Earthquake may have destroyed palace in Israel 3,700 years ago

Hyperaxion September 14, 2020 12:43 am

According to a new investigation in Tel Kabri, in the north of the country, there is no evidence that the site was abandoned due to war or fire.

After a new investigation, researchers found evidence that an earthquake may have caused the destruction and abandonment of a flourishing Canaanite palace in northern Israel 3,700 years ago.

The study results were recently published in the journal PLOS One.

Earthquake may have destroyed palace in Israel 3,700 years ago
(Credit: George Washington University / University of Haifa).

The group made the discovery at an archaeological site known as Tel Kabri, which contains the ruins of a Canaanite palace and a city dating back to approximately 1900-1700 B.C.

“We wondered for several years what caused the sudden destruction and abandonment of the palace and the site, after centuries of flourishing occupation,” said co-author Assaf Yasur-Landau, a professor of Mediterranean archaeology at the University of Haifa.

Identifying signs of past earthquakes through archaeological records can be extremely challenging, especially in places where there is not much stone masonry, and degradable building materials such as mud bricks and wood were used instead.

One of the collapsed walls, probably due to an earthquake.
One of the collapsed walls, probably due to an earthquake. (Credit: George Washington University / University of Haifa).

In Tel Kabri, however, the team found stone foundations composing the bottom part of the walls and mud-brick superstructures above.

“Our studies show the importance of combining macro- and micro-archaeological methods for the identification of ancient earthquakes,” said lead author Michael Lazar.

“We also needed to evaluate alternative scenarios, including climatic, environmental and economic collapse, as well as warfare, before we were confident in proposing a seismic event scenario.”

Floor debris and some jars.
Floor debris and some jars. (Credit: George Washington University / University of Haifa).

The researchers found areas where the plaster floor appeared warped, the walls were tilted or displaced and the mud-bricks on the walls and ceiling collapsed.

According to the researchers, there was no evidence of violent human activity, such as marks caused by weapons or signs of fire.

“It really looks like the earth simply opened up and everything on either side of it fell in,” noted co-author Eric Cline, a professor of classics and anthropology at the George Washington University.

A wine cellar discovered at the site.
A wine cellar discovered at the site. (Credit: George Washington University / University of Haifa).

In 2013, excavations at the site led to the discovery of 40 jars of wine in a single storage room in the palace – which, at the time, was the oldest wine cellar ever found in the Near East.

Since then, the team has found four more of these storage rooms and at least 70 more jars, all buried under the rubble of the building’s collapse.

“The floor deposits imply a rapid collapse rather than a slow accumulation of degraded mud bricks from standing walls or ceilings of an abandoned structure,” explained Ruth Shahack-Gross, a professor of geoarchaeology at the University of Haifa, who also participated in the study.

“The rapid collapse, and the quick burial, combined with the geological setting of Tel Kabri, raises the possibility that one or more earthquakes could have destroyed the walls and the roof of the palace without setting it on fire.”

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