Visit Us | Contact Us | Membership | Make a Gift | Calendar | Order Online | What's New

Print this Page

Home > Research > Past Post Doctoral Scholars

The Early/Middle Bronze Age Transition in the Ancient Near East: Chronology, C14, and Climate Change

March 7–8, 2014
The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
Organized by Felix Höflmayer,
Post-Doctoral Scholar

During the late third millennium BC one of the biggest transformations of the ancient Near East took place, affecting almost all regions from Egypt to Anatolia and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Iranian plateau. This period not only saw the collapse of urbanization in the southern Levant at the end of the Early Bronze Age III and the following pastoral Intermediate Bronze, and the rise and decline of the Akkad empire in the Upper Euphrates region, but also the end of the Egyptian Old Kingdom in the Nile valley. In recent years it has been argued that climatic reasons, especially rapid climate change in the late third millennium BC (the so-called 4.2 ka BP event) might have triggered this supra-regional collapse in western Asia and Egypt, linking it to a period of aridification and cooling.

This seminar brings together specialists working in different fields of the ancient Near East, including Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as scholars working on radiocarbon dating and climate data. Three major topics will be discussed: The radiocarbon evidence for the mid- to late third-millennium BC Near East, the chronological implications of new dates and how historical/archaeological chronologies should/could be adapted, and — based on this evidence — if and how climate change can be related to transitions in the late Early Bronze Age. Furthermore, written sources concerning late Early Bronze Age Near Eastern interrelations and/or transformation and collapse from Egypt to Syria/Mesopotamia will be taken into account.


  • Elisabetta Boaretto and Johanna Regev (Weizmann Institute of Science)
  • Aaron Burke (University of California, Los Angeles)
  • Michael W. Dee (University of Oxford)
  • Aron Dornauer (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg)
  • Hermann Genz (American University Beirut)
  • Raphael Greenberg (Tel Aviv University)
  • Roman Gundacker (Austrian Academy of Sciences)
  • Felix Höflmayer (University of Chicago)
  • Sturt Manning (Cornell University)
  • Nadine Moeller (University of Chicago)
  • Peter Pfälzner (Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen)
  • David Schloen (University of Chicago)
  • Thomas Schneider (University of British Columbia)
  • Glenn Schwartz (Johns Hopkins University)
  • Harvey Weiss (Yale University), Alexia Smith (University of Connecticut), Wilma Wetterstrom (Harvard University), R. Meadow (Harvard University), A. K. Patel (Harvard University), D. Reese (Yale University)
  • Bernhard Weninger (University of Cologne)

Participant Abstracts and Bios

Elisabetta Boaretto and Johanna Regev (Weizmann Institute of Science)
Title: High Resolution Early Bronze Age C14 Chronology from the Southern Levant: Micro-archaeological Approach for Context Characterization and Archaeological Interpretation
Bio: Dr. Elisabetta Boaretto is a nuclear physicist educated at the University of Padua (Italy) and Israel (PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem). She spent three years conducting postdoctoral research at the AMS 14C Dating Laboratory at Aarhus University, Denmark. Since 2000, she has been working as director of the Radiocarbon Dating and Cosmogenic Isotopes Laboratory at the Weizmann Institute of Science where, beside radiocarbon dating in archaeology, she has applied Beryllium-10 in prehistory studies. From 2006 to 2011 she was also a senior lecturer of archaeological science at Bar-Ilan University. Her research is geared toward resolving chronological questions and synchronizing events relating to archaeology. Her unique approach is to start the research in the field, by excavating and trying to find the best archaeological context for the dating. She is therefore an active part of excavation teams in Israel and other countries, such as China and Georgia. She has also developed novel methods to understand the preservation of datable material in the archaeological sediments and to identify the pristine material for dating. In 2011, she was awarded the 2011 IBA Europhysics Prize for Applied Nuclear Science and Nuclear Methods in Medicine. In 2012, she was elected as one of two track leaders of the new Max Planck Weizmann Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology. She will be heading the Center’s “Timing of Cultural Change” track and will be overseeing the operations of the D-REAMS accelerator for radiocarbon dating, operative from April 2014.
Abstract: The end of the Early Bronze Age in the Levant was determined to be around 2500 BC and not, as was previously thought, some 200 years later. The new study reported here was carried out at several ongoing excavations, including Tel Bet Yerah, Tell es-Safi, and Tel Megiddo. In addition to these new dates, samples from previous excavations at Tel Arad were also dated. In order to define the contexts as being secure and assure that the material to be dated can be related directly to the context, we used an integrative approach utilizing micro-archaeological methods. This working procedure has enabled us to obtain reliable dates for building a chronology, while minimizing the noise by not dating samples from unsecure contexts. The results, which cover the broad range of phases of the EBA from the various sites, are consistent with the high EBA chronology. Still, some questions need to be addressed, primarily concerning the chronology of the EBI and EBIV/IBA phases in the south Levant. Particularly challenging is to determine whether or not some of the changes in the archaeological record of this period can be synchronized to any corresponding climatic changes.

Aaron Burke (University of California, Los Angeles)
Title: Amorites and Climate Change: The Negotiation of Amorite Identity during the Transition from the Early to the Middle Bronze Ages
Bio: Aaron A. Burke is associate professor of the archaeology of ancient Israel and the Levant in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA, and is a member of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. He received his Ph.D. in Near Eastern archaeology from the University of Chicago in 2004 and has participated in excavations in Israel, Egypt, and Turkey. In 2007 he was appointed the co-director of the Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project, a multi-disciplinary research project focused on the archaeological exploration of Jaffa, Israel. Excavations at the site are addressing the Egyptian fortress from ca. 1460 to 1130 BC In 2012, he and Felix Höflmayer established Chronometric Investigations in Near Eastern and Mediterranean Archaeology (CINEMA) in order to facilitate long-term study of chronology through the systematic employment of radiocarbon and other scientific dating techniques. His current research includes a longue durée analysis of the Amorites in the ancient Near East addressing issues of the negotiation of identity and the contexts in which these processes occurred.
Abstract: The Amorites have occupied a central place among discussions of identity and ethnicity in the late third and early second millennia BC. This contribution addresses the principal role that climate change played in altering trajectories in the development of Amorite identities in the ancient Near East during this period. To address this question, this paper outlines a consensus position on the textual and archaeological evidence for Amorite identities prior to the aridification event ca. 2200 BC. This is followed by an evaluation of the evidence for the effects of this climatic change on specific regions — from the Egyptian Delta to Northern Mesopotamia — and its implications for social interactions that resulted in varied, yet related trajectories in the development of Amorite identities. Risk-mitigation strategies that were employed by the region’s populations are evaluated as a principal means of addressing how different populations sought to cope with the impact of climate change, alongside persistent cultural changes associated with anthropogenic phenomena. The author concludes that climatic change, while not solely responsible, did play a crucial role in shaping Amorite identities in the late third millennium.

Michael W. Dee (University of Oxford)
Title: Comparing Climatic Signals from the Blue Nile Catchment with the Decline of Old Kingdom Egypt Using High-precision Radiocarbon Dating
Bio: Michael W. Dee is a scientist and Early Career Fellow at the University of Oxford. His research is aimed at producing high-resolution absolute chronologies by applying Bayesian statistical methods to radiocarbon dates. Dr. Dee’s background is in chemistry, but he began to specialize in the application of radiocarbon dating to archaeological contexts for his doctoral research at Oxford (2006-2009). The outputs of his projects have received attention from a variety of academic fields, as well as the wider media. In particular, a 2010 paper in Science on the Egyptian chronology, and a 2013 paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society A on the formation of the Egyptian state have generated considerable interest. Dr. Dee was recently awarded an Early Career Fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust to investigate the timing of the 4.2 ka climatic event and the decline of Old Kingdom Egypt. He is also involved in active collaborations on a number of other chronological projects, most of which are centered on the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Abstract: The role of Nile flood levels in the collapse of Old Kingdom Egypt has long been a source of speculation. Over recent decades, palaeoenvironmental evidence has come to light that suggests the Egyptian state collapsed during a period of intense aridity across Northeast Africa and Southwest Asia. The temporal relationship between the climatic and political events, however, has yet to be precisely resolved. Contemporary records of the royal lineage and the height of the Nile flood remain open to interpretation, and sedimentary cores from within Egypt continue to be affected by the residence time of datable material as it is transported downstream. The object of this study is to use high-precision radiocarbon dating to fix both the political and environmental events in absolute time. For the chronology of the late Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period, new dates are being obtained on items housed in museum collections. On the environmental side, the working assumption is that any decrease in the flood in Egypt must have occurred simultaneously at its principal source, the Blue Nile catchment in Ethiopia. Accordingly, new radiocarbon dates are being made on pollen and sediment samples from lake cores in the catchment itself, some of which have already yielded data consistent with reduced outflow at this time. Ultimately, the political and environmental records will be compared, thus revealing any potential causality.

Aron Dornauer (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg)
Title: Bioclimatic and Agro-ecologic Properties of Crop Taxa: A Survey of the Cuneiform Evidence Concerning Climatic Change and the Early/Middle Bronze Age Transition.
Bio: Completing my ancient Oriental studies (minor in Near Eastern Archaeology and Sociology), I received my master of arts degree at LMU Munich, Germany in 2007. My master’s thesis i entitled “Das Archiv des assyrischen Statthalters von Gūzāna/Tall Ḥalaf.” In 2007/2008 I worked as graduate assistant at LMU Munich and prepared my doctoral thesis. From 2009 to 2013 I wrote my doctoral thesis, entitled “Kulturlandschaft in Obermesopotamien unter neuassyrischer Herrschaft” and received my PhD. From 2010 to 2013 I worked as research assistant at the University of Freiburg, Germany, within the project Klima, Landwirtschaft und Gesellschaft – Zur Nachhaltigkeit früher landwirtschaftlicher Systeme im Vorderen Orient. Currently I am lecturing at the University of Freiburg and I am preparing a lecture within the lecture series “Lebens-Mittel Wasser: von der Ressource bis zum Symbol.”
My research is focused on how ancient Mesopotamian agrarian societies (AMAS) solved the paradigmatic conflict to ensure sustainable food production: (1) developing a model of the workflow in ancient Mesopotamian agriculture and horticulture based on ethnographic models of traditional agriculture and horticulture as well as the cuneiform evidence concerning the methods of cultivation/processing of specific taxa, and (2) developing a model of AMAS based on a modified version of Max Weber’s "Agrargesellschaften des Altertums" with particular attention to the interaction of the limiting factors “manpower” and “humidity.”
Abstract: Many archaeologists link the collapse of Upper Mesopotamian urbanism at the end of the EBA with a contemporary global aridification. This climatic impact is well documented from all over the Near East but not from Upper Mesopotamia itself. Recent studies to LBA Tall Chuera and a survey of the pollen evidence do not prove that the global trend had any impact in Upper Mesopotamia.
Since there is a lack of cuneiform evidence from EBA IV-MBA I Upper Mesopotamia there is no direct evidence for the 4200 BP event. But there are indicators in cuneiform sources which might reflect the local precipitation: (A) The development of harvest yields (evidence from MBA II, LBA I, and LBA II), (B) the development of family size (IA IIa–b), (C) changing harvest dates (MBA II and IA IIb–III), and (D) changing patterns of cultivation of drought-susceptible crops (MBA, EBA).
The points A–C confirm arid conditions like today with summer droughts and winter rains with extreme interannual climatic fluctuations and three relatively humid episodes ca. 1750 BC, 1500 BC, and 950–750 BC. Point D reflects the EBA-MBA transition in northern Syria and Upper Mesopotamia. The textual evidence of the cultivation of drought-susceptible species without great scale irrigation in twenty-fourth-century Ebla and the disappearance of this species in the second millennium indicate moister conditions in the third millennium and drier conditions in second-millennium-northern Syria. The wheat species SIG15 was also cultivated in Tall Beydar in the Khabur area just south of the present 300 mm-isohyet. Plausible identifications of SIG15 are either Einkorn or Hard wheat. An analysis of the textual evidence concerning the bioclimatic and paleoecologic properties supports an identification with Einkorn and thus that the global 4200 BP event has had its impact in Upper Mesopotamia.

Hermann Genz (American University Beirut)
Title: The Transition from the Early to the Middle Bronze Age on the Lebanese Coast
Bio: Hermann Genz received his PhD in from the University of Tübingen in 1998. He is currently associate professor of archaeology at the American University of Beirut. He directed excavation projects in Lebanon at Tell Fadous-Kfarabida (2004–2011) and Baalbek (2012– ongoing, in cooperation with the German Archaeological Institute). His research focuses on the Bronze and Iron Ages of the Eastern Mediterranean, especially the Levant and Anatolia. For the Levant his research interests include the transition from village communities to more complex forms of socio-political organization, often called “city-states” in the late fourth/early third millennium, and the ultimate incorporation of the Levant into large empires in the second millennium BC and the accompanying socio-economic changes. Further fields of interest are the chronological and functional aspects of Bronze Age pottery, the storage and trade of agricultural goods, mining and metallurgy, and trade relations between the Levant and the neighboring regions as well as interrelations between human societies and their environment. Genz’s research in Anatolia centers on the archaeology of the Hittite empire as well as the Iron Age cultures of Central Anatolia. Special points of interest are the foreign relations of the Hittites, the reasons for the collapse of the Hittite empire, and the re-emergence of social complexity in the Iron Age.
Abstract: Recent excavations at Tell Arqa, Tell Fadous-Kfarabida, Sidon, and other sites in the coastal plain of Lebanon have provided a wealth of information concerning the third and second millennia BC. This new information allows us to contextualize the often ambiguous information from the older excavations at Byblos. While the northern coastal plain shows a strong continuity in settlement patterns and material culture from the Early to the Middle Bronze Age, evidence from the southern coastal plain suggests a discontinuity during the latter half of the third millennium BC, thus following the pattern observed in the Southern Levant. Interestingly, the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age seems to be characterized by a marked contraction of many settlements and it is only from the middle of this period onward that settlements grow in size again.

