Friday, August 3, 2012

Collapse of Empires: Chalcolithic Levant Culture

As we discussed with the Old World Danube Culture, the term "Empire" here is honored somewhat in the breach. We have so little information on some of the societies we have been discussing that we have no way of knowing if they had any imperial aspirations.   I apologize, but to make both posts somewhat complete, there will be some repetition.
The main point of these exercises is to demonstrate how many lost cultures there are out there beyond the usual Rome, Mayan, Easter Island, et cetera that you seem to be endlessly discussed. Just as if you took all people from all time, the typical person is already dead, the same can be said for civilizations. The typical civilization is dead. And not only are they dead, but in some cases we have a hard time even figuring out that they ever existed, in spite of their often large size, and extended period on the earth.
As with the Old World Danube Culture, today's group was around for about 1,500 years, in an area today that would span multiple countries. We have no idea what they called themselves
The Chalcolithic Southern Levant Culture established itself in an area that would roughly include today’s Lebanon, Israel, and possibly parts of Egypt. It spanned the time period from roughly 5,000BCE to 3,500BCE.  Note that Chalcolithic here refers to the Chalcolithic Period or Copper Age.  And that the time period for this civilization and its abrupt decline very much coincides with the Old World Danube Culture that we have discussed.
They lived in small villages that eventually went to a two-tiered system with larger villages centering smaller outlying villages.  They had already started craft specialization, and were involved in a fair amount of trade.

Dr. Russell B. Adams, The Development of Cooper Metallurgy During the Early Bronze Age of the Southern Levant, University of Sheffield, 1998.   Eponymous Website

By the end of the ‘Developed Phase’ of the Chalcolithic (4500–3700 BC) these trading networks and production of specialized goods reach a peak, and it has been suggested by Joffe (1993) that the collapse of these trading networks may have been an important factor in the demise of Chalcolithic societies.

This small system was stretched so tightly that any systematic disruption in the areas of resource procurement and subsequent craft specialization, agricultural production, or the political balance of power created shock waves throughout the entire society (Joffe 1993: 36).

On balance it seems unlikely that a single factor caused the decline of Chalcolithic societies, and other suggestions for this collapse have ranged from climatic shift and a drier climate, to increased commercialization replacing the debt-based systems of exchange crucial to Chalcolithic elites’, and even warfare. It is likely that several contributing factors played a role in the sharp decline seen in the ‘Terminal Phase’ (3700–3500 BC) of the Chalcolithic. The shift back to small autonomous villages at the end of the period and during the Early Bronze Age I can be seen as both a temporary decline in the social order, but more importantly as the end of a long period of indigenous development of over three millennia from the Neolithic period. The next phase of development during the Early Bronze Age, and the developing social complexity throughout this period is not due to local indigenous developments, but for the first time the result of external cultural influences, as the southern Levant was affected by the emergence of the Egyptian state.
That the author appears to be unaware of a number of other cultures at more the less the same time is not particularly unusual.  People working on ancient cultures seem to stay within their own little specialties and don’t seem to like to muddy the waters too much with outside sources.
As we note earlier with the Old World Danube Culture, based on pollen analysis, a number of cultures throughout the West were undergoing stress, starting around 3800BCE. A theory, with some data to back it up, notes that pollen counts show an increased deforestation of the landscape. With this deforestation, there was likely higher population counts, and decreased soil productivity. Shifts in climate would have had a more devastating impact. Some researchers refer to the 3,800 BCE to 3,200BCE, as the first recorded Dark Ages. A dark age that may have effected as great of an area as the much better known one that started around 1,200 BCE.
Sing C. Chew, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham MD, 2007

