A team of Israeli and American researchers has uncovered new evidence that shows that an earthquake may have caused the destruction and the sudden abandonment of a flourishing Canaanite palatial site in northern Israel about 3,700 years ago.
The group made the discovery at the 75-acre site of Tel Kabri, which contains the ruins of a Canaanite palace and city that dates back to approximately 1900-1700 BCE.
The excavations, located on land belonging to Kibbutz Kabri in the western Galilee, are co-directed by Dr. Assaf Yasur-Landau, a professor of Mediterranean archaeology at the University of Haifa, and Dr. Eric H. Cline, a professor of classics and anthropology at the George Washington University.
“We wondered for several years what had caused the sudden destruction and abandonment of the palace and the site, after centuries of flourishing occupation,” Yasur-Landau said. “A few seasons ago, we began to uncover a trench which runs through part of the palace, but initial indications suggested that it was modern, perhaps dug within the past few decades or a century or two at most. But then, in 2019, we opened up a new area and found that the trench continued for at least thirty meters, with an entire section of a wall that had fallen into it in antiquity, and with other walls and floors tipping into it on either side.”
Dr. Michael Lazar, lead author of the study, explained that recognizing past earthquakes can be extremely challenging in the archaeological record, especially at sites where there isn’t much stone masonry and degradable construction materials like sun-dried mudbricks and wattle-and-daub were used instead. At Kabri, however, the team found both stone foundations for the bottom part of the walls and mudbrick superstructures above.
“Our studies show the importance of combining macro and micro-archaeological methods for the identification of ancient earthquakes,” he said. “We also needed to evaluate alternative scenarios, including climatic, environmental, and economic collapse, as well as warfare, before we were confident in proposing a seismic event scenario.”
The researchers could see areas where the plaster floors appeared warped, walls had tilted or been displaced, and mudbricks from the walls and ceilings had collapsed into the rooms, in some cases rapidly burying dozens of large jars.