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The First Towns
3300 - 1950 BCE

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In the Early Bronze Age, the inhabitants of Canaan built the first walled towns. These towns were not large -- populations seldom exceeded 2000; the largest had perhaps 3000 - 5000 inhabitants. The evolution of urban societies had a profound effect on the civilization in Canaan. The clear boundaries of the cities and their role as regional centers represented a new concept in communal organization.

The most imposing feature of these towns were their defenses. Walls were built of rough stones or of unbaked mud brick. One of the best preserved sites from this time was Arad. Here, the defensive wall was furnished with semicircular bastions at regular intervals. As time progressed, the fortifications in these towns grew more and more complex and by the end of the Early Bronze Age, some towns were even surrounded by double or triple lines of walls for defense.

Families lived within the city walls in houses clustered around courtyards. Differences in wealth existed but were not marked. Buildings that might qualify as "palaces" were almost non-existent. Small temples were the main form of public building and probably served as the focal point for community life. Both temples and private houses had a similar basic plan, namely a rectangular structure built of mud brick with the entrance in the long side and often with benches along the other three sides.

Artist's reconstruction of Arad, an Early Bronze Age city.
Drawing by Chad Hennebery after R. Amiran and O. Ilan, Arad: eine 5000 Jahre alte Stadt in der Wuste Neger, Israel

Khirbet Kerak Ware Ceramic Vessel
Beth Shean, Stratum XII, Early Bronze III 2700-23000 BCE

Around this time, pottery technology developed as the potter's wheel came into common use and methods for firing wares were better controlled. Metal weapons and tools were created by artisans in these urban centers and despite the terminology, copper, and not bronze, was the metal used in the Early Bronze Age.

Serekh of Narmer, Egyptian Pharaoh of the First Dynasty, incised on a pottery jar found at Arad.
J. Fisher, after R. Amirah, Israel Exploration Journal, 24(1974): fig. 1.1

Contact with the first Pharaohs of Egypt played a role in stimulating the growth of these walled towns. In Egypt, contemporary tombs contained pottery jars from Canaan which were used to transport wine and olive oil. The names of Egypt's first two Pharaohs (Narmer and Hor-aha) were found on objects at numerous sites in southern Israel -- clear indication of commercial contacts.

The existence of the heavily fortified city walls is evidence that this was not a peaceful period. Perhaps the walls were built to protect against inter-town rivalry within Canaan itself, but there are also Egyptian records testifying to military intervention from that country. However, by 2300 BCE, most of the towns in the southern Levant had been abandoned or reduced in size. Current evidence suggests that a global climate change and drier conditions were the basic cause of these social changes. In addition, there was a gradual decline in trade with Egypt towards the end of the period. Under this strain, the specialized agricultural economy of Early Bronze Age Canaan collapsed. In order to survive, people turned to small-scale farming and pastoral nomadism. Urban communities disintegrated and disappeared. For the next 350 years, walled towns ceased to play a role in Canaanite life.

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