Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mysterious abandoned cities

ARCHAEOLOGY: The Mystery of Israel's Ancient Abandoned Cities. The ancient inhabitants of Negev cities abandoned their homes more than 1,000 years ago. Archaeologists are studying the refuse and food scraps they left behind to try to fathom why they left. (Ronit Vered, Haaretz).
In recent months, the team from Haifa University has been heading south every other week to examine the remnants of the refuse left behind by inhabitants of the ancient cities of Nitzana, Haluza and Shivta. The large-scale project, estimated to last for five years and funded by the European Union, aims to crack the mystery of why these once-thriving commercial and cultural hubs were ultimately abandoned. One day, or perhaps it occurred gradually over a longer period of time, the inhabitants packed their things, carefully sealed up their homes so they could come back to them in the future, and disappeared, never to return again.

“The people who lived here put tremendous energy into construction and infrastructure. They wanted to stay here forever, but something went wrong,” says Bar-Oz. “The next time you find settlement in the Negev is over a thousand years later, with the Zionist movement. In the scholarly literature, a number of possible theories for the abandonment have been proposed: climate change, a cultural change like the Muslim conquest, or an epidemic like the plague that struck the region in the sixth century. We’re trying to solve the mystery of why they left once and for all, and we’re looking at the collapse of Byzantine society in the Negev as a test case that also has importance for the modern world, from the point of view of sustainability and understanding the attempt to cope with changes.”

The three southern cities are generally thought to be associated with the start of permanent Nabatean (1st-3rd century C.E.) settlement, but no Nabatean artifacts have been found so far. “I don’t want to denigrate classic Israeli archaeology, and we’re far from finishing the excavations and analyzing all the findings in the lab, but so far we’ve been digging and digging, getting down to the foundations of the buildings, and we’re not finding Nabatean artifacts,” says Bar-Oz.
The article illustrates the point I made recently that garbage dumps are often treasure troves of archaeological information.