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Resilience of Ancient Desert Societies, a View from the Southern Negev, Israel
 
 
 
 

Resilience of Ancient Desert Societies, a View from the Southern Negev, Israel

 
Dr. Uzi Avner
 
Dead Sea and Arava Science Center, Israel
 
 

Since the works of Nelson Glueck in the Negev in the 1930s, a historical line of the desert has been established, of short settlement periods, interrupted by longer periods of gaps, times when the few desert nomads did note leave archaeological remains behind them. This view was later supported by the intensive survey of the Negev Highlands during the 1980-90s. In the Southern Negev, however, a different settlement scenario has been found, of a full sequence of human presence and activity in a variety of fields during the last 10,000 yeas.

An unfinished archaeological Survey and excavations at ‘Uvda Valley revealed an unexpected settlement pattern. On an area of 60 sq km on the eastern side of the valley, four stone-built habitations of the PPNB (8th-7th millennia BC) were found (two excavated), built by hunters and gatherers. During the following periods, the population grew dramatically. The umber of habitations recorded to date is 182, in addition to hundreds of other types of sites and sites’ density is the highest known in the entire Negev, despite the hyper arid conditions (e.g. only 20 mm annual average precipitation agains 3600 mm annual potential evaporation). The cause of this major change in settlement was the adoption of agriculture and herding by the desert inhabitants ca. 6000 BC. While in the broader desert herding is the main economical source, in ‘Uvda Valley herding was secondary to agriculture. The growth of settlement seems to be steady, reaching a peak in the 3rd millennium BC.

In the mid 3rd millennium BC, the Near Eastern countries entered into a deep crisis. Empires collapsed and cities were abandoned. The cause was most probably a climatic abrupt deterioration. In the desert, however, continuation of settlement is found, despite the sensitivity of the desert environment.

Around 2000 BC the Near East recovered from the crisis and the new city-systems of the Middle Bronze were established. Now, the desert is considered vacant of human presence, not one site of the period has been recorded in surveys of the Negev Highlands. However, in the southern Negev, the copper industry continued and other finds from the period were found in some cult and burial sites

Today, as more radiocarbon date are received, the “missing periods” of the Negev are minimizing, and the desert inhabitants are seen in a very different view.


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