Skip to main content Accessibility help

Dead Sea Levels during the Bronze and Iron Ages

  • Elisa Joy Kagan (a1), Dafna Langgut (a2), Elisabetta Boaretto (a3), Frank Herald Neumann (a4) and Mordechai Stein (a5)...


The history of lake-level changes at the Dead Sea during the Holocene was determined mainly by radiocarbon dating of terrestrial organic debris. This article reviews the various studies that have been devoted over the past 2 decades to defining the Dead Sea levels during the Bronze and Iron Ages (≃5.5 to 2.5 ka cal BP) and adds new data and interpretation. In particular, we focus on research efforts devoted to refining the chronology of the sedimentary sequence in the Ze'elim Gully, a key site of paleoclimate investigation in the European Research Council project titled Reconstructing Ancient Israel. The Bronze and Iron Ages are characterized by significant changes in human culture, reflected in archaeological records in which sharp settlement oscillations over relatively short periods of time are evident. During the Early Bronze, Intermediate Bronze, Middle Bronze, and Late Bronze Ages, the Dead Sea saw significant level fluctuations, reaching in the Middle Bronze an elevation of ≃370 m below mean sea level (bmsl), and declining in the Late Bronze to below 414 m bmsl. At the end of the Late Bronze Age and upon the transition to the Iron Age, the lake recovered slightly and rose to ≃408 m bmsl. This recovery reflected the resumption of freshwater activity in the Judean Hills, which was likely accompanied by more favorable hydrological-environmental conditions that seem to have facilitated the wave of Iron Age settlement in the region.


Corresponding author

Corresponding author. Email:


Hide All
Alpert, P, Neumann, J. 1989. An ancient correlation between streamflow and distant rainfall in the Near East. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 48(4):313–4.
Bar-Matthews, M, Ayalon, A. 2004. Speleothems as palaeo-climate indicators, a case study from Soreq Cave located in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, Israel. In: Battarbee, RW, Stickley, CE, editors. Past Climate Variability through Europe and Africa. Dordrecht: Springer. p 363–91.
Barkan, E, Luz, B, Lazar, B. 2001. Dynamics of the carbon dioxide system in the Dead Sea. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 65(3):355–68.
Bartov, Y. 2004. Sedimentary fill analysis of a continental basin - The Late Pleistocene Dead Sea [PhD dissertation]. Jerusalem: Hebrew University. 114 p.
Bartov, Y, Stein, M, Enzel, Y, Agnon, A, Reches, Z. 2002. Lake levels and sequence stratigraphy of Lake Lisan, the late Pleistocene precursor of the Dead Sea. Quaternary Research 57(1):921.
Bartov, Y, Goldstein, SL, Stein, M, Enzel, Y. 2003. Catastrophic arid episodes in the Eastern Mediterranean linked with the North Atlantic Heinrich events. Geology 31(5):439–42.
Bartov, Y, Enzel, Y, Porat, N, Stein, M. 2007. Evolution of the Late Pleistocene-Holocene Dead Sea basin from sequence stratigraphy of fan deltas and lake-level reconstruction. Journal of Sedimentary Research 77(9–10):680–92.
Belmaker, R, Stein, M, Beer, J, Christl, M, Fink, D, Lazar, B. 2014. Beryllium isotopes as tracers of Lake Lisan (last Glacial Dead Sea) hydrology and the Laschamp geomagnetic excursion. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 400:233–42.
Bookman (Ken-Tor), R, Enzel, Y, Agnon, A, Stein, M. 2004. Late Holocene lake levels of the Dead Sea. Geological Society of America Bulletin 116(5–6):555–71.
Bookman, R, Bartov, Y, Enzel, Y, Stein, M. 2006. Quaternary lake levels in the Dead Sea Basin: two centuries of research. In: Enzel, Y, Agnon, A, Stein, M, editors. New Frontiers in Dead Sea Paleoenvironmental Research. Boulder: Geological Society of America Special Paper 401.
Bowman, D. 1971. Geomorphology of the shore terraces of the late Pleistocene Lisan Lake (Israel). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 9(3):183209.
Bronk Ramsey, C. 2008. Deposition models for chronological records. Quaternary Science Reviews 27(1–2):4260.
Carpenter, R. 1966. Discontinuity in Greek Civilization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
de Miroschedji, P. 1999. Yarmuth: the dawn of city-states in southern Canaan. Near Eastern Archaeology 62(1):219.
Dever, WG. 1980. New vistas on EB IV (“MBI”) horizon in Syria-Palestine. Bulletin of American Schools of Oriental Research 237:3564.
Drews, R. 1993. The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in the Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 BC. New Jersey: Princeton University.
Enzel, Y, Kadan, G, Eyal, Y. 2000. Holocene earthquakes inferred from a fan-delta sequence in the Dead Sea Graben. Quaternary Research 53(1):3448.
Enzel, Y, Bookman, R, Sharon, D, Gvirtzman, H, Dayan, U, Ziv, B, Stein, M. 2003. Late Holocene climates of the Near East deduced from Dead Sea level variations and modern regional winter rainfall. Quaternary Research 60(3):263–73.
Finkelstein, I. 1995. The date of the settlement of the Philistines in Canaan. Tel Aviv 22(2):213–39.
Finkelstein, I, Gophna, R. 1993. Settlement, demographic, and economic patterns in the highlands of Palestine in the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze periods and the beginning of urbanism. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 289:122.
Finkelstein, I, Langgut, D. 2014. Dry climate in the Middle Bronze I and its impact on settlement patterns in the Levant and beyond: new pollen evidence. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 73(2):219–34.
Finkelstein, I, Piasetzky, E. 2010. Radiocarbon dating the Iron Age in the Levant: a Bayesian model for six ceramic phases and six transitions. Antiquity 84(324):374–85.
Frumkin, A. 1997. The Holocene history of Dead Sea levels. In: Niemi, T, Ben-Avraham, Z, Gat, Y, editors. The Dead Sea—The Lake and Its Setting. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p 237–48.
Frumkin, A, Magaritz, M, Carmi, I, Zak, I. 1991. The Holocene climatic record of the salt caves of Mount Sedom Israel. The Holocene 1(3):191200.
Frumkin, A, Kadan, G, Enzel, Y, Eyal, Y. 2001. Radiocarbon chronology of the Holocene Dead Sea: attempting a regional correlation. Radiocarbon 43(3):1179–89.
Frumkin, A. 2009. Stable isotopes of a subfossil Tamarix tree from the Dead Sea region, Israel, and their implications for the Intermediate Bronze Age environmental crisis. Quaternary Research 71(3):319–28.
Gophna, R, Portugali, J. 1988. Settlement and demographic processes in Israel's coastal plain from the Chalcolithic to the Middle Bronze Age. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 269:1128.
Greenberg, R, Wilkinson, T, Sherratt, S, Bennet, J. 2011. Traveling in (world) time: transformation, commoditization, and the beginnings of urbanism in the Southern Levant. In: Wilkinson, TC, Sherratt, S, Bennet, J, editors. Interweaving Worlds: Systemic Interactions in Eurasia, 7th to 1st Millennia BC. Oxford: Oxbow Books. p 231–42.
Haase-Schramm, A, Goldstein, SL, Stein, M. 2004. U-Th dating of Lake Lisan (late Pleistocene Dead Sea) aragonite and implications for glacial East Mediterranean climate change. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 68(5):9851005.
Haliva-Cohen, A, Stein, M, Goldstein, SL, Sandler, A, Starinsky, A. 2012. Sources and transport routes of fine detritus material to the Late Quaternary Dead Sea basin. Quaternary Science Reviews 50:5570.
Hazan, N, Stein, M, Agnon, A, Marco, S, Nadel, D, Negendank, JFW, Schwab, MJ, Neev, D. 2005. The late Quaternary limnological history of Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), Israel. Quaternary Research 63(1):6077.
