Chalcolithic Climate Changes

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. negev-water

Nearby sites:
  • Tel Beer Sheva National Park
  • Yatir forest
  • Lakia Bedouin crafts

Let It Flow

“If you have a good idea, use it so that you will not only accomplish something, but so that you can make room for new ones to flow into you.”                                                   Deng Min-Dao, Everyday Tao:  Living with Balance and Harmony

Next week, I will be offering a Places in Your Neighborhood trip to two water sources:  Nahal Prat and the Jordan, so it is time to complete last week’s discussion of water.

Nahar, Nachal, and HaYarden have one common factor – they are vectors. That
just means that they have a path which they follow to take water from one place to another.  Israel is a hilly country and water seeks the lowest level, so this type of feature is very prevalent.

A Nahar is a large, flowing body of water.  There are two main naharot mentioned in the Bible – Nahar Prat (Euphrates River) and Nahar Mitzrayim (Nile River). The main purposes of naharot in the Bible are for denoting borders (people cross over the nahar to get to another land), drinking, and irrigation.  There are no naharot in the land of Israel.  The lack of a nahar in the Land of Israel means that there are no “borders” between the people who live in the land.
In contrast to nahar is nachal.  A nachal refers not to water, but to a place which, at a minimum, has a potential for water.  These stream beds may always flow, or only for a few hours a year during flash floods.   Eight different specific nechalim in Israel are mentioned in the Bible.

This difference, between a nahar and a nachal is crucial in understanding the mission of the Jewish people in the land of Israel.  Before entering the land of Israel, the children of Israel ask G-d what it’s like there.  I think of this as kind of a consultation with the
tour guide.    In Deuteronomy 11:10 we get to the core of this description.  Israel is not Egypt;  it is supplied with water by rain (not by a nahar – the Nile).  G-d’s eyes are always on Israel (to provide sufficient water) which also means that G-d’s eyes are also
on the land’s inhabitants to determine how much rainfall will be provided.  The Children of Israel must be aware of their actions and how they affect their survival.  They can walk around the land and see  the potential for water through the dry nechalim.  This is the complete dependence on G-d and a continual striving to do good deeds, mitzvot.  G-d sees Israel’s potential.  That’s awesome!

Now maybe you noticed at the beginning that I put The Jordan (HaYarden) in its own category.  Most English translations of the Biblical text translate HaYarden as the Jordan River.  In the Bible, however, never once is HaYarden referred to as anything other than HaYarden.  This body of water, which flows continually and fluctuates in depth and course, is mentioned 181 times in the Bible.  (The next runner up within the land of Israel, Nahal Kishon, is mentioned only 11 times.)  The Jordan figures prominently in 3 stories.

#1:  Children of Israel enter the Land of Israel crossing The Jordan.  This story is a replay of the crossing of Yam Suf (mentioned only 23 times) but forms the basis of the Jewish people in the Land of Egypt.  During the crossing, they take 12 stones from The Jordan to make one monument.  The Jordan makes us one people.

#2:  Elijah the prophet leaves the people of Israel by ascending into the sky near The Jordan.  Elijah leaves his leadership role and his life when he crosses The Jordan.  The
Children of Israel, the country of Israel, need a new face, Elisha, one which will connect more strongly with the struggles of the people.  The role of The Jordan here is to cement the leader, Elisha, with the national experience. Leaders who can no longer be effective, such as Elijah, are destined to die on the other side of The Jordan, symbolizing their distance from the Jewish people.

#3:  The Jordan provides healing for the Aramite king, Naaman who is afflicted by leprosy.  He comes for a cure to Elisha and Elisha tells him to go and wash in the waters of The Jordan.  The Jordan is muddy and Naaman becomes angry.  “Are not the waters of the rivers of Damascus,  better than all the waters of Israel?”  But sometimes being a Mighty River is not the best medicine.  Leprosy, associated in the Bible with speaking improperly, can be cured by a bit of humility.   Dunking 7 times in the murky waters of The Jordan takes one down a notch, and works wonders (literally for Naaman).  This reminds us that this important body of water is not meant to build up and glorify Israel.

What can we learn from these three stories about The Jordan?  The Jordan is unifying, clarifying and humbling.  This is no ordinary River, meant to be crossed, drank and siphoned off to fields.  This is no mere creek or wash, waiting for us to pray for it to be filled.  The Jordan is a symbol of the Children of Israel as a nation, and as such, the most important body of water that exists. The Jewish people ebbs and wanes, we meander in our path, we are surrounded by thick brush amidst arid land, but we continue to flow.

