Ancient village shows remarkable adaptability to climate challenges

Credit: Antiquity (2024).

Around 6200 BCE, the world experienced significant climate changes that caused global temperatures to drop and sea levels to rise.

This event, known as the 8.2ka event, affected regions including the southern Levant—modern-day Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, southern Syria, and the Sinai desert—leading to severe droughts.

Archaeologists previously thought that these harsh conditions forced people to abandon coastal settlements in the southern Levant.

However, a recent study published in the journal Antiquity provides new insights that challenge this belief.

Researchers from UC San Diego, the University of Haifa, and Bar-Ilan University have discovered that at least one village, known as Habonim North, not only remained inhabited but also thrived during this challenging period.

The village of Habonim North, located off Israel’s Carmel Coast, was first discovered in the mid-2010s and later excavated by a team led by Ehud Arkin Shalev from the University of Haifa.

The excavation, conducted during the COVID-19 lockdown, was the first formal dig at this submerged site.

The team used a combination of techniques such as sediment dredging, sampling, photogrammetry, and 3D modeling to explore the site.

Among their findings were pottery shards with red-painted decorations typical of the Jericho IX tradition, stone tools, ceremonial weapons, fishing-net weights, animal bones, plant remains, and architectural structures.

Radiocarbon dating of these items confirmed their origins in the Early Pottery Neolithic period, aligning with the time of the 8.2ka event and extending even into the Late Pottery Neolithic, indicating continued occupation.

The researchers suggest that the village’s inhabitants adapted to the changing climate by diversifying their economy.

They likely expanded beyond farming to include maritime activities and trade, evidenced by tools made from basalt (a stone not naturally found in that area) and fishing-net weights. The presence of a ceremonial mace head also points to a complex societal structure.

Assaf Yasur-Landau, head of the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies at the University of Haifa and senior author of the study, expressed surprise at the richness of the findings, which included a variety of pottery and organic remains.

The research team was able to virtually recreate their excavation and 3D-print artifacts using “digital twin” technology, thanks to their collaboration with UC San Diego’s Qualcomm Institute.

This study not only fills a gap in our understanding of early settlements along the Eastern Mediterranean coastline but also highlights the resilience of these ancient societies.

The evidence shows that, rather than collapsing under the strain of climate change, the community at Habonim North adapted and evolved, laying the groundwork for future urban societies.

Roey Nickelsberg, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Haifa, emphasized the need to shift focus in archaeology from the collapse of civilizations to the development and resilience of human cultures.

This approach can change our perspective on how ancient societies responded to and overcame environmental challenges.