Climate change is a hot topic today. How is man impacting his environment and what can we expect in the future if the current trends continue? Deep in the heart of the Negev comes evidence of another climatic change from pre-historic times.
The Chalcolithic era lasts from about 5500-3300 B.C.E. in the area of Israel today. Chalcolithic means copper/stone and marks the transition between the technology of the stone age and that of the bronze age. During Chalcolithic times there were many settlements in places which today are considered the fringe of civilization. The Negev region is one of them. In June 2016 as part of road works extending Rt. 6 to Shoket Junction, there was a discovery of a Chalcolithic settlement in a region which today has less than 200 mm of rain per year. That little amount of rain is not even enough to support wheat, and so could not provide a community’s food needs. The dig in this location uncovered a Chalcolithic agricultural settlement as indicated by its grain storage pits which existed through all 4 layers of settlement. If it was an agricultural settlement, this is a sign that at that time there was more rainfall than there is today.
Not only grain pits were found but also water cisterns for catching flood waters from Nahal Hebron were found at the site. During one period the entire site was covered by a layer of loess from Nahal Hebron indicating a much wetter climate where alluvial material to a depth of 1-1.5 m was deposited over the site. After this period, the cisterns got even larger necessitating steps. Buildings during this time were made of mud bricks, just like those found from the same time period at Tel Sheva; mud bricks can only be made if there is abundant water. However, during the latest settlement period, the cisterns were filled in and the settlement drastically shrunk in size.
What led to the collapse of this settlement and others like it in the Negev during the Chalcolithic time? Does the filling in of the cisterns show a lack of water? And if the climate changed and caused the abandonment of the settlement, what caused the change? Besides learning about the past, studying these climate changes can help us to understand what may happen if we experience a drastic climate change as perhaps the people of ancient Shoket junction did.
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