Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Calibrating Ancient Egyptian Chronologies

The Thera Eruption Linked Climate Event

An Egyptian inscription made during the reign of the pharaoh Ahmose, the first pharoh of the 18th Dynasty and the New Kingdom in Egypt that followed the Second Intermediary Period of Canaanite, linguistically Semitic Hyskos rule in Egypt "describes rain, darkness and "the sky being in storm without cessation, louder than the cries of the masses".

There is good reason to believe that this was associated with "the result of a massive volcano explosion at Thera, the present-day island of Santorini in the Mediterranean Sea" that was decisive in bringing Minoan civilization to an end. (This is one of two leading candidate as the source for the Atlantis myth, with the other in Southern Iberia.)

Equally important, radiocarbon dating of wood from an olive tree found in the ashes of that eruption provided a reliable date for that eruption: 1621-1605 B.C.E.

With this critical calibration point, it was possible to date Ahmose's reign to considerably earlier than the 1550 B.C.E date previously associated with the start of his reign. And, since Egyptian documents often reckon dates in terms of the reigning monarch, this shifts a huge chunk of the Egyptian historical record about 50+ years earlier, with the events recounted themselves taking place shortly before the beginning of Ahmose's reign.

What does this imply?
Until now, the archeological evidence for the date of the Thera eruption seemed at odds with the radiocarbon dating, explained Oriental Institute postdoctoral scholar Felix Hoeflmayer, who has studied the chronological implications related to the eruption. However, if the date of Ahmose's reign is earlier than previously believed, the resulting shift in chronology "might solve the whole problem," Hoeflmayer said. 
The revised dating of Ahmose's reign could mean the dates of other events in the ancient Near East fit together more logically, scholars said. For example, it realigns the dates of important events such as the fall of the power of the Canaanites and the collapse of the Babylonian Empire, said David Schloen, associate professor in the Oriental Institute and Near Eastern Languages&Civilizations on ancient cultures in the Middle East. 
"This new information would provide a better understanding of the role of the environment in the development and destruction of empires in the ancient Middle East," he said. 
For example, the new chronology helps to explain how Ahmose rose to power and supplanted the Canaanite rulers of Egypt—the Hyksos—according to Schloen. The Thera eruption and resulting tsunami would have destroyed the Hyksos' ports and significantly weakened their sea power. 
In addition, the disruption to trade and agriculture caused by the eruption would have undermined the power of the Babylonian Empire and could explain why the Babylonians were unable to fend off an invasion of the Hittites, another ancient culture that flourished in what is now Turkey.
The short term havoc wrecked by this eruption, while it may have weakened the Hyskos rulers of Egypt of the Second Intermediate Period (previously dated from 1650 BCE to 1550 BCE, but now calibrated to 1700 BCE to 1600 BCE) and other regimes in the region, pales next to two major arid periods in the region that bookended this event. 

The 4.2 Kiloyear Event

The first, which preceded the Thera eruption from around 2200 BCE to 2000 BCE is called the 4.2 kiloyear event.  (This was good news for California which received a two century break from its 6,000 year old megadrought at this time.)

This led to the collapse of Harappan civilization in South Asia (and the disappearance of the Sarasvati River that figures prominently in the Rig Vedic epics), the  collapse of the Akkadian Empire in what is now Iraq, and Egypt's First Intermediary period (2231 BCE to 2105 BCE). The First Intermediary Period began with the collapse of Egypt's Old Kingdom (2736 BCE to 2231 BCE), which in turn, was preceded by Egypt's early Dynastic period that started around 3150 BCE according to the new calibration, at the dawn of the Copper Age and some of the earliest moment of written history.

This also weakened the existing Hattic regime in Anatolia, clearing the way for the rise of the Indo-European Hittites, and coincides with the appearance of the first Mycenean Greeks (also Indo-Europeans) in mainland Greece, and the migration of the Tocharians to the Tarim Basin.

Bronze Age Collapse

The second, which took place after the Thera eruption, started around 1200 BCE and is commonly known as Bronze Age Collapse.

This brought down the last round of successors to the Bell Beaker culture in Western, Central and Northern Europe. It brought the ethnically Mycenean Greek Philistine Sea people mentioned in the Bible to the Gaza Strip. It led to the fall of the Hittite Empire, and the Trojan War fought on the Western coast of Anatolia. Egypt's Third Intermediate Period starting at the recalibrated date of 1119 BCE, also comes swiftly on the heels of Bronze Age collapse, although it was not the first to fall.

Out of the ashes of the Third Intermediate Period comes ancient Egypt's Late Period as an Egyptian dynasty of pharaohs reestablishes itself at a recalibrated date of about 714 BCE (which endures until a recalibrated date of about 382 BCE), right around the time that the Roman Empire and Classical Greece began to reestablish themselves as Iron Age civilizations.


DDeden said...

The Atlantis myth was a Platonic fable, but shared roots with the 10 tales of the Black Sea Deluge 7.7ka when the Atlantic Ocean entered the formerly separate freshwater Black Sea Oasis. (In my opinion.)
Atlantis/Atrahasis/Utnapishtim/Ziusudra/Noah-Noachim/Nachmizulli/Yima/Manu etc.
No connection to Santorini-Thera.

andrew said...

There are certainly lots of ideas out there for both Atlantis and for flood myths such as Noah's Deluge (with the account in Genesis most likely derivative of the Mesopotamian flood myth which is likely traceable to the flood in Shuruppak, Sumeria ca. 2900 BCE.

The trouble with the Black Sea Deluge ca. 7.7 kya as a source is that I seriously doubt the capacity of oral history to sustain a legend over 7000 years.

DDeden said...

I consider that that period was literally 'almost-historical', with much more accurate recording (combined oral with mnemonic symbols) than older periods (though likely mostly on perishable materials rather than on stone carvings etc.), due to substantial advances in herding/breeding/seasonal calendar record-keeping, vast hierarchical social assemblages (compared not to later empires but to earlier ones), and long-distance transportation and trade increases.

Is my math right here? 7,700 years / 20yr per generation = (minimally) +/- ~ 35 campfire storytellings of 'our tribe/ancestors came from...once there was a bi-i-i-g flood' with physical gestures and emotional aspects dramatizations.

Why isn't there a Celtic version of the deluge? I think the King Arthur legend was it, before romantic and medieval diversions and geographic separation from the other 10 tribes altered it.

Plato's tale, via Solon's Egyptian experience, paralleled Duecalion et al.' flood, but from a different perspective, a East Iberia-West Iberia Mediterranian/Egyptian temple priest culture (non-Pharaohnic). Factual or fictional I don't know, but at least possible, as oral history.

andrew said...

Your math is not good. First, the conventional value for the length of a generation is more like 29 years. Second, there are about 265 generations in 7,700 years. You are off by a factor of ten.