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Earthquakes and Archaeology: The Catastrophic End of the Bronze Age in 1200 BC

Date and Time: 
Friday, January 13, 2017. 12:30 PM - 02:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Building 110, Room 112
Workshop: 
Approaches to Data Scarcity in Ancient History
Meeting Description: 

Earthquakes have traditionally been rejected as an important agent in past collapses and destructions. In this talk however, I show that from a geophysics point of view, and especially given our current knowledge of earthquake geography and plate tectonics, this rejection is unwarranted and even a bit surprising given the great archaeological puzzles we face:
1.    Why are there so many ruins around the Mediterranean basin?
2.    Why are there so many levels of destruction in many archaeological sites (e.g., Knossos-10, Jericho-22, Armageddon-32, Troy-45)?
3.    The inexplicable nature of regional destructions and system collapses.
 One of the greatest collapses we know of is the catastrophic end of the Bronze Age ca. 1200 BC in the Aegean Sea and Near East. This involved not only political and societal collapse, but also the physical destruction of major capital cities such as Mycenae, Hatusas, Ugarit and Troy, and important sites such as Armageddon and Jericho. 

I show how a storm of earthquakes spanning perhaps 50 years between 1225 to 1175 BC could have been in part responsible for or have triggered this regional collapse ranging from eastern Turkey to western Greece. Specifically, I demonstrate that (1) An “earthquake storm” could have contributed to a “systems collapse” (Renfrew, 1981, 1987; Drews, 1993) at the end of the Late Bronze Age in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean: (2) The physical damage to defenses, monumental buildings, and people by this “earthquake storm” could have rendered key Late Bronze Age centers vulnerable to attack by outside invaders and by indigenous or neighboring populations; and (3) The destruction caused by an “earthquake storm” could have been the first link in a chain of events which led to the political, social, and economic “systems collapse” in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean ca. 1225-1175 BC.

About the speaker:
Amos Nur has been the Wayne–Loel Professor of Geophysics and Earth Sciences (now retired) at Stanford University since 1988. Amos earned his BS in geology at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and his Ph.D. in Geophysics at MIT in 1969. He joined the Stanford geophysics department in 1970.

He served as chair of the Geophysics Department, Stanford from 1986-1991 and from 1997- 2000. Amos is an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering (2001), a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (1976); Fellow, Geological Society of America (1980); Fellow, California Academy of Science (1990); and an honorary member of the Society of Exploration Geophysics (1996). He is the 2011 recipient of the Maurice Ewing medal of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists. Between 2000 and 2005, Amos served as director of Stanford University’s campus-wide overseas studies program.

Amos’ research and publications are in 4 areas: 
(a) The physics of rocks and applications to the exploration and production of oil and gas. 
(b) Rock mechanics, earthquake mechanics and earthquake physics. For over twenty years, he has been investigating the temporal and spatial patterns of earthquakes throughout history to find clues useful for earthquake prediction. Together with colleagues in archaeology, history, geology and geophysics at Stanford and elsewhere, Amos has been investigating the relation between earthquakes and archaeology.
(c) The intricate relation among petroleum supply and demand, national security and international conflict, and the role of technology and science in mitigating insecurity and conflict related to energy supply. 
(d) A critical assessment of interdisciplinary issues involving earth science, including global warming and human impact on climate.

Amos has published over 250 papers and 3 books. One of his books is entitled Apocalypse: Earthquakes, Archaeology, and the Wrath of God. He has also produced a one-hour documentary on “The Walls Came Tumbling Down – Earthquakes in the Holy Land.”

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