International conference
3-4 December 2012


Case Studies

Egypt (Coordinator Prof. Giuseppina Capriotti, Prof. Vincent Laisney)

Federico Contardi,

The first textual evidences of earthquakes in Egypt

Egypt is a land affected by seismic activities in the present times as in the past. The study of these natural activities occurred in the past can be established first of all on the basis of archaeological evidences. However, in consideration of the particular characteristic of the egyptian civilization, which has entrusted to the written word the memory of his past, the modern researcher can also use the ancient texts as essential middle for inquiring and investigating these natural phenomena. In the research a particular favorable condition occurs when the same phenomenon is attested both archaeologically and textually. Obviously this is quite seldom and difficult to be established. However we can affirm with certainty that both the most ancient archaeological layers and the most ancient textual evidences contain already the first evidence of earthquakes. In fact, in the site of Tell el Farkha, in the Delta of the Nile, the layers which correspond to the passage from the predynastic to the protodynastic period show clear traces of seismic events. In the same way, the most ancient text of the Egyptian literature, the Pyramid Texts (XXIVth Century BC), shows many references to seismic events. In consideration of the royal funerary nature of these texts, it is not possible to understand them in an historical perspective, i.e. as evidences for a specific earthquake. On the contrary they should be considered as a cultural memory of extraordinary events happened in periods before these texts were put into writing. It is highly possible that even the events of Tell el Farkha were an important part of this memory. In the Pyramid Texts the earthquake is always interpreted as a sign which announces the ascension of the dead king to the sky and as such it is always considered in a positive way and never as a destructive event.

Annalinda Iacoviello,

Flash floods in the Theban Necropolis: the case study of the Dra Abu el Naga necropolis tombs

Heavy rainfalls are widely testified in the Luxor area, both in ancient and modern times. They are uncommon but recurring events, as modern climatology shows us, registered by ancient Egyptians in some philological texts. Evidence of these kinds of events have been found in some of the Theban necropolis tombs, where layers made by sand, pebbles and debris, brought in by flash floods coming from the wadis, have been identified. In fact, the Theban necropolis tombs are often situated at the end of the wadis and, with the opening of the tomb doors, it became possible for mud and debris to enter into them. Ancient Egyptians tried to prevent the opening of the tombs in the hope of protecting the dead king and his grave goods, but it was useless: the first pillages took place at the end of the XXth Dynasty and they continued until the modern age. During the XIXth Century, the tombs were first opened by scholars, such as Belzoni and Carter. Some examples of ancient flash floods caused by rainfalls, found in the Dra Abu el Naga necropolis, will be discussed. The first example is Theban Tomb 14, that shows evidence of several flash floods starting from the last plundering of the tomb, occurred in ancient times; the second example is tomb K 91.4 that has provided a reliable dating of that event during pharaonic time.

Rosanna Montanaro,

Tell el Farkha: earthquake evidences in the early egyptian hystory

Natural catastrophic events, such as earthquakes, leave an unforgettable mark in the historical memory of a population, in particular when these cataclisms happend during a undefinable time and needed a strong and quikly answer. In Egypt seismic events were proved, indeed, all over the country and in particular in the Delta region. According to seismic studies, Nile Delta has numerous experiences of earthquake, due to his superficial geology, underlained by thick alluvial sequences, that influences its sensitivity to earthquake ground motion. So, an "ancestral" telluric event can be traced at Tell el - Farkha, in the Delta region. Here, the Polish archaeological mission, during 1999 - 2000 campaigns, found some important earthquake traces. The site of Telle el Farkha is located about 14 km east of El - Simbillawein and is marked by three Kom. It has five chronological phases, from the Lower Egyptian Culture, 3500 - 3300 B. C., to the biginning of the Fourth Dynasty, 2700 - 2600 B. C. During the excavation of Forth - Fifth levels ( Late Nagada - First Dynasty, 3100 B. C.), dealing with a great building on Kom West, some destructions and fired layers were noted. This destruction is testified over the entire area by collapsed walls concealing broken pottery and other numerous artifacts. These evidences suggests that an earthquake may have been the couse of the collapse of the entire boulding. Another interesting evidence of this seismic event is the skeleton of a pig doubtless crushed by a falling wall.

Dora Ventura,

Heavy rainfalls in the Theban area: the case study of some Graffiti of the Theban Mountain

We are able to affirm that heavy rainfalls are not so rare in the Luxor area, both in ancient and modern times. Nearby the tomb of Maiherperi (n.36), in the Valley of the Kings, a group of three graffiti were discovered. All of them deal with rainfalls worthy of recording. They all refer to "pA mw n pt" ("water from the sky"). One of them (n.3012) bears the name of the pharaoh Merenptah, being dated on "year 4 of Merenptah, month 1 of Shemu, day 27"; the other two (n.2868 and n.1736) bear a date, but not the name of a pharaoh, making the dating a bit more difficult, even if scholars were able to fix a chronological frame for them, as the scribes, who left the graffiti, named Amon-pa-hapy and Amennakht, both were contemporary with the reigns of Ramesses III and Ramesses IV. They both referred to a heavy rainfall that took place there on "year 2, month 4 of Shemu, day 24". As the "year 2" is mentioned and considering the length of the reign of Ramesses III, the reign of his successor should be the most probable one. As a result of accurate observations about the calendar, these particular events, probably, took place, respectively, on late March (graffito n.3012) and at the beginning of June (n.2868-1736), that means both at the beginning and at the end of the "rainy season" (according to what has been experienced about heavy rainfalls in Luxor at the present day).

