Jeopardy! category: PEAKS & VALLEYS (21-11-2014)
$2000 clue: The Great Rift Valley reaches its northeasternmost extension, between the Lebanon & Anti-Lebanon mountains in this valley
The gist: What a narrow worldview I have – I always thought the Great Rift Valley started and ended in East Africa.
Apparently, however, the Great Rift Valley actually stretches all the way from the African Great Lakes to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. Actually, that’s because what was originally labelled the Great Rift Valley in the 19th century is actually composed of several separate (but related) rift systems, including the famous East African Rift where Lucy, Richard and Mary Leakey’s world-famous Australopithecus skeleton, was found. But further north, the Dead Sea Transform runs from the Red Sea, along the Jordan River, through Lebanon and Syria, and right up to southern Turkey. Aside from coursing along the boundaries between several countries (Israel/Jordan and Palestine [West Bank]/Jordan, and Lebanon/Syria), it’s also the boundary between the African and Arabian tectonic plates.
The Bekaa Valley runs along the western side of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range, which forms the majority of the country’s border with Syria – it’s the rift between the two mountains mentioned in the clue. Thanks to its mild climate and moderate rainfall, it’s been the region’s most important agricultural area for millennia, feeding the Roman Levant in the first centuries BCE and CE. The region became so important and prosperous that construction of one of the largest temple complexes of the Roman Empire was undertaken at Baalbek (“Heliopolis,” or “city of the sun” to the Romans) in the region then known as Syria. The Temple of Jupiter-Baal, a syncretization of the chief gods of Rome and the nearby Phoenician city of Tyre, was the largest in the Roman world, and it was paired with only slightly less impressive temples to Venus and Bacchus, the latter of which still stands almost in its entirety today. It continued to be very important to the region’s later ruling powers, including the Umayyad Caliphate, the Ottomans, and since its independence in November 1943, modern Lebanon.
Today, the valley’s inhabitant cultivate a wide range of crops, while shepherds and goatherds feed their flocks in the drier, grassy north. It’s perhaps best known for being the centre of Lebanon’s wine industry, producing over six million bottles a year. In the recent past, it has also been noted as a centre of cannabis and poppy growth for the illicit production of hashish and opium, especially during the Lebanese Civil War.
The clue: I’d heard of all the mountains but neither of the valleys in this category – maybe that says something about human psychology, and maybe not.* Whatever the reason, none of the Tournament of Champsions ontestants knew this one either, which is pretty good evidence that this was a toughie, bolstered by the lack of any sort of hint in the clue.
In Jeopardy!: Nor very surprisingly, this is just the Bekaa Valley’s third clue in the J!Archive – all the final clues in their category – and the just the second with the valley itself as the correct response. The other such clue emphasized the valley’s agricultural importance, while the third (for which “Lebanon” was the correct response) also mentioned its agriculture, but mainly emphasized that it’s in a “small Mideastern country,” which, coupled with its Arabic-looking name, might point a clever player to Lebanon. Overall, not likely to come up again too soon in the future.
*Actually, I’m not sure I’ve heard of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains either, but that was less central to the clue.