"Tracing the invisible hand of ancient agriculture"


The ‘Alona Project is an interdisciplinary research attempt to evaluate the magnitude, frequency, and timespan of human interference in the natural environment, for the purposes of agricultural production. This subject is currently at the forefront of human-environment interaction studies.

A previous study conducted in the highlands of Jerusalem demonstrated that the building of terraces for dry farming must be socially and economically contextualized, if the motivations of ancient farmers are to be explored. In this study we wish to go one step further, and explore the land- use patterns that were practiced before terracing took over. To achieve this, we have identified a human-induced landscape. On the one hand, this landscape (based on initial results) was exploited as early as the first millennium BCE (Iron Age) and maybe even earlier (Middle Bronze Age, first part of the second Millennium BCE), but on the other hand, was not intensively terraced, and thus preserved earlier agricultural activities.

This chosen landscape is located within the agricultural hinterlands of Jerusalem (ca. 5km north-west of the ancient city). The area is characterized by diversity in the nature of the underlying rock formation, which is clear even to the naked eye. Employing an explicit interdisciplinary approach, proxies from geography, archaeology, archaeobotany, and paleogeomorphology are integrated. Soil in-fills of agricultural installations will be dated using Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL). Accordingly the primary research objectives are to:

(i) Establish an accurate chronology for the agricultural activities in this area. (ii) Identify the type of crops cultivated in this region over time.

(iii) Describe the mode of agriculture prior to the terraced landscape. (iv)Attempt to distinguish between natural and anthropogenic soils.

At this point in the project we have conducted two short field seasons. The first was dedicated to a high-resolution, systematic survey of the slope, which was lead by Arian Goren and Nitsan Ben-Melech.

The second field season was a short one-week excavation of manmade and natural features. Work included the excavation of two stone piles, a watchtower, and a winepress. Initial pottery analysis proves that (at the very least) the watchtower dates to the Iron Age IIC period (7th century BCE). Excavations are led by Nitsan Ben-Melech, and aided and executed by numerous students of the department. Our excavations

are conducted in cooperation with local community-based organizations that are dedicated to the cultural heritage of the site. Thanks to their efforts, volunteers from the neighborhood joined us for the excavations and the Mayor of Jerusalem also paid the team a visit.

The study is being conducted together with:

Yuval Gadot, Nitsan Ben-Melech, Arian Goren, Uri Davidovich and Naomi Porat

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