Levant (Coordinator Prof. Lorenzo Nigro)

Chiara Fiaccavento,

The Sheshonq Campaign to Palestine

The campaign of pharaoh Sheshonq I (945-924 BC) - biblical Shishak - to Palestine, reported on a wall in the Temple of Amun at Karnak and mentioned in the Bible in 1Kgs 14, 25-28 and in 2Chr 12, 1-12 has played a pivotal role in the reconstruction of the history of the period. In fact it represents one of the most strong connection between Bible and the archaeology of Iron Age, when a conspicuous number of destroyed sites testifies of the passage of the Egyptian army. The Sheshonq list, that comprends a total of 187 names (but clearly readable only 150) indicates 65 cities in central and northern Palestine, 85 in the Negev and 30 in the southern coastal region. The chosen case-study is Tell el-Mutesellim/Megiddo where the passage of the pharaoh on the site is demonstrated not only by its mention on the list (translitterated m-k-d from the III row of the inscription) but also by the retrieval of a carved fragment of a victory stele honouring him found at the site in 1920s by Fischer. Although in recent years has arised a debate over the chronological attribution of several strata and destructions of the Iron Age Palestine (the "Low Chronology" carried on principally by I. Finkelstein), there is a general consensus on dating at the second half of the 10th century BC the partial destruction of the IA IIA Megiddo, terming it with the Oriental Institute of Chicago terminology, strata VA-IVB. The detected areas on the mound, where there are clear signs of destruction and collapse are inside domestic installations in Area AA, into Buildings 10 and 51 unearthed in Area C in the eastern sector of the mound, in the northern rooms in Palace 6000, and in stratum H-5 of Area H. All over this phase the destruction is represented by a thin layer of fallen bricks, some ashes, and a large number of restorable vessels. It is clear that Stratum VA-IVB suffered destruction, but the city was not put to the torch and was not completely annihilated.

Elisabetta Gallo,

Tell es-Sultan/Jericho at the end of its first urban experience (Early Bronze IIIB, Sultan IIIb2)

At the end of Early Bronze IIIB, around 2350 BC, a terrible conflagration, followed by a fierce fire, destroyed completely the city of Tell es-Sultan, ancient Jericho. The effects of such a destruction are clearly visible all over the site, and its violence is suggested by a thick and uniform burnt layer distinguished in each excavation area, both on the wide fortification system and inside the city. The destruction of the double line city-wall is detected in different spots of the site, where Sultan IIIc2 layers were preserved (Garstang's Trench e-e and "Point u", Kanyon's Trench I and III, Italian-Palestinian Expedition's Areas B & B West). Everywhere the upper section of the city-walls was thoroughly burnt, while its lower section, tilted forward, was buried beneath a heavy collapse layer, composed by crumbled and baked bricks mixed with ashy lenses. The destruction of the city-walls was followed by a great conflagration plainly traceable inside the city: in each house that has been examined (Garstang's Square I4 and Trench g-g, Kenyon's Square E III-IV) the rooms were found filled up with layers of broken bricks and charred wooden beams collapsed from the ceilings. Also the two monumental buildings exposed by the Italian-Palestinian Expedition in Area B and G (respectively on the south-western corner of the site and on the top of the Spring Hill) were completely destroyed by the fierce fire. Building B1 ruinously collapsed, as evidenced by its main wall which was cracked and deeply burned. Palace G collapsed and was set on fire, as suggested by a thick collapse layer located in the main eastern room, where the carbonized wooden beams of the roof, fallen over the floors and found still parallel one to the other, have protected six jars stored in the room. A combination of causes probably led to such a destruction: an earthquake that weakened the city's resources which was followed by a human action (?). Certainly, Jericho could not recover from this violent destruction, and ruins were abandoned until the onset of the Early Bronze IV (Sultan IIId) rural village.

Angela Massafra,

The destruction of Tell Balata/Shechem at the end of the Middle Bronze age III

The destruction of Tell Balata, the ancient town of Shechem, is part of a series of violent events known for different sites of Palestine and Transjordan at the end of the Middle Bronze Age. Among these, the Shechem case is the one that probably presents the most complete documentation. There is, in fact, a solid set of archaeological data, which includes details of the stratigraphic deposits, their location and constitution. Furthermore, the study of the architectural structures damaged in the event, particularly the fortification system, and the analysis of the findings, including some human skeletons near the city walls, led to significant considerations regarding the nature and causes of the event. An important contribution for the correct chronological attribution, as well as the study of associated materials, was provided by the physical-chemical studies, consisting of Carbon-14 analysis performed on some charred samples from the affected area. The study of these factors, from archaeological data to physical ones, can provide a complete picture of the destructive event occurred at Shechem in the final Middle Bronze Age III. In addition, the analysis of the socio-economic effects has made it possible to test the human response to the destruction, that consisted in the abandonment of the site in the immediate aftermath. Although lacking a direct literary or epigraphic documentation, the evidences examined show the presence of a military event, which occurred around 1540 BC according to the 14C analysis. These elements seem to suggest an external military intervention, to be likely ascribed to the Egyptian army. This hypothesis would expand the list of cities destroyed by the pharaohs of the Eighteenth Dynasty as known from sources: not cited sites could have been equally involved in the turmoil of the late Middle Bronze Age and the early decades of the Late Bronze Age between Egypt and Palestine.