Unveiling the Ancient Mystery of the Buqei'a Plateau: Pastoralist Rangeland or Run-off Farmland?

By Adam R. Hemmings

· Archaeology,Israel

In the world of archaeology, uncovering the truth about ancient civilizations often involves challenging established theories and embracing alternative perspectives. A recent article titled "The Buqei'a Plateau of the Judean Desert in the Southern Levant During the Seventh to Early Sixth Centuries BCE: Iron Age Run-off Farmland or a Pastoralist Rangeland?" authored by Prof. Shimon Gibson, Dr. Rafi Lewis, and Prof. Joan Taylor, takes us on a journey to the fascinating landscape of the Buqei'a Plateau, a region steeped in history and shrouded in mystery.

For years, previous archaeological studies have painted a picture of Iron Age IIC/III settlements in the Buqei'a Plateau as permanent paramilitary farming establishments, relying on run-off farming in the alluvial soils of nearby tributary wadis. Yet, this groundbreaking article challenges the conventional wisdom, proposing an alternative interpretation that identifies the Buqei'a Plateau as a pastoralist rangeland.

The Buqei'a Plateau was believed to be a hub of Iron Age farming communities, where settlers utilized alluvial soils near wadis to engage in run-off farming. These practices, which involve capturing and redirecting rainwater to cultivate crops, were thought to be the primary means of subsistence for the inhabitants of this region during the 7th to early 6th centuries BCE. This perspective painted a picture of thriving agricultural communities, replete with paramilitary structures, as the dominant feature of the Buqei'a Plateau.

The authors of the article propose a paradigm shift by adopting a landscape archaeology approach and drawing on data from archives. They challenge the conventional view by suggesting that the Buqei'a Plateau was, in fact, a rangeland for the grazing of livestock, particularly sheep and goats. In this alternative interpretation, the alluvial lands surrounding the settlements served as green pasturage rather than arable farmland.

This reinterpretation opens up a new perspective on the lives of Iron Age inhabitants. Instead of being sedentary farmers, they may have been specialized transhumant pastoralists, moving their livestock across the landscape to exploit seasonal forage resources. This shift in perspective not only challenges existing assumptions but also provides a more nuanced understanding of the diverse ways in which ancient societies adapted to their environments.

The implications of this reinterpretation are profound. If the Buqei'a Plateau was indeed a pastoralist rangeland, it challenges the prevailing belief that Iron Age societies in the region were agrarian. Instead, it suggests that these communities were more tied to pastoralism, a way of life that has deep historical and cultural significance in the Middle East.

Furthermore, this alternative interpretation may shed light on other Iron Age sites in the Judean Desert and the "Wilderness of Judah." If pastoralism was more prevalent than before thought, it could reshape our understanding of the broader economic and social landscape of the region during this time.

The article challenges the established narrative of the Buqei'a Plateau, inviting us to reconsider the lives of its Iron Age inhabitants. Were they farmers or herders? Based on the evidence at hand, herding would seem more likely. This shift in perspective reminds us that the study of archaeology is an ever-evolving field, where new discoveries can lead to exciting reevaluations of the past.

As we continue to uncover the secrets of ancient civilizations, the Buqei'a Plateau serves as a reminder that our understanding of history is not static but subject to change as we explore new avenues of research and embrace alternative interpretations. The journey to unravel the mysteries of the past is far from over, and the Buqei'a Plateau is one piece of the puzzle waiting to be solved.