Megiddo (Israël): Early Bronze Age: Megiddo’s Great Temple and the Birth of Urban Culture in the Levant
The Temple Builders, Megiddo and Tel Megiddo East in the Early Bronze Age
The excavations at Tel Megiddo East. Photogrammetry by Adam Prins.
Megiddo owes its importance in part to its location in the Jezreel Valley, a fertile and strategically located region in northern Israel. Jezreel Valley Regional Project (JVRP) archaeologists Matthew J. Adams, Jonathan David, Robert S. Homsher and Margaret E. Cohen recently published the article “The Rise of a Complex Society: New Evidence from Tel Megiddo East in the Late Fourth Millennium” in the March 2014 issue of Near Eastern Archaeology (NEA). The article details investigations at Tel Megiddo East, the settlement responsible for the construction of the Great Temple, as well as the broader Jezreel Valley landscape in the Early Bronze Age I.
Project director Matthew J. Adams told BHD:
The JVRP was originally designed to contextualize the Great Temple by studying contemporary sites around the valley. We wanted to be able to understand how regional developments allowed for such a tremendous leap in social and political organization represented in the Great Temple. Once we realized that this regional approach to research would be valuable for any period, we redesigned the JVRP to embrace all periods. In fact, we’re doing essentially the same thing for the Roman camp at Legio — studying the entire region to understand how the presence of the Roman army in the 2nd – 3rd centuries affected local pagan, Jewish and early Christian populations.
Jezreel Valley Regional Project investigations at Early Bronze Age I Megiddo reveal that the main mound and Tel Megiddo East (TME) formed a dual site. The two together make up one of the largest-known Early Bronze Age sites in the southern Levant (with larger sites like Bet Yerah and Yarmut developing later in the EBA II/III periods). JVRP excavations reveal that construction at TME, the settlement of the Great Temple builders, parallels that of the acropolis, suggesting that there was “a prosperous mid-to-late EB Ib society, culminating in the Great-Temple phase, which featured monumental architecture, standardization of measurement in a variety of public and private buildings both on the acropolis and in the settlement, and an effort to plan over broad spaces in the settlement,” according to the recent NEA article.
What does this mean for the broader Jezreel Valley, or the whole southern Levant? Is Megiddo a unique phenomenon, or will further excavation in the region uncover greater evidence of early urbanism? JVRP excavations will continue to expose Megiddo’s network in the Jezreel Valley, and perhaps further excavations elsewhere will reveal broader EB I urbanism in the Levant. Adams told BHD:
It seems likely that the developments at Megiddo are not totally unique. Other contemporary sites in the southern Levant show signs of fortifications and monumental architecture. However, these sites have not been as extensively excavated as Megiddo. While Megiddo may be unique in sheer size and monumentality, I suspect that future excavations will show this to be part of a broader phenomenon of social and political development in the southern Levant. That said, we know that while there is general cultural homogeneity across the southern Levant, there are also evidence of notable cultural regionalism. It’s difficult to predict how this regionalism will be manifested in the development of social and political organizations.
The End of the Early Bronze Age
Early Bronze Age I Megiddo fell during a period of widespread crisis in the region, and the Great Temple was abandoned along with half of the other sites in the Jezreel Valley. But, as we said at the start of the article, Near Eastern society flourished during the subsequent EB II and III, with major new states, technologies and social organization developing during these periods. However, in the second half of the third millennium B.C.E., the great Early Bronze Age states also succumbed to widespread destruction and decline. What happened? The cause of the collapse is still still a matter of scholarly debate, and one potential trigger is environmental. In the sidebar to his 1994 Bible Review article “Climate and Collapse,” William H. Stiebing, Jr. ascribed the decline to climate change:
Recent research points to climate as the culprit in the widespread cultural upheaval during the transition from the Early Bronze Age to the Middle Bronze Age (2300–2000 B.C.E.). In 1993 Professor Harvey Weiss of Yale University announced that his excavations at Tell Leilan in Syria had uncovered evidence of a severe late third-millennium drought that, he says, caused the end of the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia. Weiss this joins an increasing number of scholars who recognize climatic change as a significant factor in the political and cultural changes that took place in the eastern Mediterranean around 2300–2000 B.C.E.Previously, during a moist climatic phase in the eastern Mediterranean that began around 3500 B.C.E., widespread urbanization developed in Early Bronze Age Greece, in Asia Minor, in Syria and in Palestine, as well as in the civilizations of Old Kingdom Egypt and Early Dynastic Mesopotamia. During the Early Bronze II–III period (c. 3050–3200 B.C.E.), large walled cities, often much larger than those of later times, flourished in Palestine and Transjordan. Settlements even expanded into the Negev and Sinai, areas that are now deserts.
But virtually all of Palestinian Early Bronze villages were destroyed around 2300–2200 B.C.E. and lay abandoned for two or more centuries. In most parts of the Negev, sedentary occupation was not resumed until the Iron Age II, after 1000 B.C.E. At the same time as these third-millenium destructions, the flood level of the Nile was extremely low, causing famine and turmoil in Egypt, leading to the collapse of the Old Kingdom.
There thus seems to have been a relatively dry period in the Near East during the Egyptian First Intermediate Period and the Palestinian Early Bronze IV (or the Early Bronze/Middle Bronze transition) about 2300–2000 B.C.E. It is evidence of this dry period that Weiss has uncovered at Tell Leilan. During this era, urban civilization virtually disappeared in Palestine. The population dropped drastically, leaving the land to groups of pastoral seminomads.
Major migrations also took place during this time. Seminomads invaded Mesopotamia, the Delta area of Egypt, and possibly Palestine. Indo-European speaking groups from the north moved into Asia Minor and Greece. In both areas cities were destroyed. The revival of urbanism in much of the eastern Mediterranean area occurred only after 2000 B.C.E., when moister weather seems to have returned.
Matthew J. Adams, Israel Finkelstein and David Ussishkin, “The Great Temple of Early Bronze I Megiddo.” American Journal of Archaeology 118.2 (2014) 1-21.
Matthew J. Adams, Jonathan David, Robert S. Homsher and Margaret E. Cohen, “The Rise of a Complex Society: New Evidence from Tel Megiddo East in the Late Fourth Millennium.” Near Eastern Archaeology 77:1 (2014) 32-43.
Many thanks to Matthew J. Adams for his correspondence with BHD regarding the finds at Megiddo and Tel Megiddo East.