Archaeologists: An Earthquake Destroyed this Canaanite Palace in Upper Galilee during the Bronze Age

In recent years, researchers from the University of Haifa and George Washington University in Washington, DC have uncovered in the Upper Western Galilee a magnificent Canaanite palace from the Bronze Age about 3,800 years ago. It was suddenly destroyed and abandoned, but archaeologists didn’t know the reason for this.


Now, the Israeli and American scientists have reached the conclusion that it was probably an earthquake – one of the earliest ever recorded at an archaeological site – that caused the sudden wreckage and evacuation of the palace, its magnificent halls, wine cells and other glorious wonders –  and the site after centuries that they flourished. 


“Apparently, the earthquake split the palace in two – causing Kabri residents to lose faith in the ruling dynasty and abandon the entire city, which has not been settled since,” said Prof. Assaf Yasur-Landau of the Recanati Institute of Marine Studies and the department of marine civilizations at the University of Haifa. 


The new study has just been published in the prestigious journal PLoS ONE (Public Library of Science One) under the title “Earthquake damage as a catalyst to abandonment of a Middle Bronze Age settlement: Tel Kabri, Israel.” 


The beautiful Canaanite palace at Tel Kabri near ​​Kibbutz Kabri was first excavated in the 1980s, but it was the digging more recently by the Israeli and American teams that revealed the palace’s immense splendor. The palace, which flourished in 1900 and 1700 BCE, was a marvel of luxury and meat consumption that testified to immense wealth and murals that showed its trade and cultural ties with the Minoan Crete and the Aegean Islands. It also had huge wine warehouses where many dozens of large wine jars were discovered.


            “From an initial look in 2013, my initial assumption was that it was an earthquake, but of course we had to find evidence of this and rule out many other explanations that would cause the destruction and abandonment of the place. For example, there could have been a climate crisis, overuse of the environment or a violent occupation of the site,” said Dr. Michael Lazar of the geometric sciences department at the University of Haifa who led the current study. 


A discovery made last year at excavation tipped the scales in favor of an earthquake as the explanation. Several seasons ago, researchers discovered a canal that had passed through part of the palace, but at first they thought it was a modern canal, from recent years, that may have been excavated as part of the agricultural activity in the area. 


When they opened up and started digging in a new section, they found that the canal extended for at least another 30 meters; most importantly, they found that parts of the palace walls fell into the canal. “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. It looked as if the ground had opened and the floor just fell into the ditch. In addition, we found no evidence of attack – no arrows, no signs of burning, no evidence of unburied bodies. We could now connect this evidence with previous evidence of Russian walls and urns,” said Cline. 


Still, before determining that an earthquake was the most likely possibility, the researchers sought to rule out other possibilities. To this end, Prof. Ruth Shachak-Gross, joined the excavation team together with research student Roey Nickelsberg from marine civilizations department at the University of Haifa. 


For example, they examined the accumulation of mud bricks that fell into the canal, as well as the accumulation of animal bones. “They were piled up and covered at once. The fact that the wine jars were found shattered in their place, when there was evidence in the cellars of the cellars that the wine was spilled into the sewer, reinforced the idea that a traumatic, sudden and rapid event led to destruction.” 


            When you add to all this evidence the geology of the area – the fact that the place is on the Kabri fault, that there are four streams on the same line, which could indicate an active fault and other geological findings, the explanation of the earthquake is greatly strengthened,” Lazar said. “We in Israel are constantly talking in the context of earthquakes about the Dead Sea area. And here, we have evidence of what was probably an earthquake in a completely different area and of a different fissure. In further research, I hope we can calculate how strong that earthquake was.”


Apparently, the traumatic event led to the loss of the legitimacy of the royal dynasty among the residents, which led to the disintegration of the community and to the fact that the palace has not been rebuilt since then,” the archaeologists concluded.




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