Israel Finkelstein Paper on Late Bronze Collapse Four Times as Good as I Thought

Paper here.

Firstly, Finkelstein, Litt, and Langgut’s findings from the Sea of Galilee show that there was an intense dry period in Canaan between c. 1250 BC (when Hazor fell) and c. 1100 BC or just before (when Canaan experienced a baby boom). Secondly, the authors show that these findings can also be connected with the peak of the so-called “Minoan Warming” in this graph. Thirdly, the authors show that all the textual evidence supports their hypothesis that the 14th century BC was a wet period with no known major droughts while the 13th-12th centuries BC were a dry period with many known major droughts. The authors, however, show no real evidence of “economic and demographic decline” in Canaan in the Late Bronze IIB-III, which they claim occurred. Though Hazor, Bethel, and Shechem did lose their city-state status in the 13th century BC (Bethel later than the other two), I find the claim that either the population or economy of Canaan declined during the 13th century BC to be dubious.

Paradoxically, Finkelstein flip-flops again on the date of the beginning of Israelite settlement, placing it in the midst of the drought instead of, as he did in 2006, after the end of it. If cities like Megiddo, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Lachish, and Azekah could prosper in the Late Bronze IIB, so they could trade imported Egyptian grain with the nomads Finkelstein claims settled down during this era. It is doubtful that Israelite settlements in the Late Bronze IIB-III could survive the coercive power of Egyptian soldiers and taxmen. Like Todd Bolen and Israel Finkelstein in 2006, I see no evidence Israelite settlement predates the collapse of Egyptian rule in Canaan. In any case, it is impossible that “demographic decline” (which probably didn’t happen) could somehow spur a settlement boom in the highlands of Canaan.

Comments on a New PLOS ONE Article about the LBA collapse

Hat Tip: the good Jason Colavito.
The authors of this paper propose that a drought stretching throughout the Iron I was a major cause of the LBA collapse. I have written about this collapse and its causes here. According to a graph of Dead Sea levels I found, the low point of the Dead Sea in the second millennium BC was c. 1400 BC. I think climate can be seen as the primary explanation for the Early Bronze Age collapse and as a contributing factor to Canaan’s Middle Bronze Age collapse, but I did not think of climate as necessarily a cause of the LBA collapse before I read this paper. Let us look at the data collected by the authors. Figure 3 shows four graphs. The first graph shows that agriculture near Larnaca Salt Lake collapsed during LB IIB. The second graph shows that wood-burning around Larnaca Salt Lake was done often before the LB IIB, especially during the Amarna era, but became almost nonexistent during the 13th century BC. The fourth graph shows that Larnaca Salt Lake turned from a bay to a lagoon c. 1400 BC. None of these results contradict my previous hypothesis that climate was not an important cause of the Late Bronze collapse. It is the third graph, showing the climate around the Larnaca Salt Lake, as reconstructed from pollen samples, which demonstrates that the area around Larnaca Salt Lake became increasingly dry between the 17th and 13th centuries BC and remained in a dry state until the 9th century BC. Figure 4 shows how the authors designed their Principal Components Analysis to reconstruct the climate around the Larnaca Salt Lake.

The authors cite a paper reconstructing the climate around Gibala-Tell Tweini, Syrian Government-controlled territory, from pollen samples. According to Figure 6, this paper shows that a drought which continued to the time of Hazael began in the area in the late 13th century BC. Figure 6 also shows that farming ceased to exist in the area only between the late 12th (second Philistine invasion) to late 11th centuries BC and during the late 10th century BC, largely as a result of drought in the latter case and partially as a result of drought in the former.

Figure 5 shows evidence of drought during the Eastern Mediterranean Dark Age from two cores in the Nile delta, a core from Ein Gedi (seemingly contradicting the above-linked-to graph of Dead Sea levels), and a core from near Ebla. The Soreq cave core shows no evidence of any Eastern Mediterranean Dark Age drought and the core from off the coast of Ashkelon is irrelevant.

In short, until more evidence comes to light, it seems safe to say that at least a part of Cyprus and coastal Syria suffered prolonged drought throughout the Greek Dark Age, thus exacerbating the causes of the Late Bronze Age collapse in some areas.

Edit: judging from this source, I hypothesize that the Dead Sea was recovering after c.1400 BC due to decreased evaporation during a period of decreased precipitation and cooler sea temperatures.
Edit: this press release contains one blatant falsehood: “They found the abundance of marine plankton decreased around 1200 BC”.