The Economy of the Ancient Societies of Tell Abu al-Kharaz

The rich finds from Tell Abu al-Kharaz flourishing during the Bronze and Iron Ages tell us much about ancient wealth in Transjordanian urbanism. The wealth of these ancient communities was built on a solid foundation of local agriculture and cattle breeding, and the surplus from the local production allowed trade with Egypt, Cyprus, Syria and Greece.

The charred plant remains from Tell Abu al-Kharaz include different types of grain, among those are emmer, einkorn and barley. Other cultivated species are broad bean, lentil, flax, olive, grape including dried fruits, fig and pistachio.

The osteological remains include mainly caprines, i.e. sheep and goats, and cattle. Pigs were found but they are of subordinate economic value. Other animal remains include fallow deer, gazelle, dog, equid, rodent, cat, fox, brown bear, hippo (ivory) and different birds and small animals. Fish remains were also found deriving from the Jordan River, the Nile, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

The archaeological evidence demonstrates that the oldest town from the Early Bronze Age around 3000 BCE was the largest. The decrease in the dimensions of the different cities of Tell Abu al-Kharaz and the major occupational break between the Early Bronze Age II and the Middle Bronze Age III, viz. from approximately 2900 – 1650 BCE, are unlikely to be due to one single factor, and there are a number of plausible hypotheses. One is the increasing difficulty of exploiting available natural resources: the surrounding agricultural land may have been impoverished by overexploitation and lack of knowledge of fertilisers, the climate may have become less favourable and water may have become scarcer and the amount of game declined. Another possibility may be that there were an increasing number of smaller centres during the later periods compared with fewer, but larger, ones during the earlier periods. Political circumstances must be considered, too. The important strategic position of the rich site must surely have aroused envy throughout the ages. Substantial ash layers at the end of each major period of occupation, and also within these periods, may be due to enemy attacks. Natural or other man-induced causes for conflagrations must of course also be considered. Epidemic diseases, often not traceable in the skeletal remains, cannot be ruled out as a factor contributing to a major break in occupation.

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