires. From the Euphrates to the Caucasus: Chronologies for the 4th-3rd millennium B.C. Vom Euphrat in den Kaukasus: Vergleichende Chronologie des 4. und 3. Jahrtausends v. Chr., Actes du Colloque d’Istanbul, 16-19 décembre 1998, [Varia Anatolica XI], De Boccard: Istanbul-Paris, 2000.
1987 “The Early Bronze Age in Palestine: the Rise and Collapse of Urbanism”, BA 50.1 (1987), pp.22-43.
1995 “The Social Response to Environmental Change in Early Bronze Age Canaan”, JAA 14 (1995), pp.26-44.
Rothman, M. (ed.)
2001 Uruk Mesopotamia and Its Neighbours: Cross-Cultural Interactions in the Era of State Formation, [School of American Research Research Advanced Seminar Series], Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, 2001.
1973 “An Early Bronze IV Tomb from Bâb edh-Dhrâʿ, BASOR 210 (1973), pp.2-19.
1982 “The Origins of the Early Bronze Age Walled Town Culture of Jordan”, in Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan I, Amman: Department of Antiquities, 1982, pp.67-75.
1989 “The Skeletal Biology and Palaeopathology of Early Bronze Age Populations in the Levant”, in de Miroschedji, P. (ed.), L’urbanisation de la Palestine à l’âge du Bronze ancien: Bilan et perspectives des recherches actuelles, [BAR International Series 527 (ii)] Oxford: BAR, 1988, pp.297-313.
Wright, George Ernest
1937 The Pottery of Palestine from the Earliest Times to the End of the Early Bronze Age, New Haven, CT: ASOR, 1937.
1992 “Megalithic Cemeteries in the Levant”, in Bar-Yosef, O. & Khazanov, A. (eds), Pastoralism in the Levant: Archaeological Materials in Anthropological Perspectives, [Monographs in World Archaeology 10], Madison WI: Prehistory Press, 1992, pp.43-64.