Quaternary influx of proximal coarse-grained dust altered circum-Mediterranean soil productivity and impacted early human culture

Rivka Amit, Yehouda Enzel, Onn Crouvi

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10 Scopus citations


The carbonate mountainous landscape around most of the Mediterranean is karstic, is almost barren, and has thin soils. Erosion of preexisting thicker soils is a common hypothesis used to explain this bare terrain. An alternative hypothesis is that in the Mediterranean region, thin soils are attributed to long-distance transport of very fine, silty clay dust, resulting in low mass accumulation rates. Even if accreted over millennia, such dust cannot produce thick, highly productive soils. A pronounced anomaly in the Mediterranean is the thick, more productive soil of the semiarid southern Levant (SL). These soils contain order-of-magnitude coarser grains than the characteristic thin soils in the Mediterranean and a high proportion (>70%) of coarse silt quartz sourced from the nearby Sinai-Negev erg, the primary contributor of the Negev loess. This proximal intense dust supply produced greatly thicker soils. However, influx of coarse silt quartz loess is a geologically recent phenomenon in the SL. Pre-loess (i.e., older than 200 ka, pre-coarse-silt influx) SL soils are much finer and were generated by long-distance dust from the Sahara and Arabia like most other Mediterranean soils. Thus, we hypothesize that the geologically recent Negev Desert loess interval caused a drastic change in mountainous soil properties within the SL, enriching the Levant's ecology and affecting early human development. The high amounts of coarse silt deposited on the landscape have contributed to the unique sustainable agriculture in the SL, which assisted in transforming the Levant into “the land of milk and honey” and a cradle of civilizations.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)61-65
Number of pages5
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2021

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