The rise and fall of viticulture in the Late Antique Negev Highlands reconstructed from archaeobotanical and ceramic data

Daniel Fuks, Guy Bar-Oz, Yotam Tepper, Tali Erickson-Gini, Dafna Langgut, Lior Weissbrod, Ehud Weiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The international scope of the Mediterranean wine trade in Late Antiquity raises important questions concerning sustainability in an ancient international economy and offers a valuable historical precedent to modern globalization. Such questions involve the role of intercontinental commerce in maintaining sustainable production within important supply regions and the vulnerability of peripheral regions believed to have been especially sensitive to environmental and political disturbances. We provide archaeobotanical evidence from trash mounds at three sites in the central Negev Desert, Israel, unraveling the rise and fall of viticulture over the second to eighth centuries of the common era (CE). Using quantitative ceramic data obtained in the same archaeological contexts, we further investigate connections between Negev viticulture and circum-Mediterranean trade. Our findings demonstrate interrelated growth in viticulture and involvement in Mediterranean trade reaching what appears to be a commercial scale in the fourth to mid-sixth centuries. Following a mid-sixth century peak, decline of this system is evident in the mid- to late sixth century, nearly a century before the Islamic conquest. These findings closely correspond with other archaeological evidence for social, economic, and urban growth in the fourth century and decline centered on the mid-sixth century. Contracting markets were a likely proximate cause for the decline; possible triggers include climate change, plague, and wider sociopolitical developments. In long-term historical perspective, the unprecedented commercial florescence of the Late Antique Negev appears to have been unsustainable, reverting to an age-old pattern of smaller-scale settlement and survival–subsistence strategies within a time frame of about two centuries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19780-19791
Number of pages12
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume117
Issue number33
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. This work was supported by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program Grant 648427 and Israel Science Foundation Grant 340-14. D.F. was also supported by the Bar-Ilan Doctoral Fellowships of Excellence Program, the Rottenstreich Fellowship of the Israel Council for Higher Education, and the Molcho fund for agricultural research in the Negev. This study was conducted under the licenses of the Israel Antiquities Authority (Elusa: G-69/2014, G-10/2015, G-6/2017; Shivta: G-87/2015, G-4/2016; Nessana: G-4/ 2017). We thank the Israel Nature and Parks Authority for facilitating the excavations at Elusa, Shivta, and Nessana, as well as Ami and Dina Oach of Shivta Farm. For assistance with processing during the excavations, we are grateful to Ifat Shapira, Uri Yehuda, Ruti Roche, Gabriel Fuks, University of Haifa graduate students Aehab Asad, Ari Levy, and Yaniv Sfez, and countless other volunteers. We also thank Y. Mahler-Slasky, I. Berko, and O. Bashari for laboratory assistance in sorting seeds; Davida Eisenberg-Degen, Itamar Taxel, Oren Tal, Elie Posner, and Dudi Mevorah for photographs; Yoel Melamed, Anat Hartmann-Shenkman, Tammy Friedman, and Rebecca Knel-ler for graphic assistance; and Nahshon Roche for editing assistance. Finally, we thank two anonymous reviewers whose insightful comments helped improve this paper significantly.

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the European Research Council under the European Union?s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program Grant 648427 and Israel Science Foundation Grant 340-14. D.F. was also supported by the Bar-Ilan Doctoral Fellowships of Excellence Program, the Rottenstreich Fellowship of the Israel Council for Higher Education, and the Molcho fund for agricultural research in the Negev. This study was conducted under the licenses of the Israel Antiquities Authority (Elusa: G-69/2014, G-10/2015, G-6/2017; Shivta: G-87/2015, G-4/2016; Nessana: G-4/ 2017). We thank the Israel Nature and Parks Authority for facilitating the excavations at Elusa, Shivta, and Nessana, as well as Ami and Dina Oach of Shivta Farm. For assistance with processing during the excavations, we are grateful to Ifat Shapira, Uri Yehuda, Ruti Roche, Gabriel Fuks, University of Haifa graduate students Aehab Asad, Ari Levy, and Yaniv Sfez, and countless other volunteers. We also thank Y. Mahler-Slasky, I. Berko, and O. Bashari for laboratory assistance in sorting seeds; Davida Eisenberg-Degen, Itamar Taxel, Oren Tal, Elie Posner, and Dudi Mevorah for photographs; Yoel Melamed, Anat Hartmann-Shenkman, Tammy Friedman, and Rebecca Kneller for graphic assistance; and Nahshon Roche for editing assistance. Finally, we thank two anonymous reviewers whose insightful comments helped improve this paper significantly.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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