So next time you are at Qesr al-Yehud, Gesher Bnot Yaacov, or Kayaking in the north, remember you are not encountering a river, rather you are experiencing The Jordan, and it is Mighty indeed.

Down the Drain

During this winter of rain, it is hard to focus on the fact that Israel is in the middle of a long drought.  Finding enough water, developing ways to conserve and reclaim water, saving water are all tactics to try to maintain some kind of balance between people and nature.  And because it is a limited resource, skirmishes, battles and entire wars have been fought thrjilabun-waterfalloughout history over the control of water.

The present is no different.

Found this interesting article about Water resources and the situation between Israel and the PA.  The conflict between the Palestinians and Israel is fought on many fronts nowadays.

via How water became a weapon in Arab-Isr… JPost – Opinion – Op-Eds.

Do You Diguette?

I went to the Negev yesterday with a few colleagues and I got into a discussion with Shany about the JNF (Jewish National Fund) plantings we saw.  I contended that the technique for planting the rows of trees was called “Liman”; she called them “Terrasot” (pl. for terraces in Hebrew).  Shany said that “Liman” is a term only used for planting trees in bowls – depressions in the ground made to preserve water in the center of the bowl.  According to her, these lines of piled up soil on the sides of the hills were terraces, similar to the terraces we see throughout the central mountain range.

Up until this point, I thought I understood Negev agricultural terminology; and, I was so convinced that I was right, I decided to do a bit of research to find out if both the desert farming technique using “bowls” and the technique of building up lines of soil on hillsides were both called “Limans” or if one was a Liman and the other a simple terrace.

This research took me into another question I have been wanting to tackle which was posed by Leah from my Tour Guide class.  She asked what was the name and the purpose of the rock piles we see all over the Negev.

I like to remind people who are traveling with me that despite appearances, Israel has plenty of natural resources.  We have water, sun, access to other places, trees, land – and all this was sufficient for supporting rich societies here ONLY because people knew how to manage them.  Ecology may be a 21st century idea for the rest of the world, but here in Israel ecology has been a necessity since the dawn of civilization.

So, too, in the Negev, an area which received less that 200 mm rainfall a year (in some places much less).  In antiquity, the people living in this desert climate figured out how to harvest water during the bleak winter rains, channel it to fields and grow wheat, barley, wine, olives, figs, etc.  It may take a lot of engineering and a lot of land, but it is possible.  Around the area of Avdat, approximately 25 acres of land were needed to collect enough water for 1 acre of crops.

One technique used by ancient peoples was the Liman.  A Liman is a depressed area surrounded by low hillocks.  The water falling on these hillocks flows into the center of the “bowl”.  This technique was initially used by the JNF  for planting large trees to provide shade.  You can see many JNF Limans on the road down to Beer Sheva. Most of the Limans planted in the Negev today are populated by Eucalyptus trees as they grow quickly.
Another technique is the Diguette.  Diguettes are small mounds built along a line on a slope.  Trees can then be planted uphill from each of these lines.  The mounds help to catch the water flowing down the hill and give it a longer exposure to the plant, decreasing run-off.  In Hebrew they may be called “Terraces” but actually they have a special name/function when they are in a desert climate. Diguettes are used around the world in arid areas, including Africa, and boost the ability of an area to produce crops thereby saving lives today.  The JNF uses Diguettes today to plant indigenous species and it is the main technique used in the Yatir forest project.

Catchment farms were used in natural stream beds.  Various dams were built along the stream bed.  The rain which fell on the surrounding hills flowed naturally into the stream bed, where the crops were. The water which overflowed each step of this terraced structure flowed to the step below, controlling the amount of water in each step and holding the water in the farmed area for a longer amount of time.

The rock piles my friend Leah asked about are an interesting phenomena in the Negev.  They are called by the local population Tolilat al-Anev (Grape Mounds).  In the 1830’s when these were first described by 2 British surveyors/explorers/botanists/geologists, it was assumed that these mounds were used in ancient times for growing grapes.  On further inspection, not only were there no grapevine remnants found in any of the areas, but also there were no adjacent wine presses.  There still is no definitive explanation for these mounds, but there are a few theories.  One is that the  clearing of the rocks into mounds allowed for more erosion of the soil on the slopes.  This soil was washed to the
valleys and mixed along the way with organic material to make a richer soil in the valleys.

The mounds are not only found on the slopes of hills, but also in relatively flat areas.  This leads to another hypothesis that the rocks randomly strewn about impinged upon the rainwater’s path to a central point.  Gathering the rocks in mounds meant that there was more free and clear smooth ground to draw the water to that central collection area.

Turns out that I was only partially right about Limans.  Shany was correct that Liman is a very specific term and not a general one. Thanks to Shany and Leah for piquing my curiosity and pushing me to learn more about agriculture in the Negev!

Do you Diguette?  I DO!

Squeezing the Last Bit out of Winter

I know, I know, I keep writing about the weather, but this winter has been crazy.  It is March 17 and I haven’t used the air conditioning yet in my car.  Tonight’s low is supposed to be 4 ! degrees centigrade (39 degrees Fahrenheit for those of you living in the United States) and I had to turn on my heat to keep my fingers from freezing as I type.  (Last year, I first turned on the air conditioning in my car in February.)  Not only has it been really cold, but also the rain continues to bless us.  Thursday, Friday and Saturday experienced bouts, some prolonged, of POURING rain.

Anyway, I hope it is a blessing because the plants are beginning to flower.  Which plants?  Specifically those which make up the closed group of the Seven Species mentioned in the Bible – Barley, Wheat, Olives, Grapes, Figs, Dates, and Pomegranates.  I see now, in the course of my travels, the beauty of flowering barley and wheat.  Until a few years ago, I didn’t realize that wheat and barley flower.  Small white flowers appear from in between the kernels of grain, so delicate that touching them knocks them off the stalk. flowering wheat  Wheat benefits from a cold, northerly wind during the ripening.  The cold, the rain during the first period of ripening gives strength to the plant to fill the kernels.  This was noted in the Gemara (Baba Batra 147a).  On the other hand, dry hot winds from the south, scorch developing grains.

Olives flower a bit later than Barley and Wheat, but still during this time of year between Passover and Shavuot.  They depend on the hot, dry wind from the South to carry the pollen from one plant to another.  Cold, moist winds simply wash the pollen from the plant, removing any chance of pollination.

I love the interplay between the natural world and the spiritual world.  Since the Torah of Israel was given to the Children of Israel and meant to apply to the Land of Israel, these elements all meld together.  It is up to us to see the connections.  This Shabbat we read about  the placement of the furniture in the Mishkan which was erected in the desert.  Why does G-d care to spell out what side the various vessels used in the Mishkan would be on?  Is G-d an interior decorator?

And yet, the text from this week’s Torah reading tells us very clearly that the Shulchan (Table) on which would be placed the loaves of bread is to be in the North – wheat does best with North winds. The Menorah (candelabra) which was lit with pure olive oil is placed in the South.  G-d is not just giving the Children of Israel a lesson in crop management, He is giving a lesson that all is interconnected.  Your daily life of planting and harvesting crops is connected to your religious life.  Proper placement of the furniture, of your daily toils, will lead to spiritual blessing, just as weather in its proper time leads to abundance in your harvest.

The extended forecast calls for yet one more rain at the end of next week.  Farmers are already telling me that the harvests this year have been delayed.  We just pray that the rains, which so gloriously have filled this past winter, will come in their proper time during this transitional season to bring prosperity and spiritual harmony to all of Am Israel.

Rain, Rain

I grew up with the song:Rain, rain, go away,   Come again another day,
Little Johnny wants to play,
Rain, rain, go away!

Living in Israel has changed my perspective on rain.  But it is still a catchy tune, so I modified the words to sing to my children, on those rare days in winter when it does rain.

Rain, rain, come my way,
Come again another day,
For this rain we hope and pray,
Rain, rain, come my way!

Today, Hill, my 15-year old son, went outside to collect “snow”.  In actuality, it was only hail, and only lasted on my patio tables and chairs for maybe 5 minutes.  For my kids, this is excitement!  He collected it and put it in a cup in the freezer to save the memory for a few weeks. It NEVER snows here, never, something that I am happy about, having grown up in Minnesota and South Dakota, and seen enough snow to last a lifetime.And of course, when it rains here in Israel, there is one question which every Israeli asks.  How much has the Sea of Galilee gone up?  The level of the Sea of Galilee interests every single person.

