Bronze Age Collapse (sometimes Late Bronze Age Collapse) is a term used to describe events in the Eastern Mediterranean, “between c.1250 – c.1150 BCE, when major cities were destroyed, whole civilizations fell, diplomatic and trade relations were severed, writing systems vanished, and there was widespread devastation and death on a scale never experienced before.”(a)
The cause or causes are a matter of continuing debate, ranging from attacks by the Sea Peoples to climate change to a cometary impact(b). Another site(c) offers several possible causes — “Over Complexity, Environmental Problems, Mass Migrations, & Disruptive Technologies.”
Robert Drews ascribes the ‘collapse’ to the actions of the Sea Peoples at The End of the Bronze Age. Archaeologist, Gregory D. Mumford, has published a paper entitled The Late Bronze Age Collapse and the Sea Peoples’ Migrations(d).
>A. Bernard Knapp & Sturt Manning have published a paper on the complexity of the factors that led to the Eastern Mediterranean Late Bronze Age Collapse and by their own admission, their work overlaps with Eric Cline’s 1177 BC(e).<
Thera is an ancient name for today’s Aegean archipelago of Santorini, which are the remains of a volcanic island.
Only two of the islands are inhabited, the main island, Santorini and Therasia, which had been joined before the 16th century BC eruption. Recent excavations have revealed a pre-eruption settlement on Therasia(x).
Although it exhibited low-level activity in 1939-41 and 1950-51, it was in 1926 when it last erupted violently, destroying many hundreds of buildings in less than a minute. Eruptions of similarity intensity occurred in 1650, 1707 and 1866. Although Thera is thought to have violently erupted around 54,000 & 18,500 BC, it was not until the middle of the sixteenth century BC that it provided what was probably the most powerful and destructive volcanic explosion in the Mediterranean during the Bronze Age. Although the exact date of this event is still the subject of some controversy, the most recent evidence(a) indicates a date around 1613 BC ±13years, while archaeologists are more supportive of a date circa 1500 BC.
Professor Floyd McCoy of the University of Hawaii has written and broadcast extensively on the matter of the Late Bronze Age eruption of Thera, including a paper delivered to the 2005 Atlantis Conference. In it, he noted that “New finds of tephra – ash and pumice – both on land and on the seafloor indicate a far larger eruption than previously assumed, suggesting a volume of at least 100 km3 of tephra (bulk volume) ejected, perhaps more. Such a volume ranks the eruption on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) at 7.0, equivalent or larger than the 1815 eruption of Tambora (‘the year without a summer’), ten times larger than the eruption of Krakatau in 1883, and approximately 100 times that of Mt. St. Helens in 1980.”[629.311]
The 1500 BC date was supported by David A. Warburton who edited the Acts of the Minoan Eruption Chronology Workshop in 2007(af). The workshop provided a good overview of the Theran eruption dating debates, Warburton’s comments are to be found in the Epilogue.
There was a series of eruptions that ended with a final enormous explosion that has been linked to the ending of the Minoan civilisation on Crete, the Plagues of Egypt and agricultural failures throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. For a geologist’s view of the island’s dramatic history, Walter Friedrich’s bookis hard to beat. His book supports a 1640 BC date for the eruption although he has subsequently revised this to 1613 BC. Sturt W. Manning supports a 1628 BC date and Mike Baillie has offered dendrochronological evidence for a 1628 BC eruption date at the 2011 Quantavolution conference in Athens(j). This converges with McCoy’s date above. However, the dating of the eruption continues to be controversial as this December 2012 link(i)demonstrates. At the heart of the problem is that acceptance of an early 17th century BC date for the event conflicts with established Egyptian chronology. While the exact year of the eruption continues to be debated, there is now scientific evidence that it occurred in early summer(s).
A 2014 paper published in Antiquity by Paolo Cherubini would appear to confirm the 16th century BC as the date of the catastrophic eruption ruling out an earlier date as untenable(o). In the same year, the University of Birmingham published a report(u) that supported the 1625 BC date. The earlier Antiquity paper prompted a response by a group, led by Sturt Manning later in 2014(y).
In August 2018, an interdisciplinary group led by dendrochronologist Charlotte L. Pearson published a paper(ab)(ad), which concluded that the eruption of Thera took place in the 16th century BC. This conclusion was the result of using a combination of ‘dendro’ along with high-resolution radiocarbon dating methods. In April 2020, a new report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explained how a new study of “the wood of an ancient grove of juniper trees, which suggested that the volcano blew its top around the year 1560 B.C.”(ae)
October 2018 saw further evidence for an early 16th century BC date for the eruption emerge after the radiocarbon dating of some olive wood found on Therasia, one of the Santorini island groups (z). The same month saw the publication of a paper on the ResearchGate(aa) website dating the event to 1727-1600 BC!
>William Austin, an American researcher, offers, with great insistence, the precise date of 1612 BC for the eruption of Thera, in a lengthy paper that begins with an open letter to Manfred Bietak and Sturt Manning. This is a carefully thought-out argument and useful addition to the literature on the subject(ap).<
>Nevertheless, in 2022, another report(aq) from Pearson, of the University of Arizona and her team claim that they have narrowed the eruption date to three possible dates – 1611 BC, 1562-1555 BC and 1538 BC!<
After the eruption, we learn from Herodotus that Thera was resettled in the thirteenth century BC by the Phoenicians and around a century later by the Dorians(am).
The doctoral thesis of Dr David Sewell explores the cultural effects of the Theran eruption and can be read online(h).
Many centuries later the volcanic ash deposited by the Theran eruption was used in huge quantities to manufacture cement for the construction of the Suez Canal. It was during the mining of this material that workmen encountered large stone blocks under the layers of pumice, indicating buildings of great age.
It is claimed by many that a garbled Egyptian description of this devastating event was the basis for the story of the destruction of Atlantis. Louis Figuier was the first, in 1872, to publicly link the demise of Atlantis with the explosion on Thera. Opponents of this theory counter it by pointing out that Plato describes the inundation of an island much larger than Santorini or Crete, located in the Atlantic following an earthquake, not a volcanic eruption many thousands of years earlier. Various attempts have been made to reconcile this Minoan Hypothesis and its obvious inconsistencies with Plato’s text. They are discussed separately under
It was announced at the end of February 2010 that the BBC was about to air a dramatisation of the Theran disaster as well as a documentary on the eruption and its influence on the development of Plato’s story of Atlantis. June 2010 saw the historian, Bettany Hughes, front a disappointing BBC Timewatch Special, which also promoted the idea of the eruption on Thera as the inspiration for Plato’s story of Atlantis. The material introduced as evidence was highly selective and, for me, unconvincing. A few parallels between Thera and Plato’s description were trotted out, while the more numerous differences were ignored!
Alain Moreau has written a highly critical review(v) of the idea that the island of Thera/Santorini had been home to Atlantis.
Dr Dora Constantinidis who studied under Prof. Christos Doumas delivered a lecture in Melbourne on May 29th 2014 with the inviting title of Unravelling the Atlantis Myth at Akrotiri. However, the primary purpose of the talk was not to advance our knowledge of Atlantis but to encourage the sale of Bronze Age-inspired merchandise(p). Nevertheless, in late 2020, one commentator did speculate that Akrotiri may originally have been Atlantis!(aj)
It is noteworthy that “Unlike Pompeii, no human remains have been found at Akrotiri, and only one gold object was found on the site, suggesting that the Minoans performed an orderly evacuation before the eruption, and they had time to take their valuables before they fled.”(ak)
Another twist on the Thera explosion is offered by Andis Kaulins who suggests that there is a connection between that event and the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah(g), while Riaan Booysen has linked two separate Theran eruptions with two Exodus events in the Bible(k), offering as evidence, the existence of two distinct Theran ash fallout areas, caused by different wind directions at the time of the events.
Initially, it was thought that the collapse of the Theran caldera generated very destructive tsunamis, but new studies have concluded(w) that instead of that it was the violent entry of pyroclastic flows into the sea that triggered the tsunamis. Dale Dominey-Howes has published a paper suggesting that some claims relating to tsunamis generated by the Theran eruption(s) are exaggerations. However, a 2022 report indicates that a series of four tsunamis resulting from the eruption hit the Turkish coast at Çesme-Baglararasi, with one known fatality.(ao)
A further possible consequence of the Theran eruption(s) was proposed after the discovery of the Nebra Sky Disk(n), which was buried about 3,600 years ago. This is suggested to have resulted from the volcanic ash generated by the eruption blotting out the sun for up to 25 years. It is thought that the Disk had been used to synchronise the lunar and solar calendars(l) and when this was no longer possible the Disk was buried as some form of offering. A contrary view is offered elsewhere on the Internet(m), as well as further controversy(t) led by Peter Schauer from the University of Regensburg.
Andis Kaulins has also written an extensive paper on the Nebra Sky Disk. A 2014 update(r) on the Disk was posted by Claudia Bracholdt.
2020 brought further debate with the claim, in a lengthy paper, that the date of the Disk should be brought forward to the 1st millennium BC(ag). This was followed by a shorter but vehement rebuttal(ah)(al).
In December 2020, the Discovery Channel aired a new documentary, which attempted to revive the Minoan Hypothesis, placing Atlantis on today’s Santorini. This recycled claim adds little that is new and has been taken up by several media outlets(ai), repeating an old error which claims that Plato said that Atlantis was destroyed by a volcanic eruption, when in fact he clearly states that it was the result of an earthquake.
Paul Dunbavin in Prehistory Papers  discusses the Minoan Hypothesis and the extent to which it is inconsistent with the details provided by Plato. Despite the support from some academics for the idea that the story of Atlantis is linked to the Theran eruption, Dunbavin reiterates that “whenever you find a conflict between the opinion of a modern expert and that given in an ancient text then you should always prefer the source closest to the events.” [p160]
An extensive bibliography of books and articles on the subject of Thera can be found on the Internet(b).
(h) See: Archive 2199
(i) See: Archive 2200
(ac) Archive 3919
(af) (99+) (PDF) Manning, S.W. 2009. Beyond the Santorini eruption: some notes on dating the Late Minoan IB period on Crete, and implications for Cretan-Egyptian relations in the 15th century BC (and especially LMII). In D.A. Warburton (ed.), Time’s Up! Dating the Minoan eruption of Santorini. Acts of the Minoan Eruption Chronology Workshop, Sandbjerg November 2007 initiated by Jan Heinemeier & Walter L. Friedrich: 207-226. Monographs of the Danish Institute at Athens Volume 10. Athens: The Danish Institute at Athens. | Sturt Manning – Academia.edu
(ag) https://www.dguf.de/fileadmin/AI/ArchInf-EV_Gebhard_Krause_e.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1Ej3wkUGtIAdiPY59Yh6QKCrRyCueND7LK-5IvFSZTPdbHPShD4GlcZIg (link broken)
Mesopotamia was an area of the Middle East that corresponds to most of modern Iraq together with some surrounding areas.
>While Mesopotamia is widely known as the ‘cradle of civilisation’ there does seem to be a move to extend the regions to which this appellation can be justifiably applied. In a 2007 article in Science magazine, Andrew Lawler noted that “While Mesopotamia is still the cradle of civilization in the sense that urban evolution began there, we now know that the area between Mesopotamia and India spawned a host of cities and cultures between 3000 B.C.E. and 2000 B.C.E.” (f)<
It was first suggested by G.F. Oviedo y Valdes, in 1535, as the location of Atlantis. After its inundation, he claims that the survivors fled to the Americas.
An article(c) by Marilyn Luongo also attempts to link Mesopotamia with Atlantis, beginning with locating the ‘Pillars of Heracles’ at the Strait of Hormuz and then using the highly controversial interpretation of ‘meizon’ to mean ‘between’ rather than ‘greater’, she proceeds to argue that Mesopotamia is ‘between’ Asia and Libya.>She cited Andreea Haktanir in support of this interpretation of meizon.<
Mesopotamia has recently been entered into the ‘Atlantis Stakes’ by Andreea Haktanir. Her website(a) has an extensive article that takes 14 chapters to conclude that Atlantis was Mesopotamia(e). Although I found her theory interesting, I was not convinced.
There is a website dedicated to the investigation of the development of civilisation, with particular reference to its manifestation through successive cultures who occupied Mesopotamia over millennia(b).
In July 2016 the most accurate timeline for the region was published following intensive research led by Cornell University archaeologist Sturt Manning(d). The data is now accurate back to the early second millennium BC and where estimates differed by up to 200 years, this has now been reduced to just 8 years.
Coincidentally, there is a region of Argentina called Mesopotamia that has also been identified as the original home of Atlantis.
(a) See: Archive 2562
Radiocarbon Dating was developed by a team led by Willard F. Libby (1908-1980) just after World War II and won him a Nobel Prize for the work. However, in his acceptance speech, Libby generously acknowledged the contribution made by the earlier work of Serge Korff (1906-1989).
Radiocarbon Dating is based on the fact that when organisms die the amount of Carbon-14 in the remains decay at a fixed rate. Although initially hailed as a definitive dating method for organic remains, it soon became obvious that it was not quite as reliable a tool as initially thought, although still widely used.
