Long before the establishment of the modern state of Israel or even the biblical Kingdom of Israel, the area was inhabited by various ancient cultures whose relics have left indelible marks on the landscape.
The Pre-Israelite period can be divided into several sub-periods, including the Prehistoric period, the Chalcolithic period, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age I. These epochs witnessed the rise and fall of several cultures and civilizations in the region, paving the way for the emergence of the Israelite identity.
The Prehistoric period (prior to 4500 BCE) witnessed the first human settlements in the Levant region. Evidence of these early settlers has been found in the form of flint tools and pottery shards. The Natufian culture (12,800 to 9,500 BCE) was one of the earliest known cultures in the region, marked by semi-sedentary settlements and the beginnings of agriculture. This period laid the groundwork for the Chalcolithic period (4500 to 3300 BCE), during which the inhabitants of the region began using copper tools, and there was a significant increase in the complexity of social organization and economic life.
The Bronze Age (3300 to 1200 BCE) in the region is characterized by the development of city-states, the emergence of writing systems, and the increasing importance of trade networks. Archaeological evidence suggests that Jerusalem was already a fortified city during the Early Bronze Age (3300 to 2300 BCE), but it is in the Middle Bronze Age (2300 to 1550 BCE) that the city truly began to flourish as a prominent center of the ancient world. Canaanite city-states, such as Hazor, Megiddo, and Jerusalem, became part of an extensive network of trade routes that connected them to the civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Anatolia.
During the Late Bronze Age (1550 to 1200 BCE), Canaan was heavily influenced by the Egyptian New Kingdom, which maintained garrisons and exercised political control over the region. This period also saw the development of the distinctive Canaanite culture, including a unique religious pantheon and artistic expressions, as well as the spread of the Proto-Canaanite alphabet, a precursor to the Phoenician and Hebrew scripts.
The transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age I (1200 to 1000 BCE) was marked by widespread destruction and the decline of the Canaanite city-states. This period is often associated with the migration of the so-called “Sea Peoples,” a confederation of marauding groups that destabilized much of the eastern Mediterranean. In the midst of this chaos, new ethnic and cultural groups began to emerge in the region, including the Israelites.
The subsequent Iron Age I saw the gradual consolidation of the Israelite identity and culture, as evidenced by inscriptions, pottery, and other archaeological artifacts. The Bible attributes the founding of the Kingdom of Israel to the Israelite conquest of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, but archaeological evidence is more complex and nuanced. The emergence of the Israelites as a distinct ethnic and cultural group was likely a protracted process that involved a combination of migration, assimilation, and cultural differentiation from the surrounding Canaanite population.