Raphael Greenberg (Tel Aviv University)
Title: No Collapse: Reimagining the Demise of EBA Urbanism in the Southern Levant
Bio: Raphael Greenberg studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and worked as senior editor in the Israel Antiquities Authority before coming to teach at Tel Aviv University in 1998. He has published extensively on the EBA of the Southern Levant, including the monograph Early Urbanizations in the Levant, site reports on Dan, Hazor, Tel Te’o and Bet Yerah, and a special issue of Tel Aviv (co-edited with Yuval Goren) devoted to the Early Transcaucasian (Kura-Araxes) migration. He has also contributed to both regional and interregional volumes of the European Research Council-sponsored ARCANE (Associated Regional Chronologies for the Ancient Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean) project. He currently heads the Tel Bet Yerah and the Kura-Araxes Pottery Technology projects, both based at Tel Aviv University.
Abstract: Back in the halcyon days of systems theory in archaeology, the disappearance of urban life in the late EB III of the southern Levant was readily defined as a collapse, akin to those of neighboring civilizations (Egypt's Old Kingdom and Mesopotamia's Akkadian empire) and amenable to the same processual analysis to which they were subjected, based in economic and organizational theory. The recent radiocarbon confirmation of the relative brevity of the Early Bronze II in the southern Levant, the relative longevity of the Early Bronze III, and the limited evidence for post-2500 BCE contexts require a rethinking of the entire concept of EB III collapse. It is now clear that EB II was a period of rapid change — perhaps even ideological experimentation — whereas EB III comprised a series of adjustments to the urban concept, leading to a variety of social responses. Many fortified centers did not survive the end of EB II; others had limited occupation in EB III and only a handful made it to the half-way mark of the millennium. By the time the purported environmental changes of the late third millennium rolled around — if indeed those had any significant impact in the southern Levant — there were likely no urban centers at all in the southern Levant. This does not make the demise of EB III urbanism any less significant or interesting; it does require a case-by-case analysis and the reimagining of what it meant to abandon urban concepts in the mid-third millennium BCE.

Roman Gundacker (Austrian Academy of Sciences)
Title: On the Significance of some Old Kingdom Toponyms and Ethnonyms
Bio: Roman Gundacker studied Egyptology, Classics, and comparative philology (Indo-European studies) at the University of Vienna. His dissertation investigates certain linguistic phenomena of the Pyramid Texts and their relevance as sources for the determination of diachronic and dialectal variation. Since 2009, Gundacker regularly gives philological lectures and courses at the University of Vienna; since 2013, he is furthermore involved in the research projects “Palaces in Egypt” (Austrian Science Fund FWF P25945, project director: Prof. Manfred Bietak) and “Meketre II: From Object to Icon” (Austrian Science Fund FWF P25958, project director: Prof. Peter Jánosi). Gundacker’s main research interests lie in the field of linguistics (nominal morphology, lexicology, and lexicography), ancient Egyptian literature, ancient Egyptian history, and the contact of cultures. Among his most recent studies, special attention may be drawn to The Chronology of the IIIrd and IVth Dynasties according to Manetho’s Aegyptiaca in Towards a New History for the Egyptian Old Kingdom: Perspectives on the Pyramid Age. Proceedings of the Conference at Harvard University, April 26th, 2012, edited by J. J. Shirley et al., which deals with the transmission of names and regnal lengths, their re-analysis, and new interpretation.
Abstract: (Auto)Biographical texts of the Old Kingdom are among the most important sources for exploring the geography/topography and history of Egypt and its neighbors. As such, the accounts of Weni, Pepynakht, Herkhuf, Sabeni, and others preserve accounts and descriptions of (semi)military campaigns against people organized in political entities of an unknown nature, be it local principalities, city-states, or tribal confederations.
At least some of the ethnonyms (ethnica) found in those inscriptions become standard designations for people living in areas east (Aamu), west (Tjehenu, older Tjemehu), and south (Nehesiyu) of Egypt, but some more significant toponyms appear to be confined to certain historical periods. It is thus important to analyze the linguistic origins of all these designations to determine whether they are endonymic (self-imposed designations) or exonymic (terms shaped by the Egyptians) formations, and to find out whether they are stable, always denoting one and the same people or place respectively, or whether they are transferred to other places or regions or taken over by different people for reasons of tradition, prestige, or mass migration.

Felix Höflmayer (University of Chicago)
Title: A New Chronology for the Late Early Bronze Age Levant and Its Implications for the Collapse of the First Urbanization
Bio: Since 2013, Felix Höflmayer has been a post-doctoral scholar at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. He received his PhD in Egyptology from the University of Vienna and worked on Aegean-Egyptian chronology and synchronisms in the framework of the SCIEM 2000 project of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Die Synchronisierung der minoischen Alt- und Neupalastzeit mit der ägyptischen Chronologie, published 2012, Austrian Academy of Sciences Press). In 2009 he joined the Orient-Department of the German Archaeological Institute, first at its branch in Amman (Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan), and from 2011 to 2013 in Berlin, where he started a project on radiocarbon dating the Bronze Ages of the Levant in cooperation with the University of Oxford and funded by the Fritz-Thyssen Foundation and the German Archaeological Institute. Felix Höflmayer’s current research focuses on chronology and the application of radiocarbon dating and Bayesian statistics in the region of the eastern Mediterranean.
Abstract: The mid- to late third millennium BC saw the collapse and abandonment of the first urban settlements of the southern Levant, the end of the Old Kingdom, and the advent of the First Intermediate Period in the Nile Valley as well as the collapse of the Akkad empire in upper Mesopotamia. Reasons for the apparent collapse of early states and urban societies were sought in historical sources as well as in scientific data. In recent years, however, it was argued that climatic reasons, especially the rapid climate change (RCC) in the late third millennium BC (the famous 4.2 ka BP event) might have triggered the supra-regional decline and collapse that can be traced in western Asia and Egypt during this time. While recent research carried out by the University of Oxford has shown conclusively that radiocarbon dating and the historical chronology of Egypt are in agreement with each other, radiocarbon evidence from short-lived botanical remains for key-sites of the southern Levant show that a reasonably higher dating for the end of the urbanization of the Early Bronze Age might be in order. Therefore a revision of current chronological schemes and synchronizations between northern Mesopotamia, northern and southern Levant, as well as with Egypt on the basis of radiocarbon dating is needed in order to set the chronological relations between collapses in Egypt, the Levant, and northern Mesopotamia on firm ground. The present contribution will discuss new radiocarbon evidence and the possible implications for our current understanding of the Egyptian-Levantine relations during the late Early Bronze Age.

Sturt Manning (Cornell University)
Title: The Chronology and Complications of Climate-related Change ca. 2200 BC in the East Mediterranean/Southwest Asia
Bio: Sturt Manning is Goldwin Smith Professor of Classical Archaeology, director of the Malcolm and Carolyn Wiener Laboratory for Aegean and Near Eastern Dendrochronology, and director of the Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies at Cornell University. His research interests include the archaeology of the east Mediterranean, scientific dating, and climate; he has conducted fieldwork in several areas of the region, recently in Cyprus, Greece, and Jordan. For information on his publications, see his page on the Cornell website.
Abstract: In this paper, the absolute chronology of significant archaeological-cultural change episodes in Northern Mesopotamia (Tell Leilan), Cyprus (Marki), Egypt, and the Aegean are reviewed and resolved as closely as possible. The relevance of the period around and following 2200 BC is assessed in each region, and then more widely. The relationships — temporal and causal — with evidence for climate change in the period ca. 2200–1900 BC are critically assessed. A model is proposed combining the archaeological and climate information which seeks to explain and account for the different archaeological trajectories apparent in the east Mediterranean and Southwest Asia in the later third millennium BC.

Nadine Moeller (University of Chicago)
Title: The Early / Middle Bronze Age Transition in View of Evidence from Egypt during the Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period: A New Evaluation
Bio: Nadine Moeller is assistant professor of Egyptian archaeology at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. She has been directing the Tell Edfu Project since 2001, and her primary research interests are settlements and urbanism in ancient Egypt to which recently a new project on the Egyptian absolute chronology has been added. This project focuses specifically on the First and Second Intermediate periods and is a direct result of discoveries made at Tell Edfu. Moeller has also investigated the evidence for a short-time climate change in Egypt during the First Intermediate Period. Her recently finished book manuscript is entitled “Urban Society in Ancient Egypt: An Archaeological Study of Egyptian Towns and Cities, Volume I: The Settlements from the Predynastic Period to the End of the Middle Kingdom (ca. 3500–1650 BC).” This work brings together the latest archaeological data and presents an entirely new in-depth study setting the parameters for Egypt as an early urban society, an aspect that has frequently been clouded by the repeated comparisons to ancient Mesopotamian city-states. Apart from Tell Edfu, Moeller has also participated in numerous excavations in Egypt at the sites of Abu Rawash, Memphis, Zawiet Sultan (Zawiet el-Meitin), the Theban necropolis, the Valley of the Kings, Dendera, and Elephantine.
Abstract: This paper has the aim to investigate the archaeological evidence from Egypt in view of the newly proposed dates for the collapse of the first cities in the southern Levant and the Early/Middle Bronze Age transition. Conventional chronologies and synchronisms between Egypt and the Levant have placed the end of the Old Kingdom in relation to the 4.2 ka BP climate event, which has frequently been cited as an important factor linked to the widespread collapse of cities and states in the eastern Mediterranean and Levantine regions. The archaeological and geological evidence from Egypt shows quite clearly that even though there is evidence for climatic changes to drier conditions, these did not lead to catastrophic living conditions and widespread famine as has often been inferred from textual sources. Certainly, major political changes occurred as the central government disintegrated, but life in the provinces seems to have been much less affected. However, in view of new radiocarbon dates obtained from several urban settlement sites in the southern Levant, it is much more difficult to link these events to the end of the Old Kingdom in Egypt. According to the new data, the disappearance of these urban sites in the former region happened much earlier, namely, some time during the Fourth Dynasty. This period has traditionally been viewed as a relatively stable and prosperous time, characterized by a strong and politically centralized state when rulers built enormous pyramid complexes. Using the recently published radiocarbon dates from the Oxford project as a basis for the absolute chronology in Egypt, the evidence currently available will be investigated in view of the results from the southern Levant with a specific focus on the archaeological remains from the Memphite region.

Peter Pfälzner (Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen)
Title: The EBA to MBA Transition in the Syrian Jezireh: A Multi-tracked Passage?
Bio: Peter Pfälzner is the chair of the Department for Near Eastern Archaeology at the Eberhard- Karls- Universität Tübingen. He studied ancient Oriental studies, classical archaeology, and prehistory in Tübingen and Berlin and received his PhD from the Free University Berlin in 1991 and the venia legendi (Habilitation) in 1995. One of his major research projects deals with the study of urbanism in upper Mesopotamia in the third millennium BC. He directed excavations at Tell Mozan (Urkesh) and in Qatna in Syria, and is co-editor of the series Excavating Qatna (edited by al-Maqdissi, Morandi Bonacossi, and Peter Pfälzner) and Qatna-Studien (edited by Pfälzner and al-Maqdissi), and is editor of the series Studien zur Urbanisierung Nordmesopotamiens.
Abstract: The excavations at Tell Mozan have produced an un-interrupted sequence for the occupation of the site from the second half of the third to the first half of the second millennium BC. Stratigraphy, architecture, material culture, and urban structures can be observed for this crucial period of transition in the Syrian Jezireh. Very recently, new radiocarbon data have been produced which help to fix this sequence of Tell Mozan in time. The general picture evolving from this evidence is that of a very gradual transition from the Early to the Middle Bronze Age in the region. However, there seems to be differences from site to site with regard to the pace, course, and quality of the change connected to this transition. For this reason, the evidence from different sites in the Syrian Jezireh will be compared, in order to judge whether there was a multi-tracked passage from the Early to the Middle Bronze Age.

David Schloen (University of Chicago)
Title: Economic and Political Implications of Raising the Date for the Collapse of Urbanism in the Early Bronze Age Southern Levant
Bio: David Schloen is associate professor of Syro-Palestinian archaeology at the Oriental Institute and in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of the University of Chicago. He has excavated in Israel on the Mediterranean coast at Ashkelon and in the Jordan Valley at the Early Bronze Age site of Yaqush. In recent years, he has worked in Turkey at Tell Atchana (ancient Alalakh) and, since 2006, at Zincirli Höyük (ancient Sam’al), where he directs the Oriental Institute’s Neubauer Expedition. He is interested in the economic and social organization of Levantine kingdoms during the Bronze and Iron Ages.
Abstract: Recent radiocarbon studies provide strong evidence to support a substantially earlier date for the end of the Early Bronze Age III in the Southern Levant and the transition to the subsequent period, variously described as the Early Bronze Age IV or the Intermediate Bronze Age, which was characterized by a lack of walled towns. The conventional date of this major transition from several centuries of “urbanism,” that is, a durable political and economic system centered on strongly fortified towns, to a dramatically deurbanized era characterized by the abandonment of those towns and their replacement by pastoral encampments and small villages, is ca. 2300-2250 BC. This conventional dating of the EB III/EB IV transition corresponds more or less to the decline of the kingdom of Ebla in Syria and the decline of the Old Kingdom in Egypt. This dating has therefore given rise to the hypothesis that the collapse resulted from the dissolution of an interregional trading system anchored by powerful, centralized polities in Syria and Egypt that were consumers of goods produced in Palestine. The conventional dating has also given rise to the hypothesis that increasing aridification in the late third millennium BC caused the demise of the EB III urban polities in the Southern Levant, which were particularly vulnerable to shifting rainfall patterns. Some would combine the two hypotheses, arguing that large-scale climate change caused widespread political disruptions that negatively affected the trading economy of the Southern Levant while also directly harming its agricultural subsistence base. However, the new radiocarbon studies point to a date around 2500 BC for the EB III/EB IV transition, which changes the picture considerably and rules out both of these hypotheses. This paper will consider the implications of the new dating of the collapse of urbanism in the Southern Levant for our understanding of economic and political relationships in the Levant as a whole. The collapse can no longer be linked to climate change or to political turmoil elsewhere. Indeed, it now appears that it occurred precisely when Old Kingdom Egypt was at its peak and, perhaps more importantly, when the nearby kingdom of Ebla was rising and expanding its economic network. The new dating raises the question of whether the collapse of urbanism in the Southern Levant was linked to the absorption of this territory into the economic orbit of Ebla, not necessarily as a directly governed region but as an economic hinterland for a system of large-scale specialized pastoralism that was integrated into the well-documented Eblaite wool economy. This paper will consider the archaeological and textual evidence that supports this hypothesis.

