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New Identities, New Ideas
1200 - 950 BCE

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In the Iron Age I period, new ethnic and political identities emerged across the Levant. Israelites, Philistines and Arameans, among others, are identified as "peoples" for the first time. As Egyptian rule in Canaan collapsed towards the end of the New Kingdom, new patterns of settlement and lifestyle emerged. On the Mediterranean coast, artifacts and customs reminiscent of Mycenaeans settled in Cyprus indicate the arrival of the Philistine immigrants from the Aegean. Many scholars believe that the Philistines were one of the tribes of Sea Peoples, called the Pelset, mentioned in Egyptian inscriptions.

Archaeologists have uncovered little evidence to support the biblical account of the Exodus from Egypt led by Moses and the Israelite's subsequent conquest of Canaan. An Egyptian stele inscribed with a triumphal hymn to the victory of Pharaoh Merneptah, however, mentions a people named Israel, placing them in the highlands of Canaan by 1208 BCE.

At the same time, many small villages appear as part of a new wave of settlement in the Judean and Samarian highlands in Canaan. These were sedentary populations of small communities, each numbering several dozens of people who subsisted on farming and herding. Although these settlements are clearly related to early Israel, their material culture (collared-rim pithoi and "four-room" houses) is not significantly different from rural settlements elsewhere in the southern Levant. Monumental structures, fortifications and public buildings are almost entirely absent from the early Israelite settlement sites.

In addition to the new settlers, another aspect of the Canaanite culture developed by the Mediterranean Sea. This is known as the "Phoenician" culture, a Greek term for the descendants of the Canaanites who developed their own civilization on the coast of what is now modern Lebanon. The Phoenicians were active merchants who traded throughout the Mediterranean and established colonies as far away as Spain. These people are best known for spreading a system of writing known as the alphabet to western civilizations.

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