This page includes information that may not reflect the current views and values of the Penn Museum.

< Canaan home


contact us >

Labor+Crafts | Trade | Phoenicians | Glossary | Bibliography | Activities

Farming was the principal occupation of people in both the Bronze and Iron Age. Farm work dictated the pace of life throughout the year, with different tasks for different seasons. Dry summers and wet winters meant that planting occurred in the late fall and harvest in the early summer. The main crops were wheat, barley, legumes, figs, grapes and olives.

Because most river valleys in the region were unsuited for irrigation on a large scale, farmers were dependent on rain. They built and maintained stone terrace-walls to retain water and soil on the steep slopes of the highlands. By late in the Iron Age, some farmers used elaborate systems of conduits and check-dams to capture and redirect rainwater into fields and thus were able to raise crops in areas receiving less than five inches of precipitation per year.

This seasonal schedule is reflected in the Gezer Calendar, a 10th century BCE inscription excavated at Tel Gezer in Israel.

two months of sowing

two months of late sowing

one month of hoeing weeds

one month of barley harvesting

one month of harvesting and measuring (wheat)

two months of cutting grapes


From the earliest beginnings of farming, the basic tool used was the hoe. It was used to break up the soil before planting and for weeding and thinning the crops. The mattock, a heavier tool for breaking up the soil was also used by farmers. Some examples of bronze and iron mattocks and hoes are displayed in the exhibit at the Museum.

Another important agricultural tool was the ard, or scratch plow. The ard had a wooden point, clad with either bronze or iron, which could penetrate the fields to a depth of a few inches. The ploughman controlled the point with a handle and the ard was pulled by draft animals (horses, donkey or cattle). Grain was then sown in the ploughed fields.

Canaanite flint
Grain was harvested using sickles of flint, bronze and later, iron.

Harvesting was an activity which involved the whole community. Grain was cut and gathered on threshing floors which were usually of beaten earth. Oxen would pull a heavy wooden sledge, studded underneath with jagged flints, in circles over the grain. This process served to cut up the straw and crush the husks around the grains. The results were placed in a broad, flat winnowing basket and tossed in the air. The breeze would carry away the lighter chaff, leaving the heavy grain. The chaff was then collected for use in making mud-bricks and manufacturing pottery.

© 1999 | University of Pennsylvania Museum
more online exhibits at:
Penn Museum Sites