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Excavations at the Early Bronze IV Sites of Jebel Qaʿaqir and Beʾer Resisim

July 2016 (120.3)

Book Review

Excavations at the Early Bronze IV Sites of Jebel Qaʿaqir and Beʾer Resisim

By William G. Dever (Studies in the Archaeology and History of the Levant 6). Pp. viii + 378, figs. 339, tables 44. Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Ind. 2014. $79.50. ISBN 978-1-57506-947-0 (cloth).

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The volume under review contains the long-awaited final reports of the excavations at Jebel Qaʿaqir on the western flanks of the Judean Hills, directed by William G. Dever, and at Beʾer Resisim in the central Negev, codirected by Dever and the late Rudolph Cohen. The first part (chs. 1–8) focuses on Jebel Qaʿaqir and discusses the site and excavations, the cemeteries and occupied caves, cairns, boundary walls and kiln, a dolmen, and a bamah (chs. 1–6), followed by a discussion of recent scholarship on Early Bronze IV and the contribution of Jebel Qaʿaqir for our understanding of this still enigmatic period (chs. 7, 8). The second part (chs. 9–16) presents the site and excavation results of Beʾer Resisim (chs. 9–13), sets it into the context of the Early Bronze IV settlements of the Negev, and discusses the connections with Transjordan and the economic basis of the Early Bronze IV settlements of the Negev (chs. 14–16). These two parts are followed by a general conclusion and 16 appendices on special topics, such as human and faunal remains, pottery and metal implement technology, ground stone artifacts, and others, authored by various scholars (five on Jebel Qaʿaqir, appendices 1A–E, and 11 on Beʾer Resisim, Appendices 2A–K).

At the site of Jebel Qaʿaqir, located approximately 12 km west-southwest of Hebron (not 30 km as stated in the text [3]), Dever conducted salvage excavations, on behalf of Hebrew Union College, of an Early Bronze Age IV cemetery from 1968 to 1971. Over the course of three seasons, the excavators were able to document one completely robbed cemetery (A), a second one with almost 60 undisturbed shaft tombs (cemetery B, T.B1–59), and a third one with nine tombs (cemetery C, T.C1–9). In addition, two large caves with Early Bronze IV occupation (G19, G21) were excavated, and cairns, boundary walls, a kiln, a dolmen, and a bamah in the vicinity were investigated.

The most important contribution of these salvage excavations is undoubtedly the many Early Bronze IV shaft tombs excavated. Dever notes that all shaft tombs contained secondary disarticulated burials, which are uncommon in northern Palestine and which he associates with transhumant groups, who carry with them those who die along the way (in mats or baskets) for later interment at traditional burying grounds (44). According to him, this “widespread distribution of such burials is further evidence that ... the vast majority of EB IV sites are encampments of mobile peoples” (45).

The second site treated in this book, Beʾer Resisim, located in the central Negev not far from the present Egyptian-Israeli border, on a ridge next to Naḥal Niṣṣana, was excavated in three seasons from 1978 to 1980 within the framework of the Central Negev Highlands Project, codirected by Dever and Cohen. Preliminary reports have already been published (R. Cohen and W.G. Dever, “Preliminary Report of the Pilot Season of the ‘Central Negev Highlands Project,’” BASOR 232 [1978]; “Preliminary Report of the Second Season of the ‘Central Negev Highlands Project,’” BASOR 236 [1979]; “Preliminary Report of the Third and Final Season of the ‘Central Negev Highlands Project,’” BASOR 243 [1981]); and a final report by Cohen that in some way differs from Dever’s interpretation appeared in 1999 in Ancient Settlement of the Central Negev (Vol. 1, The Chalcolithic Period, the Early Bronze Age and the Middle Bronze Age I [IAA Reports 6] [Jerusalem]).

Beʾer Resisim was the first large Early Bronze IV settlement site in the Negev that was extensively excavated, and together with Jebel Qaʿaqir it is fundamental for Dever’s reconstruction of the society and economy of this period. Its good state of preservation is due to an apparently planned abandonment, which also explains the rather scant finds. A large amount of subrectangular structures were excavated, which are interpreted as “crude, ad hoc” (161) domestic units, mainly used for sleeping only for the “population [which] consisted of pastoral nomads” (162). No evidence for monumental or public buildings has been observed, likewise no fortifications. Dever compares the settlement of Beʾer Resisim with other small, nonurban Early Bronze IV settlements throughout the Negev and also notes similar curvilinear agglutinative architecture of Early Bronze II date in the Sinai (211). Unfortunately, this remarkable resemblance is only stated and cursorily treated in the text, and it would have been welcome to see any actual parallels presented and illustrated or at least mentioned and referenced. Although figure 12.2 shows Unit A of Sheikh Muhsen, a site in southern Sinai with comparable architecture, this site is not even mentioned in the text.

Cohen (1999) linked these Early Bronze II settlements of the Sinai to the Negev Early Bronze IV culture. Like Dever, Cohen understood the Negev settlers as pastoral nomads, but he linked them to Egypt, the Early Bronze II settlements on Sinai, and even to the stories of the biblical patriarchs. Dever, on the other hand, saw links with Transjordan, mainly on the basis of ceramic parallels. “Transjordan appears to have been the homeland of the EB IV peoples, survivors who gradually repopulated western Palestine” (235).

In general, Dever draws a dramatic picture of the end of Early Bronze III and sees a sudden collapse, in which “we see the population fleeing from the urban centers to the hinterland” (229), thus very much in line with more traditional views of the Early Bronze period such as those of Pierre de Miroschedji (“Rise and Collapse in the Southern Levant in the Early Bronze Age,” ScAnt 15 [2009] 101–29, which could have been referenced). Current scholarship, on the other hand, based on results of radiocarbon dating projects, draws a slightly different picture of continuous disintegration of urban centers throughout the Early Bronze II–III period, and not a sudden collapse at the end (cf. the forthcoming volume F. Höflmayer, ed., The Early/Middle Bronze Age Transition in the Ancient Near East: Chronology, C14 and Climate Change [Oriental Institute Seminars 11] [2016] and papers therein).

Dever still uses the low chronology of the Early Bronze Age that has come under increased pressure during recent years. The author dates the Early Bronze IV period to 2300–2000/1950 B.C.E. (149) but notes that the beginning of EB IV “could be raised to ca. 2400 BCE (or even earlier) if recent C14 dates are given sufficient weight” (149), referencing Cohen (1999) and mentioning three dates from Beʾer Resisim. Apparently the author is unaware that there is now substantive evidence for a starting date of ca. 2500 B.C.E. for the Early Bronze IV that was published as early as 2012 (J. Regev et al., “Chronology of the Early Bronze Age in the Southern Levant: New Analysis for a High Chronology,” Radiocarbon 54, 525–66) and that subsequently found additional support  (F. Höflmayer et al., “Radiocarbon Evidence for the Early Bronze Age Levant: Tell Fadous-Kfarabida [Lebanon] and the End of the Early Bronze III Period,” Radiocarbon 56 [2014] 529–42). Also, the radiocarbon dates from the Early Bronze IV site of Tell Abu en-Niʿaj (which have been known for some time now) support a higher date for the start of Early Bronze IV (C.B. Ramsey et al., “Radiocarbon Dates from the Oxford AMS System: Archaeometry Datelist 31,” Archaeometry 44 [2002] 82). It would also have been useful to present the radiocarbon data as a separate chapter instead of hiding it in the main parts of the text. Dates for Beʾer Resisim, without mention of uncalibrated results or lab codes and without any graphs, can be found in the chapter “Recent Scholarship and Jebel Qaʿaqir [sic]” (149 n. 5), and later in chapter 15, “The Negev-Transjordanian Connection,” not the chapters the interested reader would check first to find them.

Throughout the volume Dever advertises his agro-pastoralist model of the Early Bronze Age IV. The cemeteries of Jebel Qaʿaqir are interpreted as “the summer burying-ground of pastoral nomads who wintered in the Negev, but moved seasonally into the cooler and better watered pastures in the Hebron hills” (10), a notion that is further elaborated in chapter 12 on village planning (of Beʾer Resisim) and in chapter 14 on “Beʾer Resisim in the Context of the EB IV Settlements of the Negev.” He views the Early Bronze Age IV society as egalitarian without distinct social stratification (209). Although it might be true that social stratification is not apparent in the archaeological record for the Early Bronze IV, as it is for periods before and after, one should consider that hierarchies might also have been established and expressed in ways that are not preserved in the archaeological record.

While the volume is overall well illustrated, maps providing a geographical overview of the sites and their relation to each other are largely missing. While the individual tombs and domestic units are beautifully documented with detailed plans and sections, it is very hard to understand the geographic location of, for example, Jebel Qaʿaqir in relation to other sites in the region. The map presented in figure 1.1 might be useful for understanding the locations of several excavation areas but is nearly useless for showing the geographic location. Nevertheless, these few shortcomings do not reduce the importance of this contribution. Surely, this book should not be missed in any archaeological library.

Felix Höflmayer
Austrian Academy of Sciences
Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology

Book Review of Excavations at the Early Bronze IV Sites of Jebel Qaʿaqir and Beʾer Resisim, by William G. Dever

Reviewed by Felix Höflmayer

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 120, No. 3 (July 2016)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1203.Hoeflmayer

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