Originally a Carbon-14 half-life of 5568±30 years was used and is known as the Libby half-life. Later this was revised to 5730±40 years and is known as the Cambridge half-life. The initial theory was based on the assumption that Carbon-14 was being produced at a constant rate. However, this constancy has been questioned, as it can vary as a result of changes in the earth’s magnetic field. The intervention of man in the form of atomic bomb tests briefly doubled the amount of Carbon-14 produced(I). Local events can also have a dramatic effect on measurements; for example, the Tunguska explosion left the soil there so enriched with Carbon-14 that it gives a date in the future (1)! Emilio Spedicato has also pointed out that Carbon-14 can be created in the atmosphere by any cometary or asteroidal impact and so alter the assumed constant ratio of C12 to C14.
Immanuel Velikovsky offered the following valuable observation(j) “as the method was refined, it started to show rather regular anomalies. First, it was noticed that, when radiocarbon dated, wood grown in the 20th century appears more ancient than wood grown in the 19th century. Suess explained the phenomenon by the fact that the increased industrial use of fossil carbon in coal and in oil changed the ratio between the dead carbon C12 and the C14 (radiocarbon) in the atmosphere and therefore also in the biosphere. In centuries to come a body of a man or animal who lived and died in the 20th century would appear paradoxically of greater age since death than the body of a man or animal of the 19th century, and if the process of industrial use of fossil, therefore dead, carbon continues to increase, as it is expected will be the case, the paradox will continue into the forthcoming centuries.”
Graham Phillips mentions that ‘recent evidence suggests that that the level of Carbon 14 in the atmosphere may have decreased permanently around 3,500 years ago due to changes in the earth’s magnetic field.’ This has resulted in dates around that period being up to 500 years out. Calibration figures are now available to take account of some of these deviations based on data from dendrochronology, ice and sediment cores and coral samples. Further refinements are not to be ruled out.
These weaknesses in radiocarbon dating have been seized upon by some fundamentalist Christian groups determined to justify their ‘young earth’ beliefs(d). However, attacks on the basic concepts underlying radiocarbon dating have been refuted by its supporters(e).
In 774/5 AD an increase of 1.2% of Carbon14 was detected through tree ring studies(c). This is thought to be the result of an external event such as a supernova or solar flare. Since many other episodes of a lesser or greater intensity have probably occurred, a growing shadow is being cast over the reliability of radiocarbon dating that may only be dissipated by further studies. Further complex recalibration is not to be ruled out, as it is highly unlikely that this eighth-century event was the only such occurrence.
A recent report(h) has drawn attention to the danger of using fossil fuels, as it pumps a type of carbon into the atmosphere that confuses the dating technique. Scientists say that by 2050, new clothes could have the same radiocarbon date as items 1,000 years old!
Radiocarbon dating is only useful up to a maximum of around 50,000 years. In February 2010, researchers at Queens University Belfast announced a new calibration curve that extends back over the 50 millennia. The production of this calibration curve is the result of 30 years of research into the variations in atmospheric Carbon 14 caused by solar activity, the earth’s magnetic field and the oceans. Other radiometric dating methods are now available to deal with dates beyond this limit.
2010 also saw another important refinement of radiocarbon dating with the development of a ‘non-destructive carbon dating’ method which will enable the dating of very delicate, rare or highly valuable artefacts, without having to destroy any samples from them, as is required at present(a).
One strong dissenting voice was that of the archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, former Secretary-General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities who said “Carbon-14 dating has a margin of error of 100 years. In order to date Egyptian dynasties, we need to have specific dates; you cannot use carbon dating,” Hawass explained further to Al-Masry Al-Youm(s), that “this technique shouldn’t be used at all in making changes to the chronology of the ancient Egypt, not even as a helpful addition.” Incidentally, in April 2015, a temperamental Hawass walked out of a debate with Graham Hancock over the inclusion of an image of Robert Bauval in Hancock’s presentation(g).
Emmet Sweeney tells a disturbing story of how some establishments have treated inconvenient C14 results, recounting[700.221] “the fate of samples from the tomb of Tutankhamun subjected by the British Museum to radiocarbon testing. The samples, consisting of fibers of a reed mat and a palm kernel, produced dates of 844BC and 899BC respectively. These were broadly in line with the date for Tutankhamun predicted by Velikovsky, but roughly 500 years too recent for textbook chronology. Despite assurances given to Velikovsky that the results would be published, they never saw the light of day.” [758.xvi]
>One can be forgiven for cynically interpreting Sweeney’s abandonment of radiocarbon dating as an absolute necessity, otherwise, all of Sweeney’s radical ancient chronology revisions collapse. Undoubtedly, all dating methods have their problems and radiocarbon dating is no exception. However, it makes better sense to address the problems, rather than discard the method entirely. I think it foolish to ignore entirely the body of work developed in connection with radiocarbon dating over the past three-quarters of a century.