How much are we over the “Black Line”?   The “Black Line” is 214.87 m below sea level.  If the level of the water goes lower than this, we can no longer pump any water from the Sea of Galilee.  This is a hard and fast number as the pump engineering is no longer functional below this level.  The “Black Line” was reached most recently in December 2008.Have we hit the “Lower Red Line” at 213.18 m below sea level?  The “Lower Red Line” was established as the lowest level the lake should be in order to maintain the ecosystem around the lake.  Due to the prolonged drought, water management pumped even after the level sunk below this line in order to provide a consistent water supply to Israel’s population.
Sea of Galilee level

Sea of Galilee level

The “Upper Red Line” has been out of reach for ages.  If the “Upper Red Line” at 208.9 m below sea level is exceeded by the waters of the Sea of Galilee, then the dam at Deganya must be opened in order to prevent flooding along the shore line.  The last time the dam was opened was in 1993.  Even if next winter is as wet as this one has been, we will not reach the “Upper Red Line”.
Today, the level of the Sea of Galilee stands at 212.39 having risen 7 cm so far from this storm. Why is rain such a big deal here?Before the Children of Israel come into the Land of Israel, G-d give them a bit of a preview on what the land is like.  Kind of like a tour guide describing the sites included in the tour. Deuteronomy 11:11-12
“The land you are about to cross into, a land of hills and valleys, soaks up its water from the rains of heaven.  It is a land which the Lord your G-d looks after, on which the Lord your G-d always keeps His eye, from year’s beginning to year’s end.” (This is in contrast to Egypt, where the labor of man waters the fields through maintenance of irrigation channels, fed by the predictable rising and falling of the Nile River waters.)

The Hebrew word for “heaven” is shamayim – a compound form of “sham mayim” meaning water is there.  In Israel, we are connected with water in a spiritual sense.  If we want abundance, we need to develop a relationship with G-d who controls our source of water – the skies.  The almost obsession over the level of the Sea of Galilee is a direct outgrowth of our reliance on the heavens to provide us with sustenance and is felt through every segment of society.  It is refreshing in today’s world, that a whole modern, cosmopolitan, high-tech society still looks to nature to indicate whether they can breathe easy this year.  This is the full sense of blessed rain.

Dead Sea Closed for Business

At the beginning of this year I started a touring group of people from my community.  What I had observed is probably what happens in most communities in the world.  People do not explore their own backyards – sites near their home are not seen as “destinations” and thus are not visited.  People who live in New York do not visit the Statue of Liberty, Pittsburghers do not ride the Incline (I lived there for 12 years and never took the time to ride this city’s #1 Tourist attraction), people who live in the suburbs of Jerusalem don’t take their children to the Western Wall.

My idea is to get people to explore the neighborhood – especially since Israel provides such interesting sites close to home.  Whether one has been living in the Modiin area for a month or 10 years, everyone gets stuck in ruts of places they go and sites they see.  I offer once a month a trip to see “Places in Your Neighborhood” that they may have not explored recently or at all.  Every month we  visit a place that is approximately 1 hour from Modiin on a Sunday morning.  The goal is to leave after the kids go to school and get back in time to pick them up after school.  Since there is a good-sized population of people who work American hours or have flexible schedules, Sunday is a more free day.

Thus, this month I planned to take two different groups on two subsequent Sundays to Lido Cafe, Qumran and Einot Tzukim on the northern shore of the Dead Sea.  The first trip went off just beautiful – we enjoyed lovely weather and had a great time.  Of the 15 people in the group, no one had been to any of the three sites in the Northern Dead Sea area that we visited that morning.  Perfect!  The trip fulfilled my goals and everyone had a good time.

This morning’s trip, however, went slightly differently.  The entire country has been experiencing a very rainy winter, thank G-d.  And the past week has been especially rainy, even snowy in parts of the Golan Heights.  The weekend was blustery, windy and cold.  I was hoping that the weather around the Dead Sea would be o.k. for touring, but as Saturday night turned to Sunday I saw that it was raining even there!

The Dead Sea only has 6 days a year of more than 1 mm rain.  Average rainfall is around 50 mm, making the Dead Sea area an extreme desert according to precipitation.  (The area is much more lush than your average extreme desert because of the possibility of flash floods from rains falling to the east of Jerusalem and Hebron and due to the existence of springs in the area.)

Even a small amount of rain, though, wreaks havoc with the ability of the plumbing in the Dead Sea area to function.  Combined with the fear of flash floods causing damage to sites and danger to visitors, the National Park Service occasionally closes its parks in the area.  Roads sometimes are closed.  We are lucky enough to enjoy a rainy winter this year, and the Dead Sea today was “Closed for Business”, causing my Places in Your Neighborhood trip to be pushed off until next week.

The High Priest says on Yom Kippur when asking for rains for the coming year, that G-d should not listen to the prayers of travellers.  Although I really hoped to be able to go to the Dead Sea today to guide, I am secretly happy that G-d didn’t listen to the prayers of Tour Guides today, either.