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4: The Bronze Age and the Iron Age
- Christopher Brooks
- Full-time faculty (History) at Portland Community College
The Bronze Age is a term used to describe a period in the ancient world from about 3000 BCE to 1100 BCE. That period saw the emergence and evolution of increasingly sophisticated ancient states, some of which evolved into real empires. It was a period in which long-distance trade networks and diplomatic exchanges between states became permanent aspects of political, economic, and cultural life in the eastern Mediterranean region. It was, in short, the period during which civilization itself spread and prospered across the area.
The period is named after one of its key technological bases: the crafting of bronze. Bronze is an alloy of tin and copper. An alloy is a combination of metals created when the metals bond at the molecular level to create a new material entirely. Needless to say, historical peoples had no idea why, when they took tin and copper, heated them up, and beat them together on an anvil they created something much harder and more durable than either of their starting metals. Some innovative smith did figure it out, and in the process ushered in an array of new possibilities.
Bronze was important because it revolutionized warfare and, to a lesser extent, agriculture. The harder the metal, the deadlier the weapons created from it and the more effective the tools. Agriculturally, bronze plows allowed greater crop yields. Militarily, bronze weapons completely shifted the balance of power in warfare an army equipped with bronze spear and arrowheads and bronze armor was much more effective than one wielding wooden, copper, or obsidian implements.
An example of bronze&rsquos impact is, as noted in the previous chapter, the expansionism of the New Kingdom. The New Kingdom of Egypt conquered more territory than any earlier Egyptian empire. It was able to do this in part because of its mastery of bronze-making and the effectiveness of its armies as a result. The New Kingdom also demonstrates another noteworthy aspect of bronze: it was expensive to make and expensive to distribute to soldiers, meaning that only the larger and richer empires could afford it on a large scale. Bronze tended to stack the odds in conflicts against smaller city-states and kingdoms, because it was harder for them to afford to field whole armies outfitted with bronze weapons. Ultimately, the power of bronze contributed to the creation of a whole series of powerful empires in North Africa and the Middle East, all of which were linked together by diplomacy, trade, and (at times) war.
- 4.1: The Bronze Age States There were four major regions along the shores of, or near to, the eastern Mediterranean that hosted the major states of the Bronze Age: Greece, Anatolia, Canaan and Mesopotamia, and Egypt. Those regions were close enough to one another that ongoing long-distance trade was possible. While wars were relatively frequent, most interactions between the states and cultures of the time were peaceful, revolving around trade and diplomacy.
- 4.2: The Collapse of the Bronze Age The Bronze Age at its height witnessed several large empires and peoples in regular contact with one another through both trade and war. Most of the states fell into ruin between 1200 - 1100 BCE. The great empires collapsed, a collapse that it took about 100 years to recover from, with new empires arising in the aftermath. There is still no definitive explanation for why this collapse occurred, in part because the states that had been keeping records stopped doing so as their empires collapsed.
- 4.3: The Iron Age he decline of the Bronze Age led to the beginning of the Iron Age. Bronze was dependent on functioning trade networks: tin was only available in large quantities from mines in what is today Afghanistan, so the collapse of long-distance trade made bronze impossible to manufacture. Iron, however, is a useful metal by itself without the need of alloys (although early forms of steel - iron alloyed with carbon, which is readily available everywhere - were around almost from the start of the Iron Age
- 4.4: Iron Age Cultures and States The Phoenicians were not a particularly warlike people. of their various accomplishments, none was to have a more lasting influence than that of their writing system. As early as 1300 BCE, building on the work of earlier Canaanites, the Phoenicians developed a syllabic alphabet that formed the basis of Greek and Roman writing much later. Another was a practice - the use of currency - originating in the remnants of the Hittite lands.
- 4.5: Empires of the Iron Age The period of political breakdown in Mesopotamia following the collapse of the Bronze Age ended in about 880 BCE when the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II began a series of wars to conquer Mesopotamia and Canaan. Over the next century, the (Neo-)Assyrians became the mightiest empire yet seen in the Middle East. They combined terror tactics with various technological and organizational innovations.
