Globalization During the Bronze & Early Iron Ages

Written on |

Evidence for trade from India & Southeast Asia to the Land of Israel in the 16th century BCE.

A new international study, which included researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority, reveals significant global trade between India & Southeast Asia and the Land of Israel as early as the 16th century BCE. Traded goods included exotic foods like soybeans, bananas and turmeric – almost one thousand years before any previously known availability of these foods in our region.

The study focused on food remains identified in the dental calculus of people buried at Tel Megiddo and Tel Erani (near Kiryat Gat). Examination of the teeth, dated from the 16th century BCE at Megiddo and the 11th century BCE at Tel Erani, revealed traces of various foods, including foods from Southeast Asia, such as soybeans, bananas and turmeric.

The study, led by Prof. Philipp Stockhammer of the University of Munich, involved researchers from institutions around the world. TAU was represented by Prof. Israel Finkelstein and Dr. Mario Martin of the Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures; and the Israel Antiquities Authority was represented by Dr. Ianir Milevski and Dmitry Yegorov of the Excavations, Surveys and Research Department. The findings were published in the PNAS journal in December 2020.

The researchers explain that when we picture the market of the city of Megiddo 3,700 years ago, we think of local foods like wheat, dates and sesame seeds, and sure enough, ancient proteins and microfossils from these staple foods were found in the examined jawbones. However, alongside these expected findings, traces of soybeans, bananas and turmeric were also discovered.

According to the researchers, this is the earliest evidence of soybeans, bananas and turmeric found anywhere outside of Southeast Asia. The discovery pushes back the earliest known availability of these foods in the Land of Israel and the Mediterranean Basin by centuries (turmeric) and even a thousand years (soybeans). This means that long-distance trade in exotic fruits, spices and oils was conducted between Southeast Asia and the region of the Land of Israel, through Mesopotamia or Egypt, as early as the second millennium BCE – namely, globalization in the Bronze and early Iron Ages. Clearly, no bananas would have survived the journey from Southeast Asia to Megiddo, and therefore we can assume that these were delivered and consumed as dry fruits.

“This is clear evidence of trade with southeast Asia as early as the 16th century BCE – much earlier than previously assumed,” explains Prof. Finkelstein. “Several years ago, we found similar evidence of long-distance trade: molecular traces of vanilla in ceramic vessels from the same period at Megiddo. Yet very little is known about the trade routes or how the goods were delivered.”

“One surprising find in our excavation at Tel Erani was a cemetery from the Early Iron Age – about 3,100 years ago,” report Dr. Ianir Milevski and Dmitry Yegorov of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “In some tombs we found families buried together, children alongside their parents. We also found burial offerings – bowls, jugs and pitchers buried with the dead, for their use in the afterlife. In some vessels, we found animal bones, mostly the remains of sheep and goats, intended as food for the dead. We plan to further investigate the vessels, in search of remains of bananas and sesame seeds similar to those found in the teeth of the people buried with them. Dr. Milevski and Yegorov added that they are collaborating with Prof. Stockhammer, in testing the DNA in the human bones, in an attempt to understand who these people were and where they came from.”

Soy was first domesticated in the region of China in the 7th millennium BCE. The banana, domesticated in New Guinea in the 5th millennium BCE, arrived in West Africa 4,000 years later, but until now no indication was found of any earlier appearance of this fruit in the Middle East.

Turmeric and soy proteins were discovered in the jawbone of one person in Megiddo, and banana proteins were found in two jawbones from Tel Erani. Thus, we cannot determine just how accessible these foods were to anyone from any social class. The researchers assume that the jawbones probably belonged to people of relatively high social status in the city-state of Megiddo. This is apparent from the structure of the tombs and the offerings placed in them. In addition, the researchers found evidence of the consumption of sesame seeds in jawbones from both Megiddo and Tel Erani, indicating that this was a significant component of the local cuisine as early as the second millennium BCE.

“Our study demonstrates the immense possibilities embodied in the incorporation of the exact and natural sciences into modern archaeological research,” concludes Prof. Finkelstein.  “Traditional archaeology, which may also be called macro-archaeology, provides data visible to the eye – such as buildings, pottery, jewelry and weapons. A whole world of other data, of critical importance, is revealed only under the microscope and by using advanced analytical methods.”

Featured image: Prof. Israel Finkelstein

related posts

Recordings of the magnetic field from 9,000 years ago teach us about the magnetic field today

August 19, 2021

New Type of Prehistoric Human Discovered in Israel

June 27, 2021

A new type of Homo unknown to science

June 25, 2021

Got Beef? Your Ancestors Were Likely VERY into Meat…

April 5, 2021

When Size Does Matter…

March 11, 2021

A Glimpse into the Wardrobes of King David and King Solomon

February 1, 2021

TAU Excavation Examines “Ancient High Tech”

January 25, 2021

The Toolkit of Prehistoric Humans

January 20, 2021

A 6,500-year old copper workshop uncovered in Beer Sheva

October 12, 2020

The Texts From The Biblical-Period Fortress At Tel Arad Were Written By 12 Different Authors

September 14, 2020

Straight to the Point

July 5, 2020

Dead Sea Scrolls “puzzle” solved with DNA from ancient animal skins

June 3, 2020

Study finds ancient Canaanites genetically linked to modern populations

June 1, 2020

Iron Age Temple Complex Discovered Near Jerusalem Calls Into Question Biblical Depiction of Centralized Cult

February 3, 2020

New study reveals palace bureaucracy in ancient Samaria

January 23, 2020

Study shows Europeans migrated to the Levant 40,000 years ago

November 6, 2019

Study Finds Prehistoric Humans Ate Bone Marrow Like Canned Soup 400,000 Years Ago

October 9, 2019

Early Humans Deliberately Recycled Flint To Create Tiny, Sharp Tools

May 30, 2019

New evidence points to existence of Biblical figure

May 6, 2019

A match made in Megiddo

February 13, 2019
Ontario and Western Canada

3130 Bathurst Street, Suite, 214, Toronto, ON | M6A 2A1 
Phone: 416.787.9930 | Toll Free: 833.32.CFTAU (22328)
Email: toronto@cftau.ca

Ottawa, Quebec and Atlantic Canada

6900 Boulevard Décarie, Suite 3480, Montreal, QC | H3X 2T8
Phone: 514.344.3417
Email: montreal@cftau.ca


© CFTAU  | all rights reserved
Charitable registration: 124035643RR0001

TO TOP