Thomas Schneider (University of British Columbia)
Title: Walking on Shaky Ground: The History of the First Intermediate Period from an Epistemological Perspective
Bio: Thomas Schneider studied at Zürich, Basel, and Paris. Lizentiat, doctorate and habilitation in Egyptology at the University of Basel. From 2001 to 2005 he was research professor of the Swiss National Science Foundation at the University of Basel; from 2005 to 2007 professor of Egyptology at the University of Wales, Swansea; and from 2007 to present professor of Egyptology and Near Eastern studies at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Past posts include visiting professor at the University of Vienna (1999) and Heidelberg (2003/4), visiting scholar at New York University (2006) and the University of California, Berkeley (2012). Schneider’s main areas of research are Egyptian interconnections with the Levant and the Near East, Egyptian history and chronology, and Egyptian historical phonology. Additionally, he is conducting a research project on the history of Egyptology in Nazi Germany. He is founder and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Egyptian History, as well as editor of "Near Eastern Archaeology".
Abstract: Egypt’s First Intermediate Period has presented historiography and chronology with significant epistemological problems. Gaps in the evidence available to us for historiographic reconstruction and the uncertainty about how to interpret a variety of textual sources have led as much to widely different views as modern paradigmatic shifts, depicting the period either as a time of crisis or, to the contrary, a time of regional innovation. Recent research on climatic change at the end of the Old Kingdom has provided a new incentive to reflect on these problems from the point of view of diverging modern historiographical approaches. This paper will attempt to categorize the methodological problems that scholarship on the First Intermediate Period is confronted with and to suggest possible avenues of future historiography on the period.

Glenn Schwartz (Johns Hopkins University)
Title: Western Syria and the Early/Middle Bronze Age Transition
Bio: Glenn M. Schwartz is Whiting Professor of Archaeology and chair of the Department of Near Eastern Studies, Johns Hopkins University. He is a Near Eastern archaeologist whose research concentrates on the emergence and early history of urban societies in Syria and Mesopotamia. He received his PhD from Yale in 1982. Schwartz has conducted fieldwork for most of his career in Syria and co-authored, with Peter Akkermans, The Archaeology of Syria: From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Urban Societies, ca. 16,000–300 BC (Cambridge University Press, 2003), a synthesis of archaeological results and interpretations. His research interests include the archaeology of rural communities in early urban societies, the regeneration of urban societies after periods of crisis, and the role of mortuary ritual in the establishment and maintenance of hierarchical social systems. His fieldwork projects in Syria included work at two Bronze Age sites, Tell al-Raqa’i, investigating the character of a small village in the period of urban formation, and Tell Umm el-Marra, studying an elite necropolis with well-preserved tombs and evidence of ritual and sacrificial installations. In 2013, Schwartz began excavations at the large Bronze Age urban site of Kurd Qaburstan in Kurdistan, Iraq.
Abstract: The proliferation of archaeological research in western Syria in recent years allows for a reconsideration of the problem of the transition from Early to Middle Bronze periods and the relation of that phenomenon to social and environmental developments. Given its extensive textual evidence and rich material culture remains, the results from Ebla are central to the discussion, but various limitations of the Ebla data must be recognized. In this paper, recent radiocarbon and excavation results from Ebla and other sites in western Syria are considered with respect to the EB/MB transition and its possible relation to the southern Levantine chronology.

Harvey Weiss (Yale University), Alexia Smith (University of Connecticut), Wilma Wetterstrom (Harvard University), R. Meadow (Harvard University), A. K. Patel (Harvard University), D. Reese (Yale University)
Title: “Seventeen Kings Who Lived in Tents”: Shubat Enlil before Shamshi-Adad
Bio: Harvey Weiss is professor of environmental studies and Near Eastern archaeology at Yale University and director of the Yale University Tell Leilan Project (1978–present) on the Habur Plains, northeast Syria. In the 1980s, Weiss analyzed the precipitation, cereal yield, and transport efficiencies of Habur Plains agriculture alongside excavation- and survey-retrieval of Tell Leilan and regional prehistoric and early historic occupation histories. In 1993, Weiss and his colleagues published “The Genesis and Collapse of North Mesopotamian Civilization” in Science 291: 995-1008. Recent Tell Leilan, 4.2–3.9 ka BP event, and regional societal collapse investigations were published in H. Weiss, ed., 2012 Seven Generations Since the Fall of Akkad: an Akkadian Administrative Building, The Unfinished Building, the short-lived post-collapse rebuild, and the Leilan Region Survey, a 30 km wide north-south transect encompassing 1,650 sq. km, each framed within retrieval and analysis of ninety high-resolution Tell Leilan radiocarbon dates.
Abstract: Termination of the 4.2–3.9 ka BP megadrought facilitated pastoralist Amorite sedentarization and subsequent imperial state formation across rain-fed northern Mesopotamia. These processes are visible archaeologically and measurable chronometrically at Tell Leilan/Shubat Enlil and the Leilan Region Survey with radiocarbon dating of the post-Leilan IId resettlement and the first Shamshi-Adad constructions. The Leilan series of stratigraphically constrained and high-resolution radiocarbon dates resituates this nomad sedentarization process and its linkages with adjacent regions.

Bernhard Weninger (University of Colognezu)
Title: Archaeological and Palaeoclimatological Data to Evaluate the Potential Impact of the 4.2 ka calBP event in the Aegean and Southeast Europe
Bio: Born in Britain, with Austrian father and Scottish mother, Bernhard Weninger has a bilingual background. He studied physics and philosophy at Frankfurt University, where he received a Diploma in nuclear physics in 1978. From 1981 to 1986 he was research assistant in the Department of Biology at Frankfurt University. From 1988 to 1992 he was research assistant at the Institute of Prehistory, Tübingen University, where he served as IT-specialist (with focus on stratigraphic pottery analysis) for the excavations at Troy and Beşiktepe under the direction of Manfred Korfmann. In 1992 he completed his PhD in prehistoric archaeology at Frankfurt University (topic: “Studien zur dendrochronologischen Kalibration von archäologischen 14C-Daten”). Since 1993 he has been director of the Radiocarbon Laboratory at Cologne University, Institute of Prehistory. In more than sixty publications he has pioneered research in the development of analytical methods for the construction of high-resolution archaeological chronologies based on radiocarbon dates, both in the Holocene and Glacial periods. Weninger is well-known to radiocarbon scientists all over the globe for his open-source software "CalPal" (Cologne Radiocarbon Calibration & Palaeoclimate Research Package), in which is integrated the world’s largest archaeological 14C-database for the European and Near Eastern Holocene. In recent years his research has been largely devoted to climate archaeology.
Abstract: Over the past decade, environmental and palaeoclimatological studies have provided increasing evidence for the occurrence of widespread and persistent drought in the Northern Hemispheric around 4.2 ka cal BP. Weiss and Staubwasser provide a review of the regions that appear to have been affected. These include East Africa (Kilimanjaro ice-sheet), the Andes (southern Peru), Red Sea, northwest India, Pakistan, Tibet, eastern Anatolia, and Mesopotamia. The existence of a period with extended drought around this time is indicated in many different proxies (e.g., major dust-events are seen in the Kilimanjaro ice-core, on the Bolivian Atacama plateau, and in the Chinese loess regions; lake level drops are documented in the Dead Sea. In geographic terms, the 4.2 ka event appears to be most prominent between the tropics and middle latitudes; it is most clearly seen in the high-resolution monsoon records of China and India. In contrast, high-latitude records (e.g., Greenland ice-cores) do not show significant events around 4.2 ka cal BP, nor does the (equally high-resolution) stalagmite from Sufular on the Black Sea coast of Turkey. Much further work is necessary, but available high-resolution records (ice-cores, stalagmites) point to a geographic restriction of the 4.2 ka cal BP, at least its major impact, from the equatorial tropics to middle latitudes, and thereby including our study regions (northern Mesopotamia, the Levant, parts of the Indian subcontinent, East Africa).
Turning to the archaeological aspects of the 4.2 ka cal BP, in our view it is now beyond reasonable credence to doubt its strong impact in northern Mesopotamia. We may base this definitive statement on the many studies by Harvey Weiss (Yale) back to the early 1990s. However, in lack of similarly dedicated research notably in the (directly neighboring) coastal zones of the eastern Mediterranean (e.g., Syria, Israel) and all the more in the circum-Aegean regions of Turkey and Greece, the situation is much less clear. Corresponding to the general lack of climate-archaeological studies in these regions, the main focus of the present paper will be to collect and source-critically evaluate the available settlement, economic, and demographic data, in search of indications that the observed processes may (or may not) have a climatic background. As will be shown, it is a (relatively) easy task to provide archaeological data that demonstrates major societal changes (in terms of demography, settlement patterns, communication networks, societal conflicts) in all these regions in the relevant period (ca. 2400-2000 cal BC). However, it is a much more demanding (indeed problematic) task to associate these changes with climatic variability.


Felix Höflmayer

Revised: January 7, 2014

Home > Research > Past Post Doctoral Scholars