- 4.6: Ancient Hebrew History The Hebrews, a people who first created a kingdom in the ancient land of Canaan, were among the most important cultures of the western world, comparable to the ancient Greeks or Romans. Unlike the Greeks and Romans, the ancient Hebrews were not known for being scientists or philosophers or conquerors. It was their religion, Judaism, that proved to be of crucial importance in world history, both for its own sake and for being the religious root of Christianity and Islam.
- 4.7: The Kings and Kingdoms The Hebrew kingdom itself was fairly rich, thanks to its good spot on trade routes and the existence of gold mines, but Solomon's ongoing taxation and labor demands were such that resentment developed among the Hebrews over time. After his death, fully ten out of the twelve tribes broke off to form their own kingdom, retaining the name Israel, while the smaller remnant of the kingdom took on the name Judah.
- 4.8: The Yahwist Religion and Judaism As the Hebrews became more powerful, their religion changed dramatically. A tradition of prophets - the Prophetic Movement - arose among certain people who sought to represent the poorer and more beleaguered member of the community, calling for a return to the more communal and egalitarian society of the past. The Prophetic Movement claimed that the Hebrews should worship Yahweh exclusively, and that Yahweh had a special relationship with the Hebrews that set Him apart as a God.
- 4.9: Conclusion What all of the cultures considered in this chapter have in common is that they were more dynamic and, in the case of the empires, more powerful than earlier Mesopotamian (and even Egyptian) states. In a sense, the empires of the Bronze Age and, especially, the Iron Age represented different experiments in how to build and maintain larger economic systems and political units than had been possible earlier.
Thumbnail: Death mask, known as the Mask of Agamemnon, Grave Circle A, Mycenae, 16th century BCE, probably the most famous artifact of Mycenaean Greece. (CC BY 2.5 Xuan Che via Wikipedia).
Here, we report genome-wide data analyses from 110 ancient Near Eastern individuals spanning the Late Neolithic to Late Bronze Age, a period characterized by intense interregional interactions for the Near East. We find that 6 th millennium BCE populations of North/Central Anatolia and the Southern Caucasus shared mixed ancestry on a genetic cline that formed during the Neolithic between Western Anatolia and regions in today's Southern Caucasus/Zagros. During the Late Chalcolithic and/or the Early Bronze Age, more than half of the Northern Levantine gene pool was replaced, while in the rest of Anatolia and the Southern Caucasus, we document genetic continuity with only transient gene flow. Additionally, we reveal a genetically distinct individual within the Late Bronze Age Northern Levant. Overall, our study uncovers multiple scales of population dynamics through time, from extensive admixture during the Neolithic period to long-distance mobility within the globalized societies of the Late Bronze Age. Video Abstract: Reconstruction of genomic history of the Near East in a time transect spanning from the Neolithic through the globalization events of the Middle and Late Bronze Ages.
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In which John Green teaches you about the Bronze Age civilization in what we today call the middle east, and how the vast, interconnected civilization that encompassed Egypt, The Levant, and Mesopotamia came to an end. What's that you say? There was no such civilization? Your word against ours. John will argue that through a complex network of trade and alliances, there was a loosely confederated and relatively continuous civilization in the region. Why it all fell apart was a mystery. Was it the invasion of the Sea People? An earthquake storm? Or just a general collapse, to which complex systems are prone? We'll look into a few of these possibilities. As usual with Crash Course, we may not come up with a definitive answer, but it sure is a lot of fun to think about.
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Hi, I'm John Green this is Crash Course World History., and today we're going to talk about the end of civilization.
(High School John) Mr Green, Mr Green! Everybody knows civilization is going to end with Y2K. We can't survive the year 2000.
Now, me from the past, turns out we get through that one alright. And we're not talking about monopolies among cable providers, or net neutrality. In fact, we're not talking about the end of *our* civilization, which everyone knows will be brought about giant, transforming robots that can become cars. If you want to learn about the end of our civilization in video form, might I recommend the major American film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
Instead today we are going to talk about the end of a civilization in the ancient Near East at the end of the Bronze Age
So in our first world history series, we talked about river valley civilizations, like the Indus Valley, and Egypt, and Mesopotamia, mainly because most textbooks split them up into separate civilizations. You know, teachers like textbooks, and we want teachers to like Crash Course, so. yeah.
But the thing is we're used to imagining the world as divided up into nation states, and so small and geographically-bound civilizations fit nicely into the way we think of the world. But that isn't the way the world was always imagined.
So there is an argument to be made that all of these communities in the eastern Mediterranean -- what historians sometimes call the Levant or the Ancient Near East, because it is closer to Britain than it is the Far East -- these days we often call it the Mid East. It's almost as though there is no actual "East" and "West" on the globe.
Anyway, you can make the argument that back in the Bronze Age, all of that was actually a unified coherent system. It was one civilization -- kinda.
Egypt, Mesopotamia, the states that grew up in the Levant, and the empires of Anatolia, all of them have quite a lot in common.
Let's begin with our old friend, Trade. So archaeologists have found goods manufactured in Crete in Egypt, and the names of Pharaohs written in hieroglyphics in the Cretan palace at Knossos. But even cooler discoveries have been made by underwater archaeologists.
(addressing off-camera) Wait a second, Stan - are there really underwater archaeologists? (Pause) There are? Where were those people on Career Day? Ah, they were probably underwater.
Underwater archaeologists excavate shipwrecks and one ship at Uluburun in Turkey from the thirteenth century BCE had products on it from at least seven different states. There was stuff like Egyptian jewelry, and copper and tin (which are the raw materials for bronze, you know it was the Bronze Age after all). And although the Egyptians were the central power in this Bronze Age trade network, the Hittites were no slouches. I mean, they ruled an empire that began in Anatolia and spread out to include much of Mesopotamia. In fact, it may have even gone to war with the Mycenaean Greeks in a pre-Homeric Trojan War. How do we know this? Well again, Archaeologists.
And this brings up another feature of the ancient Near East in the late Bronze Age: Warfare. There is a fair amount of it between Egyptian and Hittites and Assyrians and many other empires which rose and fell over many hundreds of years. Wars were pretty common in the period of 1500 to 1200 BCE. You know, rulers wanted to extended their power and prestige through military success and conquest. And also that military success and conquest was one of the main drivers of economic growth. Eh, we could increase agricultural yields, we could come up with more efficient mechanization, or we could go to war. They always went to war.
But there wasn't just war. There was also quite a bit of diplomacy. And when diplomats from these rival communities would talk to each other, they would often call each other by family names or imagine family relationships, even though they weren't actually family. But that sense that they felt like family. You know, families do sometimes have wars, indicates that it wasn't necessarily different civilizations. And sometimes the wars ended with diplomatic marriages, so rather than just pretending that they were family, rulers of the late Bronze Age states would actually become family. And then they could stop fighting and start trading, at least for a little while. By the way, this is also the history of Post-Roman Empire Europe. So we have a trade network, we have a lot of interconnected familial relationships (both real and imagined), but do we have a civilization? Well, I would argue "yes," even though it didn't have a single ruler, or one form of political structure, or even one language. But neither does "Western" civilization and lots of people think that's a thing.
When you think about it, what people often mean when we talk about civilizations today are systems. Like when we talk about Western civilization, we're not actually talking about Greece or Rome or England or France or the United States, we're talking about a set of structures, and religious and cultural traditions that are closely related enough that we see them as forming a coherent whole. And the same thing is true when we talk about Islamic civilization, which spans from like Sufi mystics in Turkey to Indonesia, the country with more Muslims than any other on earth. So at least according to that definition, the ancient Near East was a civilization. But this is an episode about the collapse of that civilization, so what happened to it?
Well there we have one of the great historical mysteries. Let's go to the Thought Bubble.
Archaeologists have discovered that some time around 1200 BCE, the number of the cities in the region suffered upheaval, disruption, and in many cases destruction. Among those cultures that bit the dust are the Mycenaeans, the Minoans of Crete, and our not particularly friendly friends the Hittites. Egypt didn't disappear but the political system there was rocked enough that Egyptologists say that this period marked the end of the new kingdom. Until recently the cause of this collapse was blamed on an invasion or perhaps a wave of invasions by the mysterious sea peoples. This idea comes from the Egyptian description from 1177 BCE that describes a confederation of invaders.
". They were coming forward toward Egypt, while the flame was prepared before them. Their confederation was the Peleset, Tjekker, Shekelesh, Danuana, and Weshesh, lands united." By the way, mispronouncing things is my thing. "They laid their hands upon the lands as far as the circuit of the earth, their hearts confident and trusting"
The sea peoples, possibly because they were busy destroying cities or perhaps trying to come up with a better name for themselves, didn't leave any inscriptions of their own, so the idea of their invasion is kind of suspect, but we do know that cities were destroyed, mainly between 1210 and 1130 BCE, we just don't know by whom. The story of the sea peoples probably stuck around for so long because, you know, it's a good story, and one that provides a tidy explanation, but what if it's wrong?
Thanks, Thought Bubble. The other thing I wanna note here is that we like to imagine that history is the result of like, humans doing things. You know, humans are big fans of human agency, we like to be in control of things. Historians have traditionally also been just a smidge obsessed with war, so if we're imagining why a civilization ended, we're gonna imagine that it probably involved humans and y'know, likely involved war. So what happened? Well, it could have been the sea people. Like, there's a letter from a town in northern Syria, which was burned sometime between 1190 and 1185 BCE, the town was burned, not the letter, obviously, that's how we found it. It read, in part: "My father, now the ships of the enemy have come, they have been setting fire to my cities and have done harm to the land." Now, that fits with what we know about the sea people: come from the sea, burn the land, but the dating of the letter is uncertain. And there's a different, very compelling, non-human possibility: earthquakes.
Now, I'm not an archaeologist, but archaeologists tell me that when an earthquake destroys a city, its walls fall down in a particular way, and you often find people crushed beneath them. When a city is sacked, the architectural remnants look very different: there are arrowheads stuck in walls or in the bones of skeletons. And we know there were earthquakes, thanks to archeo-seismologists, who are in competition with underwater archaeologists to have the best job ever. They've determined that between about 1225 BCE and 1175 BCE, the eastern Mediterranean experience "an earthquake storm." Wait, did I just say earthquake storms? Must be time for the open letter. But first, let's see what's in the globe today. Oh, that's a nice little village. Wait, why did you do that, Thought Bubble, that's very sad!
An Open Letter to Earthquake Storms:
Dear Earthquake Storms,
What a fantastic term. I would say that you're an example of historians naming something brilliantly for once, but in fact, you were, of course, named by an archeoseismologist. The idea here, originally proposed by a guy named Amos Nur is that one large earthquake can actually lead to a series of extremely large earthquakes. They just kind of go down the same plate boundary, going baaa-b'baa-b'baa-b'baa. That's the technical term for what earthquakes do. And earthquake storms, in addition to having an awesome name, you are terrible. You just keep happening down the fault line, like, for decades, it's not cool, earthquake storm, stop it!
As you can imagine, this earthquake storm, pretty destabilizing to the region both physically and politically. You know, if I lose like, four hands of blackjack in a row, I start railing against the fates. An earthquake storm would really challenge my, like, political and religious worldviews.
And then there's the non-earthquake environmental calamity possibility. Again, contemporary science paints an interesting portrait here. So, fossilized pollen has demonstrated that the period between 1200 and 850 BCE was notably drier than earlier periods. And we also have records of famines from what I'll just call the Near East Civilization, actually, I should think of a better name for it. The Lovely Levant, the Bronze Age Brouhaha. You know, this is harder than it seems, actually. Anyway, as we've seen in other episodes, drought and famine are consistently devastating, but they don't usually lead to full-on meltdowns of a social order. And interestingly, that's especially true of the region that we're talking about today.
Then there's the theory that the region experienced peasant uprisings. And there's another that trade disruptions caused the economic system to collapse. And then there's a theory that emerged in the 1990s that shows us a lot about how present thinking can influence the way we imagine the past. This theory goes that the rise of private entrepreneurial traders undermined the palace based trading system and created a disruption, similar to the ones that Silicon Valley likes to create. This has become a very popular way of talking about the late Bronze Age, but it's also a bit problematic. For one thing, kings were not replaced by entrepreneurs. They were replaced, you know, by less powerful kings, this is the way the civilization ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper.
Alright, so you might be saying, this was a really long time ago, and the people involved didn't even leave pyramids for us to enjoy. And we don't even really know what happened. And that's not history, is it, and also, can anything that brought down a civilization 3000 years ago really be a threat to my way of life? Yes. The interconnected trade and diplomacy based systemic civilization of the ancient Near East is at least somewhat similar to the interconnected trade and diplomacy based systemic civilization that we live in today. It's just that, for us, that system extends around the entire planet. And some argue that it was, in fact, the very interconnected-ness of the late Bronze Age civilization that made it unstable. Sometimes, in extremely complex systems, the failure of one segment can disrupt the whole thing. Like, according to historian Eric Cline, "If Late Bronze Age civilizations were truly globalized and dependent upon each other for goods and services, even just to a certain extent, then change to any one of the relevant kingdoms such as the Mycenaeans or the Hittites would potentially affect and destabilize them all." 3000 years later, a credit crisis in the United States leads to 30% unemployment in Spain. An outbreak of bird flu in China dramatically increases the price of chicken in Canada. And in 1914, the assassination of an archduke leads to war in Japan.
In the end, whether you take meaningful lessons away from the story of the collapse of this particular civilization depends on how much you see it as an analogy to our own world. If you believe that the Mediterranean world between 1500 and 1200 was, as one historian put it, "A cosmopolitan and globalized system such as has only rarely been seen before the current day", then understanding what happened 3000 years ago can be pretty helpful. That said, it could have been global interdependence or entrepreneurial disruption, it also could have been sea people. It's certainly important for us to imagine the present in the context of the past. But insofar as possible, we don't want too much to imagine the past through the lens of the present. And that's why I think, in general, it's a good idea to be suspicious of any single cause imagining of why historical events happened. Could the sea people, whoever they were, really have been powerful enough to destroy this civilization? It's no coincidence that around the world, people are always talking about some version of barbarian invasions, and that is rarely the true straightforward explanation of what happened -- I mean, unless you're talking about the Mongols.
It's true, though, the Mongols were the only barbarian invasion that showed the ability to like, single-hoardedly collapse a civilization. Anyway, thanks for watching, I'll see you next week.
Crash Course is filmed here in the Chad & Stacey Emigholz Studio in Indianapolis, and it's possible because of these wonderful people who make it, and because of your support through Subbable.com. Subbable is a voluntary subscription service that allows you to support Crash Course directly so that we can keep it free for everyone forever, so if you have the extra change, we would appreciate your support. If not, just thanks for watching, as we say in my hometown, Don't Forget to be Awesome.
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Ancient DNA analysis reveals Minoan and Mycenaean origins
The Minoans were a literate Bronze Age civilization that flourished thousands of years ago (one woman shown dancing, in a fresco fragment that dates from 1600-1450 BCE). Credit: Wikipedia/Photo by Wolfgang Sauber is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
An analysis of ancient DNA has revealed that Ancient Minoans and Mycenaens were genetically similar with both peoples descending from early Neolithic farmers.
They likely migrated from Anatolia to Greece and Crete thousands of years prior to the Bronze Age. Modern Greeks, in turn, are largely descendants of the Mycenaeans, the study found.
The discovery of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations on the island of Crete and on mainland Greece in the late 1800s gave birth to modern archaeology and opened a direct window into the European Bronze Age. This period of history had previously been glimpsed only though Homer's epics, the Iliad and Odyssey.
The Minoan civilization flourished on Crete beginning in the third millennium before the Common Era. and was astonishingly advanced artistically and technologically. The Minoans were also the first literate people of Europe. The Mycenaean civilization developed in mainland Greece in the second millennium before the Common Era. It shared many cultural features with the Minoans. They used the Linear B script, an early form of Greek.
The origins of the Minoan and Mycenaean peoples, however, have puzzled archaeologists for over 100 years. It is widely believed that they derived from different ancestral populations. A new analysis of well-preserved Minoan and Mycenaean DNA now provides many answers and insights.
An international team of researchers from the University of Washington, the Harvard Medical School and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, together with archaeologists and other collaborators in Greece and Turkey, report the first genome-wide DNA sequence data on the Bronze Age inhabitants of mainland Greece, Crete, and southwestern Anatolia.The Bull-Leaping-Fresco from the Great Palace at Knossos, Crete. (The original is located at Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Heraklion, Crete) Credit: By Lapplaender - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 de
UW Medicine researcher, George Stamatoyannopoulos, professor of genome sciences and of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, is the senior author on the paper describing the new findings.
The study appears August 2 in the advanced online edition o the journal Nature.
The researchers analyzed tooth DNA from the remains of 19 ancient individuals who could be definitively identified by archaeological evidence as Minoans of Crete, Mycenaeans of mainland Greece, and people who lived in southwestern Anatolia.
The DNA samples were collected by Stamatoyannopoulos and his archaeologist collaborators, and were initially analyzed in his laboratory. Subsequently, Stamatoyannopoulos began collaborating with Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute, who undertook comprehensive genomic DNA sequencing using techniques developed in his laboratory, and P David Reich of Harvard Medical School, who worked with Iosif Lazaridis on collation and statistical genetic analysis of the data.
They compared the Minoan and Mycenaean genomes to each other and to more than 330 other ancient genomes and over 2,600 genomes of present-day humans from around the world.The Mycenaeans, a Bronze Age civilization that conquered the Minoans, used a written language called Linear B (shown inscribed on tablet), that was an early form of Greek. Credit: Wikipedia/Photo by Zde is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Study results show that Minoans and Mycenaeans were genetically highly similar - but not identical - and that modern Greeks descend from these populations. The Minoans and Mycenaeans descended mainly from early Neolithic farmers, likely migrating thousands of years prior to the Bronze Age from Anatolia, in what is today modern Turkey.
"Minoans, Mycenaeans, and modern Greeks also had some ancestry related to the ancient people of the Caucasus, Armenia, and Iran. This finding suggests that some migration occurred in the Aegean and southwestern Anatolia from further east after the time of the earliest farmers," said Lazaridis.
While both Minoans and Mycenaeans had both "first farmer" and "eastern" genetic origins, Mycenaeans traced an additional minor component of their ancestry to ancient inhabitants of Eastern Europe and northern Eurasia. This type of so-called Ancient North Eurasian ancestry is one of the three ancestral populations of present-day Europeans, and is also found in modern Greeks.
A passion for history inspired Stamatoyannopoulos to initiate this project: "For over 100 years, many hotly contested theories have circulated concerning the origin of the inhabitants of Bronze Age, Classical, and modern Greece, including the so-called 'Coming of the Greeks' in the late second millennium, the 'Black Athena' hypothesis of the Afroasiatic origins of Classical Greek civilization, and the notorious theory of the 19th century German historian Fallmerayer, who popularized the belief that the descendants of the ancient Greeks had vanished in early Medieval times."
While the new study does not resolve all the outstanding questions, it provides key answers. Importantly, the findings disprove the widely held theory that the Mycenaeans were a foreign population in the Aegean and were not related to the Minoans. The results also dispel the theory that modern Greeks did not descend from the Mycenaeans and later ancient Greek populations.
In broad strokes, the new study shows that there was genetic continuity in the Aegean from the time of the first farmers to present-day Greece, but not in isolation. The peoples of the Greek mainland had some admixture with Ancient North Eurasians and peoples of the Eastern European steppe both before and after the time of the Minoans and Mycenaeans, which may provide the missing link between Greek speakers and their linguistic relatives elsewhere in Europe and Asia.
The study thus underscores the power of analysis of ancient DNA to solve vexing historical problems, and sets the stage for many future studies that promise to untangle the threads of history, archaeology, and language.
Map of the Weather in Turkey
Map of the weather in Turkey shows us that there are 4 different climates in seven regions of Turkey. Aegean (West) and Mediterranean (South) regions with mild Mediterranean Climate. Marmara is very similar to them except for cooler winters.
Central, Eastern and Southeast Anatolia has Continental Climate with very cold winters and boiling hot summers. Incomparably northern part of Turkey has Black Sea Climate which is similar to that of Great Britain. Very humid and rainy.
300-Year Drought Was Downfall of Ancient Greece
A 300-year drought may have caused the demise of several Mediterranean cultures, including ancient Greece, new research suggests.
A sharp drop in rainfall may have led to the collapse of several eastern Mediterranean civilizations, including ancient Greece, around 3,200 years ago. The resulting famine and conflict may help explain why the entire Hittite culture, chariot-riding people who ruled most of the region of Anatolia, vanished from the planet, according to a study published today (Aug. 14) in the journal PLOS ONE.
Lost golden period
Even during the heyday of Classical Greek civilization, there were hints of an earlier culture that was lost. Homer's "Iliad," written in the eighth century B.C. about a legendary war between Sparta and Troy, paints a picture of sophisticated Greek city-states, which archaeological evidence suggests once existed. [The 7 Most Mysterious Archaeological Discoveries]
"The classical Greek folks knew from the very beginning that they were coming out of a dark age," said Brandon Lee Drake, an archaeologist at the University of New Mexico, who was not involved in the study.
The ancient Hittite empire of Anatolia began a precipitous decline around 3,300 B.C. Around the same time, the Egyptian empire was invaded by marauding sea bandits, called the Sea People, and the ancient Mycenaean culture of Greece collapsed. Over the next 400 years, ancient cities were burned to the ground and were never rebuilt, Drake said.
But the cause of this Bronze Age collapse has been shrouded in mystery. Some archaeologists believed economic hardships caused the demise, while others proposed that massive tsunamis, earthquakes or a mega-drought was the cause.
Past studies looking for drought typically only found evidence showing it occurred for short periods of time, making it hard to make conclusions about the whole period, Drake said.
Toward that end, David Kaniewski, an archaeologist at the University of Paul Sabatier-Toulouse in France, and his colleagues collected ancient sediment cores from Larnaca Salt Lake, near Hala Sultan Tekke in Cyprus. The lake was once a harbor, but became landlocked thousands of years ago.
A decline in marine plankton and pollen from marine sea grass revealed that the lake was once a harbor that opened to the sea until around 1450 B.C., when the harbor transformed over 100 years into a landlocked lagoon. Pollen also revealed that by 1200 B.C., agriculture in the area dwindled and didn't rebound until about 850 B.C.
"This climate shift caused crop failures, dearth and famine, which precipitated or hastened socioeconomic crises and forced regional human migrations," the authors write in the paper.
The results bolster the notion that a massive drought caused the Bronze Age collapse, Drake said.
"It's getting hard to argue that there wasn't as significant change in climate at that time," Drake told LiveScience.
Famine may have caused the huge migration of people en masse &mdash which may be the reason that the mysterious Sea People who invaded Egypt brought their families along, Drake said.
As ancient cultures battled for dwindling resources, they burned the great cities of the day to the ground. In the heart of these dark ages, the ancient Mycenaens lost their writing system, called Linear B, and correspondence between countries slowed to a trickle, Drake said.
Ironically, those who suffered through those dark times may not have realized the cause of their misery.
"It happened over 200 years. People may not have even recognized the climate was changing, because it was happening so slowly over their lifetime," Drake said.
Excavating War: The Archaeology of Conflict in Early Chalcolithic to Early Bronze III Central and Southeastern Anatolia
The study of prehistoric warfare in the ancient Near East is often evoked in Near Eastern scholarship, but remains understudied in a comprehensive or objective manner. This dissertation delves into the quantification and interpretation of the evidence of warfare and interpersonal violence in the archaeological record from central Anatolia and southeastern Anatolia, from the Early Chalcolithic to the end of the Early Bronze Age (ca. 5000-2000 BCE). A holistic view of all visible signs of warfare and violence left behind in the archaeological record is presented. The data collected includes the study of violence on human remains, as well as the remains of identified ‘warriors,” changes in weapons technologies and in fortification systems over the course of the time period studied, evidence of destruction from within archaeological sites, iconography of warriors, kings and violence created by the cultures studies as well as contemporaneous cultures, and the use of landscape and trade routes in and around the settlements. The data utilized originates primarily from published excavation reports on central and southeastern Anatolian Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age sites. The evidence from a total of 73 archaeological sites is collected, 35 from central Anatolia and 38 from southeastern Anatolia.
