The urban legend is that Jews were nomadic herders living in hot dry lands and that the agricultural components in Torah come from a late period. This seems reasonable while you accept the urban legend that pigs don’t thrive in southwest Asia due to hot dry conditions.
Now that you know that the region was moist enough for the Holy Land to grow enough grain for Merneptah to pillage, and that Israelites had access to pigs for food, just like everybody around them, and that wild pigs can survive in a seven-year drought, you have to find a way for the highland settlements to be self-sustaining without using pigs for food.
Because they were self-sustaining. That’s the story of the local pottery. They did not trade pottery with the lowlands, they didn’t even bring lowland pottery with them at the start, far as we can tell.
What’s more, the local pottery of the southern highlands toward the Negev differs from pottery in the Bet Shean region just across the border from where Bashan used to be. So there was little or no trade between south and north. And yet all of the highlands shared this no-pig feature.
Each highland region supported up to a dozen villages of varying sizes, from 2000 down to 200 persons. They had areas from 2 down to .2 hectares. To survive a couple of centuries on the same site requires both grazing and growth areas. That is, these highlanders practiced mixed agriculture.
Consider: each sheep needs about 0.1 hectare of grazing area so the smallest villages could graze 2 sheep. It takes 6 modern sheep to create one three-piece woolen suit. Modern sheep have been bred for more wool; sheep in the past produced less. A sheep now produces between 8 and 10 pounds of wool a year; let’s say 4 pounds in ancient times.
It takes about a day to adequately wash a fleece, according to my research, and that’s when you have a mechanical washer. It takes up to another day to pick out all the vegetable matter and coarsely comb the fleece. It takes another day or so to card the entire fleece into roving, and up to 80 hours to spin a whole fleece’s roving into yarn using the ancient drop spindle. You can dye the yarn at this point but you can also dye it in the wool and that requires boiling the wool with the liquid dye. Setting up the warp on a loom takes several hours, and then you do the weaving. It takes up to 11 10-hour days to process one fleece into fabric and then it has to be tailored to the person who is going to wear it.
If you have a flock of 25 sheep, you wind up with enough robes or blankets for 25 people, but it takes up to 300 days to process all the wool and it leaves the woman of the house barely 6 hours a day for duties like cooking, laundry, and child care including nursing. It assumes that the man of the house spends most of his time watching out for the sheep and shearing them. With only 0.2 hectares of land, you cannot keep enough sheep to have new clothing every year. You cannot eat mutton; you also cannot eat all the lambs produced and sustain your herd of sheep while it is being poached, or attacked by wolves, or dying of old age.
Now, it’s possible that the smallest villages only farmed their land and traded surplus produce to larger settlements for wool. But that means they had no source of protein. Unless they kept goats. A goat uses the same size grazing territory as a sheep and will also eat some refuse. Modern goats produce enough milk each day for 10 pounds of cheese; let’s say the ancient goats produced 5 pounds. But to produce milk, a goat has to breed whenever she’s receptive, and that means you have to keep one nanny and one billy goat. You can eat the kid so that you have all the milk for yourself, but you can’t do that every year and sustain your herd.
It’s cold in the Israeli hills at night in the winter; snow falls some years, especially in the north. No matter how you look at it, the highland settlements had to practice mixed agriculture or starve and go naked.
Have I lost my thread? Let’s round it up next week.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved