Wednesday, 17 March 2021

How a 10,000 year old basket (and the whole archaeology of Neolithic and Chalcolithic Palestine) falsifies the fundamentalist belief in a Seven Thousand Year Plan

The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced the discovery of a 10,500 year old woven basket in the Judaea desert. Discoveries both of human artefacts and human remains that are older than six thousand years pose a fundamental challenge both to the the belief that humans are only six thousand years old and the concept of a ‘seven thousand year plan’. Given the prevalence of both of these ideas in the Christadelphian community, it is worth spending a little time looking at the archaeological evidence that rules out both these ideas.
The basket, the discovery of which was announced Tuesday 16th March was found in Muraba’at cave in the Judaea desert. According to the Jerusalem Post article, it is believed to be the oldest of its kind ever uncovered. 
The 10,500-year-old basket as found in Muraba‘at Cave.
(photo credit: YANIV BERMAN/IAA)
As the photograph shows, it has been exceptionally well preserved, allowing scholars to infer that two people wove it, with one of them being left-handed. [1] The Muraba’at cave basket alone stands as an eloquent falsification both of the the seven thousand year plan and the belief in recent human creation. Its is of course far from the only artifact or fossil found in the Middle East which does this.

Both the belief that humans were created only six thousand years ago and the ‘Gap Theory’ that posits an earlier creation which was eradicated and replaced six thousand years ago by another creation make clearly testable predictions. The former would have no human fossils or artifacts older than six thousand years in the archaeological record, while the latter would show clear signs of a destruction six thousand years ago and no sign of continuity between human remains / artifacts on either side of this six thousand year old destruction layer. It goes without saying that we see neither. What we do see is continuity and human antiquity, stretching back well before six thousand years ago:
“The transition from the food-gathering phase to fully developed agriculture and pastoralism was a long process which began in the Near East around 10,500 B.C.E. and lasted several thousands of years. It was accompanied by changes in social organization and economic activity which expressed themselves in the establishment of settled communities and the eventual birth of the ancient Near Eastern civilizations. Some of the most important steps in this development can be traced in Palestine.” [2]
One of the most profound social changes was the transition from a hunter-gather mode of existence to an agricultural / herding way of life. This transition took place during the Neolithic period, from around 8500 BCE to 4300 BCE:

The Neolithic as the diagram above shows is commonly divided into two periods; Pre-Pottery and Pottery, with both divisions in turn divided into two subdivisions. Mazar notes that the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) is not well-documented, making the sites in the Jordan Valley of particular importance. The most important site is Jericho:
Tell es-Sultan, ancient Jericho, was first settled by the bearers of the Natufian culture. The Neolithic levels are spread over the entire 6.5 acres (2.5 hectares) of the mound west of the local spring. If all this area was settled, the community probably numbered up to about one thousand people (Kenyon’s estimate of two thousand seems exaggerated). The accumulation of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic debris alone reached an unprecedented depth of 9–10 m, 6 of which dated to PPNA and 3–4 to PPNB. This accumulation represents a continuous occupation of over two thousand years. [3]
The Jordan Valley sites do not stand in isolation, but were part of a widespread change over the region:
The Neolithic communities of Palestine are part of a widespread development which took place throughout the Levant. Early Neolithic sites in Syria, such as Tell Aswad near Damascus and Tell Mureybat on the Middle Euphrates, are evidence of a material culture which was very close to that of Palestine, though there were some regional distinctions. Evidence of contemporary sites of hunter-gatherers was found in the Negev and Sinai. Commercial transactions were carried out between these communities. The most prominent expression of such commerce is the trade in obsidian—a volcanic glass which originated in Anatolia and has been found at PPNA sites in Palestine and Syria. Laboratory examinations have succeeded in locating the exact source of the obsidian in Anatolia. The barter offered by the people of Palestine was perhaps produce from the Dead Sea (bitumen, salt) or materials from Sinai and the Negev (such as special stones and marine shells). [4]
Moving on to Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), Mazar notes that this period saw a considerable increase and expansion in development and states that it is now regarded as having developed from its predecessor. PPNB sites were not restricted to Palestine:
The superb achievements of the PPNB people were not limited to Palestine. Large Neolithic sites with similar cultural phenomena are known throughout the Levant, both in southern Syria (Tell Ramad) and in the Upper and Middle Euphrates (Tell Mureybat, Abu Hureyra, and Tell Bouqras). They demonstrate the homogeneous culture of the area and the relations between the subregions. As in the previous period, the cultural milieu of the entire Levant was to a large extent homogeneous. [5]
Mazar notes that our knowledge of the Pottery Neolithc Period is somewhat minimal, and states that while some scholars see an occupation gap of around 1000 yuears between PPNB and PN, others see continuity. He notes tjat at Suria, continuity is seen at a number of sites. [6] In the south, Jericho is the most important PN site, while in the North, the key sites are near Kibbutz Shaar Hagolan and Hurvat Minhah. [7]

Excavations at the Pottery Neolithic site of Hurvat Minhah (Munhata) in the Jordan Valley. The stone structures on the left are from the Wadi Rabah phase (early fifth millennium B.C.E.). The pits in the center and on the right are from the Yarmukian phase (sixth millennium B.C.E.). (Caption text and image from Mazar, p 51)
Neolithic Palestine had both sedentary settlements and communities dependent on hunting for subsistence. These can be found in the Judaean desert, the southern Negev,  SInai, and the Transjordanian desert fringes. [8] A feature of these hunting communities are structures known as “desert kites” which were used by hunters to trap game animals. Mazar notes that 
The dating of the kites to the Neolithic period is based on excavations at one of them, as well as on the discovery of nearby settlements. The total length of kite walls in Transjordan alone is estimated at having been several thousand kilometers, entailing huge, long-term construction efforts which may have extended from the seventh to the fourth millennium B.C.E. [9]
Following the Neolithic period was the Chalcolithic period, covering the period 4300-3300 BCE. During this period, copper tools appear alongside stone implements. Mazar notes that the main site for study in this period is Teleilat Ghgassul, a site covering some 20 hectares and overlooking the NE Dead Sea Shore:
The excavation of the uppermost occupation levels of Teleilat Ghassul, carried out during the thirties, provided the basis for the definition of the term “Ghassulian culture.” A sequence of ten occupation phases uncovered in more recent excavations was estimated by J. B. Hennessy (on the basis of carbon 14 tests) as spanning a period of approximately one thousand years. [10]
This one thousand year period Mazar states covers the period 4600 BCE to at least 3600 BCE.

The archaeology of Neolithic and Chalcolithic Palestine of course cannot be covered in a single post. However, what one can do is demonstrate that fundamentalist readings of the Bible which assert humanity appeared only 6000 years ago are flatly contradicted by an avalanche of archaeological evidence, as are Gap Theory views which postulate a previous creation that was destroyed, with a new creation. What archaeology shows us is that humanity stretches back well beyond six thousand years.

This is only a problem if one's faith is based on a fundamentalist misreading of the Bible and a failure to listen to the witness of the Earth, which attests to an ancient, evolving humanity.


2. Mazar, Amihai. Archaeology of the Land of the Bible 10,000-586 B.C.E. New Haven;  London: Yale University Press, 1990, p 35
3 ibid, p 40
4. ibid. p 42-43
5. ibid, p 44
6. ibid. p 49
7. ibid, p 51-52
8. ibid, p 54
9. ibid, p 56
10. ibid. p 60