Hirschfeld, Y. 2006. The archaeology of the Dead Sea valley in the Late Hellenistic and Early Roman periods. GSA Special Papers 401:215–29.
Issar, A. 1998. Climate change and history during the Holocene in the Eastern Mediterranean region. In: Issar, A, Brown, N, editors. Water, Environment and Society in Times of Climate Change. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic. p 113–28.
Issar, AS, Zohar, M. 2007. Climate Change: Environment and History of the Near East. Dordrecht: Springer.
Kadan, G. 1997. Evidence of Dead Sea lake level fluctuations and recent tectonism from the Holocene fan-delta of Nahal Darga . Beer Sheba: Ben Gurion University.
Kagan, EJ, Stein, M, Agnon, A, Bronk Ramsey, C. 2010. Paleoearthquakes as anchor points in Bayesian radiocarbon deposition models: a case study from the Dead Sea. Radiocarbon 54(3):1018–26.
Kagan, E, Stein, M, Agnon, A, Neumann, F. 2011. Intrabasin paleoearthquake and quiescence correlation of the Late Holocene Dead Sea. Journal of Geophysical Research 116:B04311.
Kaniewski, D, Paulissen, E, Van Campo, E, Weiss, H, Otto, T, Bretschneider, J, Van Lerberghe, K. 2010. Late second-early first millennium BC abrupt climate changes in coastal Syria and their possible significance for the history of the Eastern Mediterranean. Quaternary Research 74(2):207–15.
Kaniewski, D, van Campo, E, Guiot, J, Le Burel, S, Otto, T, Baeteman, C. 2013. Environmental roots of the Late Bronze Age crisis. PLoS ONE 8:e71004.
Ken-Tor, R, Agnon, A, Enzel, Y, Stein, M, Marco, S, Negendank, JFW. 2001a. High-resolution geological record of historic earthquakes in the Dead Sea basin. Journal of Geophysical Research 106(B2):2221–34.
Ken-Tor, R, Stein, M, Enzel, Y, Agnon, A, Marco, S, Negendank, JFW. 2001b. Precision of calibrated radiocarbon ages of historic earthquakes in the Dead Sea Basin. Radiocarbon 43(3):1371–82.
Klein, C, Flohn, H. 1987. Contributions to the knowledge of the fluctuations of the Dead Sea level. Theoretical and Applied Climatology 38(3):151–6.
Kushnir, Y, Stein, M. 2010. North Atlantic influence on 19th–20th century rainfall in the Dead Sea watershed, teleconnections with the Sahel, and implication for Holocene climate fluctuations. Quaternary Science Reviews 29(27–28):3843–60.
Langgut, D, Finkelstein, I, Litt, T. 2013. Climate and the Late Bronze collapse: new evidence from the southern Levant. Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University 40(2):149–75.
Langgut, D, Neumann, FH, Stein, M, Wagner, A, Kagan, EJ, Boaretto, E, Finkelstein, I. 2014. Dead Sea pollen record and history of human activity in the Judean Highlands (Israel) from the Intermediate Bronze into the Iron Ages (≃2500–500 BCE). Palynology 38(2):280302.
Langgut, D, Finkelstein, I, Litt, T, Neumann, FH, Stein, M. 2015. Vegetation and climate changes during the Bronze and Iron Ages (≃3600–600 BCE) in the southern Levant based on palynological records. Radiocarbon 57(2):217–35. (this issue)
Litt, T, Ohlwein, C, Neumann, FH, Hense, A, Stein, M. 2012. Holocene climate variability in the Levant from the Dead Sea pollen record. Quaternary Science Reviews 49:95105.
Machlus, M, Enzel, Y, Goldstein, SL, Marco, S, Stein, M. 2000. Reconstructing low levels of Lake Lisan by correlating fan-delta and lacustrine deposits. Quaternary International 73(4):137–44.
Mayewski, PA, Rohling, EE, Curt Stager, J, Karlén, W, Maasch, KA, David Meeker, L, Meyerson, EA, Gasse, F, van Kreveld, S, Holmgren, K, Lee-Thorp, J, Rosqvist, G, Rack, F, Staubwasser, M, Schneider, RR, Steig, EJ. 2004. Holocene climate variability. Quaternary Research 62(3):243–55.
Migowski, C. 2001. Untersuchungen laminierter holozäner Sedimente aus dem Toten Meer: Rekonstruktion von Paläoklima und -seismizität . Universität Potsdam. 99 p.
Migowski, C, Agnon, A, Bookman, R, Negendank, JFW, Stein, M. 2004. Recurrence pattern of Holocene earthquakes along the Dead Sea transform revealed by varve-counting and radiocarbon dating of lacustrine sediments. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 222(1):301–14.
Migowski, C, Stein, M, Prasad, S, Negendank, JFW, Agnon, A. 2006. Holocene climate variability and cultural evolution in the Near East from the Dead Sea sedimentary record. Quaternary Research 66(3):421–31.
Neev, D, Emery, KO. 1995. The Destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah, and Jericho. Geological, Climatological, and Archaeological Background. New York: Oxford University Press. 175 p.
Neugebauer, I, Brauer, A, Schwab, MJ, Waldmann, ND, Enzel, Y, Kitagawa, H, Torfstein, A, Frank, U, Dulski, P, Agnon, A, Ariztegui, D, Ben-Avraham, Z, Goldstein, S, Stein, M. 2014. Lithology of the long sediment record recovered by the ICDP Dead Sea Deep Drilling Project (DSDDP). Quaternary Science Reviews 102:149–65.
Neugebauer, I, Brauer, A, Schwab, M, Dulski, P, Frank, U, Hadzhiivanova, E, Kitagawa, H, Litt, T, Schiebel, V, Taha, N, Waldmann, N. In press. Evidences for two centennial dry periods at ≃3300 and ≃2800 years BP as reconstructed from the Dead Sea. The Holocene.
Neumann, FH, Kagan, EJ, Schwab, MJ, Stein, M. 2007. Palynology, sedimentology and palaeoecology of the late Holocene Dead Sea. Quaternary Science Reviews 26(11–12):1476–98.
Neumann, J, Parpola, S. 1987. Climatic change and the eleventh-tenth-century eclipse of Assyria and Babylonia. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 46(3):161–82.
Offer, ZY, Goossens, D. 2004. Thirteen years of aeolian dust dynamics in a desert region (Negev desert, Israel): analysis of horizontal and vertical dust flux, vertical dust distribution and dust grain size. Journal of Arid Environments 57(1):117–40.
Reimer, PJ, Bard, E, Bayliss, A, Beck, JW, Blackwell, PG, Bronk Ramsey, C, Buck, CE, Cheng, H, Edwards, RL, Friedrich, M, Grootes, PM, Guilderson, TP, Haflidason, H, Hajdas, I, Hatté, C, Heaton, TJ, Hoffman, DL, Hogg, AG, Hughen, KA, Kaiser, KF, Kromer, B, Manning, SW, Niu, M, Reimer, RW, Richards, DA, Scott, EM, Southon, JR, Staff, RA, Turney, CSM, van der Plicht, J. 2013. IntCal13 and Marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0–50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55(4):1869–87.
Rosen, AM. 2007. Civilizing Climate: Social Responses to Climate Change in the Ancient Near East. Lanham: Rowman Altamira.
Schwab, MJ, Neumann, F, Litt, T, Negendank, JF, Stein, M. 2004. Holocene palaeoecology of the Golan Heights (Near East): investigation of lacustrine sediments from Birkat Ram crater lake. Quaternary Science Reviews 23(16):1723–31.
Stager, LE. 1995. The impact of the Sea Peoples (1185–1050 BCE). In: Levy, TE, editor. The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land. London: Bloomsbury Academic. p 332–48.
Stein, M. 2001. The sedimentary and geochemical record of Neogene-Quaternary water bodies in the Dead Sea Basin – inferences for the regional paleoclimatic history. Journal of Paleolimnology 26(3):271–82.
Stein, M. 2014a. The evolution of Neogene-Quaternary water-bodies in the Dead Sea rift valley. In: Garfunkel, Z, Ben-Avraham, Z, Kagan, E, editors. Dead Sea Transform Fault System: Reviews. Heidelberg: Springer. p 279316.
Stein, M. 2014b. Late Quaternary limnological history of Lake Kinneret. In: Zohary, T, Sukenik, A, Berman, T, Nishri, A, editors. Lake Kinneret: Ecology and Management. Dordrecht: Springer. p 3958.
Stein, M, Starinsky, A, Katz, A, Goldstein, SL, Machlus, M, Schramm, A. 1997. Strontium isotopic, chemical, and sedimentological evidence for the evolution of Lake Lisan and the Dead Sea. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 61(18):3975–92.
Stein, M, Torfstein, A, Gavrieli, I, Yechieli, Y. 2010. Abrupt aridities and salt deposition in the post-glacial Dead Sea and their North Atlantic connection. Quaternary Science Reviews 29(3–4):567–75.
Stein, M, Ben-Avraham, Z, Goldstein, SL. 2011. Dead Sea deep cores: a window into past climate and seismicity. Eos, Transactions AGU 92(49):453–4.
Stern, O. 2010. Geochemistry, Hydrology and Paleo-Hydrology of Ein Qedem Spring System. GSI/17/2010. Jerusalem: Geological Survey of Israel.
Stuiver, M, Polach, HA. 1977. Discussion: reporting of 14C data. Radiocarbon 19(3):355–63.
Toffolo, MB, Arie, E, Martin, MAS, Boaretto, E, Finkelstein, I. 2014. Absolute chronology of Megiddo, Israel, in the late Bronze and Iron Ages: high-resolution radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon 56(1):221–44.
Torfstein, A, Haase-Schramm, A, Waldmann, N, Kolodny, Y, Stein, M. 2009. U-series and oxygen isotope chronology of the mid-Pleistocene Lake Amora (Dead Sea basin). Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 73(9):2603–30.
Torfstein, A, Goldstein, SL, Stein, M, Enzel, Y. 2013a. Impacts of abrupt climate changes in the Levant from Last Glacial Dead Sea levels. Quaternary Science Reviews 69:17.
Torfstein, A, Goldstein, SL, Kagan, EJ, Stein, M. 2013b. Integrated multi-site U-Th chronology of the last glacial Lake Lisan. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 104:210–31.
Torfstein, A, Goldstein, S, Kushnir, Y, Enzel, Y, Haug, G, Stein, M. 2015. Dead Sea drawdown and monsoonal impacts in the Levant during the last interglacial. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 412:235–44.
Vaks, A, Bar-Matthews, M, Matthews, A, Ayalon, A, Frumkin, A. 2010. Middle-Late Quaternary paleoclimate of northern margins of the Saharan-Arabian Desert: reconstruction from speleothems of Negev Desert, Israel. Quaternary Science Reviews 29(19):2647–62.
Waldmann, N, Starinsky, A, Stein, M. 2007. Primary carbonates and Ca-chloride brines as monitors of a paleo-hydrological regime in the Dead Sea basin. Quaternary Science Reviews 26(17–18):2219–28.
Waldmann, N, Stein, M, Ariztegui, D, Starinsky, A. 2009. Stratigraphy, depositional environments and level reconstruction of the last interglacial Lake Samra in the Dead Sea basin. Quaternary Research 72(1):115.
Ward, WA, Joukowsky, M. 1992. The Crisis Years: The 12th Century BC: From Beyond the Danube to the Tigris. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt.
Weiss, B. 1982. The decline of Late Bronze Age civilization as a possible response to climatic change. Climatic Change 4(2):173–98.
Yechieli, Y, Magaritz, M, Levy, Y, Weber, U, Kafri, U, Woelfli, W, Bonani, G. 1993. Late Quaternary Geological History of the Dead Sea Area, Israel. Quaternary Research 39(1):5967.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed