Rather than concentrating on the situation during the 12th c. B.C., the present project takes a different approach and proposes to examine general conditions during the 13th c. B.C. – the period preceding and culminating in the turmoil – in order to understand the historical processes responsible. Given the scale, magnitude and ultimate impact of the changes and the transformations that follow, there should be recoverable archaeological and written correlates or indices in the period before the collapse. We hence look for evidence to back up the statement by Kaniewski et al. (2011, 1) that there was a ‘long and complex spiral of decline’ by looking at the situation in Anatolia, the Levant and the Aegean well before 1200 B.C., a time period mostly considered as quiet and prosperous.

Earlier investigations into the LBA/EIA transitional period (the ‘crisis’) have focussed both spatially and chronologically on the endpoint or impact zone of the crisis, to wit the migrations, battles and destructions in the Levant and Egypt in the 12th c. B.C., particularly as recorded in epigraphic sources, though employing some archaeological data as well. We propose to examine the beginnings and development of the crisis and so our focus is chronologically earlier and spatially to the west and north. While the information from the Levant, Egypt and (perhaps especially) the Hittite homeland of central Anatolia are essential for providing context, we believe that the crisis unfolded with a clear directionality explicit in the texts and implicit in the material record of those regions and that in this case the trouble came from the west.

The aims of the ARC also take into account the existing expertise within the Académie Louvain although foreign experts will be integrated at specific levels, either as invited lecturers or as postdocs. Because of this expertise and available archaeological evidence, we concentrate on the one hand on Crete which, thanks to its location in the middle of the Mediterranean, undoubtedly witnessed at least some of the events in question, and on the other hand on the written sources of Eastern Mediterranean palace societies, complex organisms whose structure, antiquity and complexity, provided resilience against unforeseen events. The 13th c. B.C., as evidenced by e.g. the international style in art (Feldman 2002) and the intensive superregional contacts (illustrated by the Cape Ghelidonia shipwreck but also the correspondence between royal houses) has been seen as the time of a thriving world system (Van de Mieroop 2007), which was then suddenly cut short; but perhaps a more nuanced picture of this ‘world system’ would reveal characteristics identifying it as rather the first stage of collapse – an economic supernova of sorts.

The specific aims of this ARC are to provide answers to the following five questions:

  1. Are archaeological, environmental and historical data reliable crisis indicators? If so, what kind of data corresponds to what kind of crisis? (WP 1)
  2. Does the Cretan archaeological and palaeo-environmental record allow the recognition of a crisis situation during the 13th c. B.C.? If so, can we prove the diachronic and synchronic aspects of such a situation? (WP 2)
  3. Does an analysis of written sources of Eastern Mediterranean societies of the 13th c. B.C. allow the recognition of a crisis situation in one or more regions? If so, can we detect interrelations between these situations? (WP 3)
  4. How can we combine and make comparable the results from one region to the results for other regions in order to offer a single explanatory scenario? (WP 4)
  5. Is the Late Bronze Age situation relevant in the present context? Can a better understanding of a large scale systemic collapse of complex socio-political configurations improve a universal methodology for crisis recognition and prediction? (WP 4)

The four work packages are on the one hand thematically differentiated, on the other hand take into account the variety of primary sources.