W.P. 4: Integrating the general and the specific


During the 12th c. B.C., the Mediterranean gradually stabilised again, resulting in a situation that would remain more or less the norm till Alexander the Great, in the East, and Rome, in the West, would reorganise societal systems and lay the basis for Western civilisation. What exactly triggered developments in the preceding period, around 1200 B.C., remains one of the most historically intriguing and archaeologically attested cultural changes in history and this project attempts to offer some answers. Seen against the long durée, society in general survived the collapse but at local level, substantial differences can be noted between the different regions with de-urbanisation, loss of complexity, disappearance of literacy, monumental art, international trade, etc. (Middleton 2012).

The prior existence of an elaborate state apparatus in the different regions most certainly played a role in the potential survival of the social systems as shown by Egypt, but was certainly no guarantee of resilience as the Hittite empire, Ugarit and the Mycenaean kingdoms attest. In recent literature, generalisations based on historical examples invoke charisma, ideology, and the perception of community, rather than institutions, as effective in binding together some human groups. Transformations are not necessarily bad, and from an evolutionary perspective, certain crisis situations inspire remarkable adaptability. Anticipating multifaceted interpretations of data derived from multidisciplinary investigations of local phenomena with broader, regional implications regarding a series of events multifarious in both causes and effects we must avoid easy monocausal interpretations, ‘Sea Peoples’ or otherwise.

This WP therefore intends to form a critical exchange forum between the different research groups. As such, it examines how the different approaches affect and inflect on each other and how, in terms of practical collaboration, the results can be meaningfully integrated both at a synchronic and diachronic level, but also different scales. It returns to the parameters discussed within WP 1 and explores their reflection by archaeological and historical sources and this at different levels. First, it attempts to identify the congruity of basic historical observations. Two examples: do sediment cores and pollen analyses allow the identification of climatic changes on 13th c. B.C. Crete and if yes, is this echoed by written sources in the Near East? And vice versa, do reports of migrations in particular time slots in the Near East agree with an increase of foreign objects in the Aegean? Secondly, it attempts to look for evidence to allow the extrapolation of the respective results from one region to another, taking into account issues of subject, scale and definition. Can the situation as reflected by archaeology in an insular situation be related to wider historical developments as illustrated by written sources in contemporary societies? Can we extrapolate the historical situations as reconstructed from the written sources in the Eastern Mediterranean to other regions without texts?

This WP will also attempt to inscribe itself into an international forum of research on the same time frame which will allow certain regions to be studied (especially the Western Mediterranean, Cyprus, Israel and Mainland Greece – areas that will be only examined within this ARC at a general level through undergraduate and graduate research).

Additionally, this WP provides a setting to discuss the relevance of this project for contemporary society. In an actual context of rapid and global changes, in which crisis situations of various kinds are encountered, understanding the mechanisms that lay at the basis of these developments is relevant. Judging from recent literature in which historical cases are used to inform present-day policy makers (e.g. Dayton 2004; Vanderbroeck 2012; Zhang et al. 2011; Butzer 2012), meaningful lessons can be learned, even if one avoids ‘alarmist literature’. Archaeology and History as disciplines can play a vital role in public education by pinpointing historical parallels and past mistakes or provide solutions. The complex socio-political configurations which existed during the Late Bronze Age collapsed or were transformed, a situation which can happen again. Can we learn something from this?

Actions & Deliverables:

  • Three-monthly follow-up internal seminars at which all researchers involved concentrate on the methodological themes that have been treated in the crisis studies WP and apply these to 13th c. B.C. sources (e.g. environmental degradation: what is the evidence in the archaeological sources (cores) and how does it agree with the written sources (famine); ‘warchitecture’, migration etc.). International experts may be asked to attend but it is basically an exchange seminar. This will lead to regular internal reports which will be put on the website of the project and at least one co-authored A1 publication based on these exchanges.
  • Organisation of a 4-day International conference on the 13th c. B.C. in the Mediterranean, late in the project. The aim of this meeting will be to bring together colleagues from different areas of the Mediterranean (east-central-west) etc. to learn about recent discoveries relevant to the theme of the project. Publication of proceedings.
  • Undergraduate and graduate dissertations (funded by other means) on related topics that relate to the 13th c. B.C. situation but fall outside the ARC’s immediate concerns and case-studies.
  • Wider action: Part of this WP takes place within a much larger project of an international archaeological consortium within the European COST-programme, a forum that aims at bringing together a wide range of European and international researchers either working on or stationed within the larger Mediterranean but specifically focussing on the end of the Bronze Age, c. 1350–1250 B.C. Partners are J. Bretschneider (KULeuven), R. Jung (U. Salzburg), A. Kanta (Central Crete Archaeological Service), M. Iacovou (U. of Cyprus), J. Maran (U. of Heidelberg), A.-L. Schallin (U. of Gothenburg), E. Borgna (U. Udine), I. Moschos (Greek Archaeological Service) and M. Paciarelli (U. of Naples). This project was introduced first as a JRP (HERA) in May 2012 and formed the basis for a COST action in June 2012, re-submitted after positive evaluation in September 2012. Result pending. Even if not successful, the application will be improved and re-submitted.
  • This WP will also coordinate actions in the different WPs, concern itself with Reporting and Finances, develop a website, provide support to the entire project through the appointment of a polyvalent research assistant who will provide help in administrative tasks, finances, reporting, website development and maintenance, fieldwork assistance, GIS and topography, scanning, aid-in publication, environmental studies.


  • Three-monthly follow-up internal seminar from November 2013 onwards (3/year, 12 in total).
  • International conference on the late 13th c. in the Mediterranean in November.