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Between Collapse and Mobility: Resilience in the Third Millennium B.C. Southern Levant


The Early Bronze IV (EB IV, c. 2500-2000 B.C.) in the ancient Near East was a period of rapid and systemic change. Towards the end of the third millennium B.C., much of the population abandoned villages and cities across the Levant. For the past 50 years this period has been characterized as a “collapse,” even though the veracity of this has been questioned in recent years. The reality of this period is more nuanced. This dissertation examines how local populations adapted to changes in economic systems, specifically changes in trade routes and subsistence regimes. This started with the establishment of the so-called “urbanization” of the Early Bronze II-III (EB II-III, c. 3000-2500 B.C.) and resulted in a drastic shift in settlement patterns and a deurbanization in the EB IV. This study will explore alternative explanations that situate people as active agents in a resilient socioeconomic system. The changes in settlement locations, a reflection of economic and political systems, were conscious choices, shaped and limited by various factors. Rather than a sudden collapse of the previous social structure due to catastrophic climatic change disrupting agricultural production, it appears that the EB IV transition was the logical consequence of individuals actively responding to their steadily changing environment. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is used to show that settlement locations in the Levant were strongly influenced by environmental factors including a flooding of the coastal plain and an aridification of inland valleys in addition to shifts subsistence patterns. There was a shift in the location of sheep rearing to the liminal zones at the edges of dry-farming, in agriculture from centralized locations around tells to a more ruralized, village based system and a shift north of olive and grape production, from the southern to the northern Levant. Data was extracted from satellite imagery and environmental models to determine agricultural and pastoral zones as well as settlement patterns at the local level. Results illustrate that populations during the EB II-III became so entrenched in their previous modes of living, overexploiting the landscape and available resources, that it was no longer sustainable, and communities moved into different environmental niches to survive.

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