Nevertheless, Sweeney makes the valid point that radiocarbon dating is based on the questionable assumption that the proportion of carbon14 in the atmosphere has always been constant, but does not offer any details regarding the extent of any such variations. While Sweeney may have his reasons for wanting to undermine the value of radiocarbon dating, as also do creationists. So in defence of radiocarbon dating a 2022 paper by David H. Bailey noted that “radiocarbon dates, determined by well-established procedures and calculations, are compared directly with dates determined by the other methods, thus permitting the radiocarbon dates to be accurately calibrated with distinct and independent dating techniques.”(x)<
In Forgotten Civilization and his earlier Pyramid Quest, Robert Schoch has drawn attention to some difficulties that have arisen with radiocarbon dating and the implications for Egyptology. A warning about future difficulties with the reliability of radiocarbon dating has been issued by Heather Graven, a climate-physics researcher at Imperial College London. She has found that the rate of fossil-fuel emissions is skewing the carbon ratios used to determine an object’s age. She estimates that by 2050 atmospheric carbon dioxide will make new organic material appear to be 1,000 years old(2). Graham Hancock has also expressed reservations regarding the use of radiocarbon dating, urging both caution and open-mindedness(m).
Hancock’s son, Sean, has written a couple of papers on the subject of radiocarbon dating, one concerning the subject generally(u), the other, regarding its application at Tiwanaku(v). He concluded the former with the comment that “radiocarbon dating is useful as a complement to other data; this is when it is strong. Until the day comes that every variable can be controlled and every error eliminated radiocarbon dates will never have the final word on archaeological sites.” Concerning Tiwanaku, he is equally critical noting that “The question we have to ask is whether or not these radiocarbon dates are archaeologically representative? I believe the answer to that question is no. What is called for is a more thorough excavation programme at Tiahuanaco that would once and for all close this case.”
An even more jaundiced view of current dating difficulties is expressed(l) by Jonathan Gray.
One of these, namely, the potassium/argon method has been claimed by writers such as Richard Milton to have its inherent problems and must be treated with caution. It appears that although dating methods have advanced greatly further improvements can be expected.
The latest refinement of radiocarbon dating techniques has shortened the time taken from six days to two and additionally, now allows on-site testing(f).
The Malagabay website(n) posted a series of blogs through April 2017 under the heading of ‘Deranged Dating’ highlighting weaknesses in radiocarbon dating!
There is now a valuable list of papers(o), with links, devoted to the many problems that have gradually emerged concerning radiocarbon dating. This is just part of the ‘A New Chronology’ website(p).
June 2018 saw a report issued from Cornell University that highlighted some inaccuracies that have been found in dates relating to the southern Levant region, which includes parts of Jordan, Israel and Egypt. Archaeologist Sturt Manning and his colleagues “have revealed variations in the radiocarbon cycle at certain periods, affecting frequently cited standards used in archaeological and historical research.” (q)(t)
Currently, standard calibration curves assume that at any given time radiocarbon levels are similar and stable everywhere across each hemisphere. It seems therefore that the calibration of radiocarbon dates will have to take account of regional factors in future. In March 2020 a further study(r) from Cornell confirmed the value of regional calibration, which can now be applied to contentious issues such as the date of Tutankhamun’s death and the eruption of Thera (Santorini).
In September 2021 a paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science claimed to have solved the problem of current radiocarbon analysis typically used to reconstruct past human demographic changes relies on a method “easily skewed by radiocarbon calibration curves and measurement uncertainty.” Lead author Michael Holton Price claims that he has developed a new statistical method for summarising sets of radiocarbon dates. Price developed an approach to estimating prehistoric populations that use Bayesian reasoning and a flexible probability model that allows researchers to overcome the problem of ‘equifinality’, where a single carbon14 value can correspond to a different date. “This paper is just the first step. Next, through ‘data fusion’, the team will add ancient DNA and other data to radiocarbon dates for even more reliable demographic reconstructions.” (w)
(1) New Scientist (7/9/02, p.14)
(2) Fortean Times (FT340) May 2016, p.16