The Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age (EB) Transition – Investigation of a Weak Link

Posted in: AIAR, ASOR, Bronze Age
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By: Eliot Braun, National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow

 My tenure as an NEH Fellow at the Albright was exceptionally productive as it freed me to direct virtually all my energies into research and writing related to the above project.

I was able to complete an article in which I challenge some scholars’ interpretations suggesting there was no Late Chalcolithic occupation at Ashqelon. In it, I demonstrate that Chalcolithic and EB I settlements occupied hilly ridges and troughs between them. Since the area was bulldozed flat prior to excavation, only low-lying occupation debris was left to be excavated.  Thus, remains of both the Chalcolithic and EB I periods were often encountered at virtually the same absolute elevations, leading to published accounts suggesting all sequential deposits were actually contemporary, when in fact Stratum 1 at one location might be Chalcolithic, while nearby Stratum 1 might be dated to the Early Bronze Age. 

As ceramic finds were extremely poorly preserved and are not a particularly sensitive indicator for differentiating Late Chalcolithic from early phases of Early Bronze I, two scholars have argued that typical Chalcolithic artifacts should actually be identified as EB I. I set out to investigate that claim as it is essential for interpreting the Chalcolithic-EB transition. By marshalling evidence in the literature of artifacts, burial customs and radiocarbon determinations, I believe I have been able to refute such claims, thus obviating a need to re-evaluate the transition and indeed, the entire understanding of what constitutes EB I in the southern Levant. My research further challenged a series of radiocarbon determinations from one site at Ashqelon that indicate EB I started between 3800-3700 BCE. The earlier dates are likely the result of incorrect chrono-cultural ascriptions due to the same confusion in the identification of non-contiguous stratigraphic sequences. That information will be published in a collaborative project on radiocarbon dating of the south Levantine Early Bronze Age, which shows ample evidence for the onset of EB I ca. 3500 BCE.

During my tenure as an NEH Fellow, I also worked on different aspects of my general research on the Early Bronze Age. With colleagues from the Israel Antiquities Authority, I was able to complete two articles on the archaeological record of an EB I village site at Amaziya, Israel, with its unusually large storage facilities, offering evidence for the development of the first complex, hierarchical, urban-like societies in the region. I also completed a short article on specific associations between the southern Levantine site of Ptora (Northern Negev) and Egypt, and another on problems involved in interpreting ceramic evidence for social identification of Egyptians in the southern Levant and south Levantines in Egypt in the Chalcolithic and EB I periods.

During my time at the Albright, I benefitted from the help and encouragement of the staff, and enjoyed interacting with other scholars from international venues who work in different disciplines. That created a congenial and stimulating atmosphere. Sy, albeit one of the busiest people I know, always found time for interesting discussions, while Helena, Nadia and Sarah were always extremely helpful. Joe kept us up to date on events and I also enjoyed talking to Hisham, the chef (a good one). His dinners, especially those with Guest Scholars were memorable, and our five day excursion to Jordan during the Albright’s annual field trip abroad was a fascinating tour of archaeological sites. I particularly wish to thank Bill Zimmerle for organizing it and to express my thanks to all the staff for making my fellowship a productive and pleasant one.


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