The Project

A World in Crisis?

Archaeological and Epigraphical Perspectives on the Late Bronze Age (13th c. B.C.) Mediterranean Systems’ Collapse: a case study approach.

The years surrounding 1200 B.C. were, for the Eastern Mediterranean, a period of turmoil and crisis, a pivotal period during which significant Aegean, Cypriot, Anatolian and Levantine centres were devastated and the Hittite empire collapsed, developments variously blamed on economic or environmental disasters, invasions or social unrest. Egypt was attacked by a coalition of people known from contemporary epigraphic sources as the Sea Peoples, a loose confederation of ethnic units often linked with the Aegean and Central Mediterranean. In the Aegean basin, including coastal Anatolia, there follows a long period of abandonment, cultural stagnation and decreased social complexity, conventionally called the Dark Ages (1200-800 B.C.), during which literacy, monumental and figurative art and complex socio-political systems almost entirely disappeared. However, this epoch also brings a series of innovations in material culture and social and political organisation that herald the transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age, particularly in the Levant. Still, what precisely triggered off these developments remains a major historical problem. The present project is a bottom-up approach proposing to examine one archaeological case-study in full detail – the island of Crete during the 13th century B.C. – set against the historical framework provided by the written sources of contemporary Eastern Mediterranean societies. We focus on the period that precedes and culminates in the turmoil and a region which may have felt its first effects and/or contributed to it. One advantage of such an approach is that it avoids traditional, circular arguments since the implications of the outcomes of the respective sources (archaeological for Crete, written for the Eastern Mediterranean) are not considered together till the final stages of the project and even then their relevance will be demonstrated rather than assumed. It implies on the one hand detailed site-based analyses and multi-faceted investigations of the extant archaeological and environmental sources of 13thc. B.C. Crete to fine-tune developments both from a diachronic and synchronic point of view, and on the other hand, a characterisation of Eastern Mediterranean sources with a specific focus on the possible preconditions or inciting incidents that may have led to the social instability and vulnerability resulting in the devastating disruptions and dispersals of populations that so wracked the region at the end of the century. Both approaches take place against the background of a re-examination of the relevance of crisis studies for archaeology and historical studies. In a period of rapid and global change, the awareness of specific historical contexts that ultimately shaped historical processes that are still relevant nowadays serves to underline archaeology’s contribution to present societal discourse.