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Chapter 1 (Pages 31-33)

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:

We can now summarise the evidence for climatic change in the Levant during the earlier Holocene and see what effect it had on the environment. After a brief cooler phase at the close of the Pleistocene the temperature resumed its rise. The rainy season was both more regular and lasted longer than today. Total rainfall remained relatively high although there is some evidence from the pollen cores that it decreased slightly in northern Syria and possibly further south. These relatively cool and moist climatic conditions kept the Dead Sea at a high level and led to significant erosion in the Damascus basin. In Egypt conditions were also moister than today causing the Arminna member to be formed in Nubia.

Because the climate was cooler and moister the Mediterranean forest zone covered a larger area than it would now without human interference. Palestine and TransJordan were clothed in a mixed forest which extended further south than today. This changed to open forest in northern Sinai while much of the rest of the peninsula had steppe vegetation with scattered trees.

Further north the Mountains of Lebanon were heavily forested while the Anti-Lebanon carried light woodland. The mixed forest extended throughout the Jebels Alawiye and Zawiye, curving eastward about the latitude of Aleppo. Beyond the Mediterranean forest zone lay the intermediate open forest belt which stretched from as far south as the Dead Sea along the plateau of TransJordan into northern Syria. To the east this belt merged with the steppe zone which occupied much of the interior and part of Sinai. The desert zone still covered a very small part of the Levant in contrast with today (See Page 45 in *1 Below).

During the 7th millennium the climate changed; rainfall became more seasonal and probably diminished. This caused a gradual contraction of the Mediterranean mixed forest and intermediate open forest zones. The steppe expanded into areas that previously carried open forest while the desert too reached further north and west. The Ghab and other pollen cores indicate that these changes were accelerated by man's activities.

Another change in climate took place during the 5th millennium when rainfall in the Levant decreased further; it had already fallen to almost nothing in Egypt. By now the temperature had risen to near its postglacial maximum. This deterioration in climate seems to have been quite marked for it caused the level of the Dead Sea to drop sharply. The effect on the vegetation would have been to cause a further contraction of the forest zones. The desert albeit with some relict trees would have now extended througout Sinai, eastern TransJordan and southern and eastern Syria. It is difficult to determine precisely the boundaries of the natural vegetation zones because man's activities had already distorted the picture. The climate improved somewhat late in the 4th millennium but by now the damage done to the vegetation by man and also the increased aridity particularly in the zones of open forest and park steppe was irreversible.

While the climatic changes that took place in the Levant in the early Holocene were not as great as the Wurm they were sufficient to alter both landforms and the extent of the major vegetation zones. At the moment it is possible only to describe these environmental changes in outline but the evidence of the pollen cores and the sediments of the Damascus basin suggest that events were more complex than the scheme presented here. The actual fluctuations in rainfall and temperature may have been relatively small compared with the post-glacial in northern Europe but they had a marked effect on the environment because so much of the southern Levant and the inland plateau is a semi-arid zone sensitive to slight climatic changes. The evidence of the Zagros pollen cores emphasises that the present climate and natural vegetation zones in the Near East were not established until the Holocene was well advanced.

The changes in natural environment that took place during the earlier Holocene would have significantly influenced human settlement and economy. For the first time man's own activities had a marked effect on the landscape, particularly its vegetation and soil cover. The environmental changes that took place therefore were caused by a complex interaction of climatic change and human behaviour ...


(*1) Plant Life of Palestine (1962)
M. Zohary in Chronica Botanica
Library of Congress # QK 1 C55

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium