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The Collapse of Bronze Age Societies in the Eastern Mediterranean: Sea Peoples in Cyprus?

Map of Cyprus with major Late Bronze Age sites (© T. Bürge)

The aim of the project is to investigate the causes of disruption in international trade and eventually of the total collapse of the sophisticated Bronze Age civilisations in the Eastern Mediterranean around 1200 BC. Hypotheses explaining this severe cultural crisis involve the appearance of invading peoples, the “Sea Peoples”, and a worsening climate. The “Sea Peoples” may have started their south-eastward migration in Italy, continued over the sea and the Balkans to Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean islands and eventually landed in the Levant and Egypt. Their migration may have been caused by climate change and famine. They are mentioned in Egyptian and Syrian written sources from around 1200 BC but proof of their physical presence is largely non-existent.

The nucleus of the project is the study of the economic, political and climatological situation in Cyprus, the centre of international trade in the Eastern Mediterranean. Bronze Age trade with Cypriote copper from its rich ores – the most coveted product at that time – involved not only the entire Mediterranean but also the remainder of Europe. The study of a changed situation in Cyprus and finds which relate to the Sea Peoples, e.g. objects which originate in central Europe/Italy/the Balkans, will lead to a greater understanding of the general crisis which has been recorded everywhere during this period.

Methods

The material obtained from five seasons of Swedish excavation at Hala Sultan Tekke, which has not yet been sufficiently studied, will be examined. Hala Sultan Tekke, one of the largest Bronze Age cities, was destroyed and abandoned in the 12th century BC. Traces of immigrating/invading Sea Peoples will be recorded by studying non-local/non-traded finds, e.g. simple foreign household pottery, textile production tools and weapons. The methods involve provenance studies of pottery and metal objects with cutting-edge physical and chemical methods, and radiocarbon dating assisted by advanced (Bayesian) statistics for greater precision. Strontium isotope analyses of human skeletal remains from burials from around 1200 BC will be carried out in order to distinguish between local people and immigrants.

The project also includes climatological studies, which will be carried out by drilling cores in the Salt Lake nearby the ancient, silted-up, harbour of Hala Sultan Tekke. Pilot studies show the Salt Lake as ideal for the extraction of pollen. The project-specific period (around 1200 BC) will be identified by radiocarbon dating of organic remains in the cores. The pollen analyses will give information about the vegetation and climate, and the new data will be combined with those already obtained from coastal Syria and elsewhere.

In addition, material from six excavated major Cypriote sites from around 1200 BC (Sinda, Enkomi, Pyla, Kition, Maa-Palaeokastro, Kouklia-Palaepaphos) will be studied in five museums, four in Cyprus and one in Sweden (Medelhavsmuseet). If a similar find pattern which mirrors foreign influences all over Cyprus from this period can be confirmed, it will be possible – for the first time –to demonstrate an indisputable influx of foreign peoples and explain the rationale behind destructions and a changed cultural and political situation.

Principal investigator:

Project member:

Collaborations:

  • University of Gothenburg, Department of Historical Studies
  • Eva Maria Wild, University of Vienna, Department of Isotope Research and Nuclear Physics
  • Johannes Sterba, Vienna University of Technology, Institute of Atomic and Subatomic Physics
  • David Kaniewski, Université Paul Sabatier-Toulouse 3, Département Biologie & Géosciences
  • Paula Waiman Barak, University of Haifa, Department of Archaeology
  • Vassos Karageorghis, Professor emeritus, University of Cyprus, Archaeological Research Unit

Funding: