They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them hard.” Brick served them as stone, and bitumen served them as mortar. Genesis 11:3,
For about 600 centuries, from 5200 BCE to 4600 BCE, people living in the middle Jordan Valley performed a unique and uncharacteristic process for the period – they introduced a uniform building standard for settlement structures, according to a new study led by researchers from the Zinman Institute at the University of Haifa.
Throughout history, including that of the 20th century, mud brick communities have always had several different ingredients for brick making. But at Tel Tsaf – southeast of the current Israeli city of Beit She’an in the Jordan Valley – which was apparently populated by humans for 7,200 years – builders stuck to the same ‘recipe’ for their bricks over the centuries. “We are now examining all the components to try to answer whether what we see in Tel Tsaf marked the beginning of the development of a social elite, an important family or a group of people who have managed to accumulate enough economic power and have translated it into social impact,” the researchers write in the prestigious open-access journal PLoS (Public Library of Science) One.
“Most of the research done in the Middle East and other parts of the world on sites from both prehistoric and later periods has shown that in each settlement based on mud bricks there were several brick production centers operating simultaneously, and each had its ‘recipe’ for brick making. Our assumption is that there is further evidence that at Tel Tsaf, there was a society characterized by greater social complexity than we knew, perhaps the beginning of the formation of some governing layer that dictated some of the “conventions” in various aspects of daily life on site,” said Prof. Danny Rosenberg, of the Zinman Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa who led the 2013 Tel Aviv International Research Project together with Dr. Florian Klimscha of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin.
The multidisciplinary project involved an international team of experts and advanced scientific methods focusing on each site and its ancient surroundings.
Tel Tsaf’s uniqueness is that it is one of the few localities in what is now Israel from so many years ago in a transitional period between agricultural societies that populated small villages that were usually not large and between societies that eventually became urban societies.
Because localities of this period have hardly been preserved, very little is known about this transition period and the characteristics of change that resulted in the great empires of the early period in the Crescent-Fertile region. Indeed, the excavations at Tel Tsaf reveal additional findings that make up the picture and indicate the development of a society that is becoming more and more complex.
“Our project focuses on understanding the transition to complex societies in our region and buildson what we know as the “Mediterranean Diet,’ ” said Rosenberg. “We are actually looking at Tel Tsaf as a laboratory for human behavior and human-environmental understanding and looking at the different layers of the site We are trying to decode the smallest elements that we uncover to subsequently reconstruct the broad archaeological picture.”
In the present study, researchers focused on the mud bricks, which made up the structures of Tel Tsaf. Thousands of bricks have been preserved in the walls of buildings, rooms, various facilities and silos. They were made of the remains of trees, seeds and fruits, which are usually not so well preserved in contemporary sites. The researchers stressed that elsewhere in the world where mud bricks were preserved, including in 20th-century settlements, it was common for families of families to have their own “recipe” for mud bricks, so that each type of mud brick could be found, and as the various periods progressed, more and more changes are made in the ingredients of the mud bricks.
But at Tel Tsaf, chemical and microscopic tests that examined the composition of over 100 mud bricks from different structures in the settlement and from a period of 600 years. It turned out that all the bricks had the same composition and were dried in the sun instead of being fired in a furnace. Most of the walls were built using similar methods and were covered with light plaster.
“The ancient residents kept repainting the buildings over and over, keeping mud bricks protected from the weather and various animals like rodents, birds and insects,” said Rosenberg.
The researchers are now trying to understand why the inhabitants acted that way. “The excavations at Tel Tsaf reveal more and more evidence of a complex social and economic organization and trade with regions far from Egypt and East Jordan to Iraq and Anatolia. We are now examining all the components to try to answer whether what we see at Tel Tsaf marks the beginning of the development of an important social, family or family. Were they a group of people who managed to accumulate enough economic power and translated it into social influence, or rather a community that chose to organize their community life and the economy more cooperatively. In any case, it is a phenomenon that goes beyond what we know from most of the sites whose main building is mud brick. At Tel Tsaf, we see the signs of a major change that may have led to the emergence of urban settlements in the area hundreds of years later,” Rosenberg concluded.