(article from the Archaeological Study Bible)
The Holy Land, at times variously called Canaan, Israel, the Levant or Palestine, has changed hands many times and has often been the center of conflict. The archaeology of Palestine is complex, in that it reflects all eras of the region’s long history.
Prehistoric and Early Bronze Age
Canaan was inhabited from prehistoric times. The earliest Stone Age culture was discovered at Mount Carmel, and remains of a later Stone Age culture, called the Natufian, were unearthed at Jericho. Agriculture and the production of pottery began during the Neolithic period, which is divided into “pre-pottery” and “pottery” periods. During the late fifth and fourth millenniums B.C. a culture called “Ghassulian” emerged in the southern Jordan Valley. Along with a site in Beersheba, this marked the beginning of the Chalcolithic Age in the region. Ghassulian pottery is remarkably advanced and attests to the sophistication of these early people.
The beginning of the Early Bronze Age (3400-2000 B.C.) in the Levant corresponds with late predynastic and early dynastic Egypt, around 3400-3000 B.C. Important Early Bronze I sites include Megiddo, Jericho, Ai and Beth Shan, all in northern or central Palestine; a more advanced culture developed in the southern part of the region somewhat later. An important Early Bronze II site in the south is Arad. The Early Bronze Age saw the beginning of urban culture in the land, with more or less autonomous city-states developing around major walled cities.
Around 2650-2350 B.C. a breakdown of unspecified origin occured in urban culture, especially in the north. One suggested reason is that nomadic Amorites invaded the land and disrupted the culture. It is questionable, however, whether this change in culture can be attributed to an Amorite migration or invasion, and today many scholars reject this suggestion. Some believe that environmental problems were a more likely cause; Abraham is said to have gone down to Egypt because of famine (Gen. 12:10). The decline of Early Bronze culture in Canaan may be related to the end of the Old Kingdom in Egypt in the twenty-second century B.C., as “Asiatics” (Semitic peoples from Canaan and Syria) pushed their way into Egypt.
Middle Bronze and Late Bronze Ages
A new urban culture, contemporary with the beginning of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, arose at the start of the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000-1550 B.C.) prominent cities included Tel Aphek, Byblos, Acco, Megiddo, Jericho, and Beth Shan. The art of pottery-making advanced significantly as potters learned to use the fast wheel to fashion fine vessels. The Egyptian Tale of Sinuhe provides a portrait if Canaanite life at this time. The Middle Bronze Age in Canaan also spans the Hyksos era of the Second Intermediate period in Egypt; some have argued for a Hyksos presence in Canaan, but this is unlikely.
There was a decline in the quality of material culture (especially pottery) in Canaan at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1550-1200 B.C.), and there appears to have been a great deal of destruction during Late Bronze I (c. 1550-1400 B.C.). Egyptian rulers. Especially Thutmose III (c. 1479-1425 B.C.), made forays into Canaan to keep the city-states there subservient to Egyptian demands, and Egyptian influence is evident at a number of sites (e,g., Megiddo). Many scholars, on the basis of destruction levels for various Late Bronze II sites, have argued that the Israelite invasion under Joshua occurred around 1250 B.C., but this argument has largely collapsed since in fact no cities, with the possible exception of Hazor, have destruction levels that fit this interpretation.
(Next: Israelite Culture)