From the start of the Chalcolithic to end of the Early Bronze Age, settlements in Anatolia transformed from simple farming communities to early complex societies. It was during this era that war intensified and became codified as a part of civilization. This dissertation questions how warfare affected this change, and vise versa. An overview of the political history of Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age Anatolia is presented in order to more fully evaluate the environment and conditions under which this alteration occurred in both central and southeastern Anatolia, before delving into a detailed look at all available areas of archaeological evidence.
Finally, an anthropological theoretical model, based primarily on similar practice theory models originated from scholarship on prehistoric Andean warfare, is presented to organize and understand the collected data. Other models often used to understand warfare and violence in state societies of the ancient Near East, in particular circumscription theory, worlds systems theory and trade-diaspora, are considered and combined into a hybrid model that takes into account the history of thought in Near Eastern scholarship as well as the practice theory model that has only more recently been applied to this region. Warfare in this time period became a tool for achieving set goals, such as acquiring goods and creating and strengthening power of local elites. As trade increased, so did violence and warfare. By establishing the ruling elite as the ultimate warrior and by codifying violence as an important aspect of society, the threat of violence was controlled by the ruling elite to further their agenda and to solidify their power.
Bronze Age Collapse
Israeli Head of a Woman, 13-12 th Century BC, The Israel Museum
Generally, the bronze was supplanted by iron as technological development made it possible to harness this stronger and far more abundant metal. This was a long process so that bronze and iron were often used side by side, and of course, this process did not occur everywhere at once. The transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age is usually quite difficult to detect by archaeological convention, the presence of cast or wrought iron alone does not mean that a site can be dated to the Iron Age. Instead, locally produced iron or steel must reach a point where it is superior bronze and be in widespread use.
There is, however, one notable exception to this rule. Between 1200-1000 BC the Bronze Age civilizations of the Aegean, Egypt, Anatolia, and the Ancient Near East experienced a catastrophe referred to as the “Late Bronze Age Collapse.” During this period many civilizations crumbled, kingdoms collapsed, and cities were destroyed. Some areas survived but emerged in a weakened state. The exact cause and nature of this collapse have been hotly debated and a number of theories have been put forth . While the exact causes and nature of the collapse are unclear, for the regions affected the collapse represents a far more distinct break between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age than what is found in other regions.
British Bronze Age
In Great Britain, the Bronze Age is considered to have been the period from around 2100 to 700 BC. Immigration brought new people to the islands from the continent. Recent tooth enamel isotope research on bodies found in early Bronze Age graves around Stonehenge indicate that at least some of the immigrants came from the area of modern Switzerland. The Beaker people displayed different behaviours from the earlier Neolithic people and cultural change was significant. Integration is thought to have been peaceful as many of the early henge sites were seemingly adopted by the newcomers. The rich Wessex culture developed in southern Britain at this time. Additionally, the climate was deteriorating, where once the weather was warm and dry it became much wetter as the bronze age continued, forcing the population away from easily-defended sites in the hills and into the fertile valleys. Large livestock ranches developed in the lowlands which appear to have contributed to economic growth and inspired increasing forest clearances. The Deverel-Rimbury culture began to emerge in the second half of the 'Middle Bronze Age' (c. 1400- 1100 BC) to exploit these conditions. Cornwall was a major source of tin for much of western Europe and copper was extracted from sites such as the Great Orme mine in northern Wales. Social groups appear to have been tribal but with growing complexity and hierarchies becoming apparent.
Also, the burial of dead (which until this period had usually been communal) became more individual. For example, whereas in the Neolithic a large chambered cairn or long barrow was used to house the dead, the 'Early Bronze Age' saw people buried in individual barrows (also commonly known and marked on modern British Ordnance Survey maps as Tumuli), or sometimes in cists covered with cairns.