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19 July 2010
Life in Bronze Age Lebanon is rediscovered

The Lebanese site of Tell Fadous-Kfarabida was nearly destroyed by a bulldozer in 2004. Fortunately for posterity, an American University of Beirut (AUB) graduate student spotted pottery shards and the remains of an ancient wall amid the dirt. This marked the beginning of the dig. Here, under the watchful eye of AUB archeology professor Hermann Genz, who has been overseeing the dig since 2004, students have been excavating for four weeks every summer. A treasure trove of artifacts have been unearthed.
     Tell Fadous-Kfarabida site covers around 1.5 hectares of land and was occupied from around 3,000 to 1,800 BCE by unknown people of the Bronze Age, in what is now known as Lebanon. Tell Fadous-Kfarabida was probably one of the many satellite territories of Byblos, providing the city with goods such as wine, olives, and animal products - used for consumption and, perhaps more importantly, for trade. Definitive proof of the site's history of regional trade was found when a piece of clay with a lion stamped on it was discovered - a seal which has also been found in items traded around Byblos.
     Though Tell Fadous-Kfarabida was by no means large enough to be an independent political entity, it nevertheless seems to have been much more than a simple coastal village. "We have found stone bases of columns," said Genz, "indicating the possibility of multi-storey housing, which is rare for the Bronze Age and might even be a first in this region." Ancient foundations show that some structures were up to 15 meters long, which may indicate the presence of temples or other public buildings such as palaces or barracks.
     Three tombs have also been discovered. One of the skeletons was sent back to AUB for closer examination, and was found to be a 35-year-old male who probably died of an ear infection. The newest tomb contains a skeleton buried inside a village home, indicating that it came from the Middle Bronze Age, when the dead were often buried inside the settlement rather than on the outside.
     Questions still linger over the sudden abandonment of Tell Fadous-Kfarabida in 1,800 BCE. No direct evidence of armed conflict has so far been found at the site. "The fact the there is a fortification system means that warfare was a constant danger," Genz suggests. Interestingly, small pots full of food were found lying around, suggesting that residents of the town left unplanned and in a hurry. It is therefore possible that Tell Fadous-Kfarabida had a violent end. However, Genz and his team have posited another theory for Tell Fadous-Kfarabida's downfall: environmental catastrophe. "Deforestation," said Genz, "which likely started at the same time trade did in around 3,000 BCE, may have progressively lowered the water table until the settlement became unlivable." Extended periods of drought may have left Tell Fadous-Kfarabida's citizens with no choice but to leave.
     Ultimately, "What is so special about Tell Fadous-Kfarabida," Genz said, "is that it shows many vivid aspects of daily life in the Bronze Age, and with the evidence, we can piece together a good picture of what life in the Bronze Age was really like."

Source: The Daily Star (17 July 2010)

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