From an empirical analysis of the trend lines of arboreal pollen, table .32 presents forty arboreal pollen profiles of deforestation and reforestation starting from as early as 3854 B.C. These profiles cover four geographic regions of the world: western Europe, central and eastern Europe including Russia [our Old World Danube folk] , northern Europe, and the Mediterranean. With the exception of Byelorussia (Dolgoe), Hungary (Lake Balaton), Latvia (Lake Rudushskoe), an Russia (Chabada Lake) pollen profiles, all C calibrated.
If we examine table 3.2, despite the fact that historians and archaeologists specialising in the Ancient World did not identify a Dark Age period in the fourth millennium B.C., it seems that twenty-nine pollen profiles indicate that there was a phase of deforestation during the fourth century millennium B.C. Not only do the pollen profiles exhibit such a period of deforestation, they also reveal the widespread geographic coverage of the degradation of areas in Russia and the Ukraine through to Spain and Syria. It should not be assumed that this was the first phase of deforestation in world history, as the available data are quite limiting. It might perhaps be the first phase of anthropegenically induced deforestation following the Neolithic Revolution.
This is the summation table of Table 3.2 noted above

 From the  Wikipedia Article about the photo below:
The site shows no sign of deliberate destruction. It appears to have been abandoned and its cultic furniture removed, carried away by the priests. Other Ghassulian sites also display signs of abandonment, and the temple may represent the last phase of the Ghassulian settlements.

Copper Age (Calcolithic) Temple at  Ein Gedi (from Wikipedia)
~ 3500 B.C.


kymber said...

Russell - i love this new series about the collapse of a variety of properly ancient "empires"....i have always been very interested in the chalcolithic period! am i jumping the gun by asking you what your opinion is on why these seemingly "empires" collapsed? especially since, in regards to the Ghassulian sites, which display no sign of deliberate destruction AND the priests had time to carry away their cultic furniture? did they have some kind of "back-to-the-land" movement and all moved to the country? i would really like to know your opinion but will wait if you are planning to finish the series before commenting on your ideas. thanks. i am looking forward to more of this series.

your friend,

russell1200 said...

K: Thank you. I doing them because I always learn something, but they take a lot of time, and they always seem incomplete.

I cut short some of the information flood. There is another book

David Anthony's "The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World" about the Indo-Europeans that intersects with the material here - particularly the Old Europe Culture.

My guess at the moment, is that Old Europe was clobbered by a climate change that helped bring the Indo-Europeans into their area, and that the Levant simply found that the farming of the day had lost its relative effectiveness to less stationary methods.

The current consensus is that farming started when it did, because prior to that time the climate was to variable to be able to do completely stationary farming. So weather shifts could make early farming methods unprofitable fairly quickly.

If you look at an old post of mine -

- you will see that this may very well have what happened in Europe a couple of different times, and helped to drive the Celts (Galatians) down into Europe, and may have been the case for the 1200B.C. that did in a huge number of cultural groups including the Dark Age (Homeric) Greeks.

There are always sub-stories that are very important, but it seems like it is usually the weather that got the ball rolling.

kymber said...

thanks for your answer - i have similar beliefs in regards to the weather setting things off. which makes this latest climate change thingy a little worrisome.

your friend,

russell1200 said...

K: Somewhere recently I saw something on possilbe logic behind sychronized collapses. Weather doesn't have to be the only culpret. For instance the Mongols, by interconnecting the Asian continent with Africa and Europe so well caused a lot of issues.

I think earlier weather issues are thought possibly to connect to solar activity. But humans, with their mass woodland burn offs, likely have been having at least local effects for some time.

I want to do more with it, and probably will, but I am also trying to work through the international appocalyptic fiction as well.

kymber said...

not a prob buddy - you got enough ideas and books to make posts for a lifetime - and if i don't comment on all of them, it's just that i have nothing to add. i am really liking this series but like the international apocalyptic fiction, too.

hey - we just watched a movie called Knowing (starring Nic Cage who i normally HATE!). i found it a very interesting take on the apocalypse. the apocalyptic angle doesn't come into play until mid-way through the movie. and without giving too much away, i loved the nephilim/watcher/angels angle that pops up. have you seen it?

your friend,

russell1200 said...

No I have not seen that- We have a hard time finding time to watch movies that an 8 your old little boy wouldn't also want to see. Which still leaves some good movies, but the apocalyptic is generally more symbolic - Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, et cetera.

The nephlim of fiction are almost as interesting as their historical (or historical alligorical if you are not a biblical literalist) conterparts: