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Page last updated 2/24/05

        The long-standing traditional dates for the Bronze Age in most of the Mediterranean world and beyond have lately been found to be in need of serious revision.  The root of the problem is the mysterious "Dark Age" which supposedly followed the collapse of the great Mycenaean civilization (and others) around 1200 BC.  That there was a collapse and subsequent cultural decline is not in question.  The difficulty is that the centuries between 1200 and c. 950 appear to be a cultural vacuum, lacking in population centers, pottery or other artifacts, and everything else.  And yet the culture of 950 is strikingly similar to that of 1200, with artifacts, architecture, and other cultural features that are all too often clearly derived from their earlier counterparts.  In fact, on most excavated sites, occupation appears to be continuous, with artifacts and archeological layers from 300 years apart being close together or even intermingled.  Nearly identical objects from two different areas will be given implausibly different dates.

uch the same sort of confusion and mysterious gap in time can be found in Mesopotamia, North Africa, Nubia, Sardinia, Judea and its neighbors, Italy, Cyprus, Crete, and other lands as far as the Persian Gulf.  See the problem?  It looks like the entire population of this end of the planet simply went on vacation in 1200 BC, then came back 250 years later and picked up where they left off! 

       The key is Egypt.  ALL of the absolute dates (nice round numbers or not) applied to much of Europe, western Asia, and North Africa are derived from association with Egyptian artifacts, which are in turn dated according to the traditional Egyptian King List.  For example, if an excavation in Cyprus turns up a distinct style of Mycenaean pottery in the same archeological context as a distinct style of Egyptian pottery, we can be reasonably sure they were made and used at the same time.  (And since potsherds occur in the THOUSANDS on virtually any site, the stylistic relationships are established with reasonable confidence.)  The King List has been built up over the centuries from writings originating around the 4th century BC, and establishes absolute dates for a number of Pharaohs and ruling Dynasties of Egypt.  However, the remaining records are often very fragmentary and ambiguous, and a crucial factor is that dynasties sometimes ruled simultaneously rather than consecutively.  Modern historians have often filled in data such as the lengths of a reigns of little-known pharaohs with guesswork, inflated to fit pre-conceived notions.  It appears that the era known as the Third Intermediate Period has been incorrectly stretched to cover at least two centuries more in time than it should.  The result is that every absolute date for the rest of the world before 950 BC has been artificially inflated.  If the Third Intermediate Period is shortened (and a few other dicey gaps closed up), the year 1200 suddenly is reduced to 950, and the mysterious and unlikely "Dark Ages" become a much more believeable and shorter period--one that is firmly
documentable according to the archeological record.  This is the "Low Chronology", which I am using on this website.

       This is all very clearly and exhaustively laid out in a book by
Peter James, et al., Centuries of Darkness (London: Jonathan Cape, 1991.  ISBN 0-224-02647-X).  I can't hope to summarize their discussions and theories in any cogent detail, so I strongly urge you to read their book if you are at all interested in the subject.  If nothing else, take a look at their website, 

There you will find a list of Frequently Asked Questions, reviews of their book both positive and negative (and some responses to them), discussions of Carbon-14 dating, dendrochronology, volcanic sulfur traces in the Greenland ice cap, and more.  They invite and welcome scholarly attempts to disprove their theories--apparently no such attempts have been successful so far, and the academic community is steadily lining up in agreement with this new Low Chronology.

       For a rather lively discussion of the whole chronology issue, see the "Palace Discussions" section of the Bronze Age Center board,

Direct link, 

Though it may be quicker, and would certainly be less confusing, just to read the book!

Applying the Revised Chronology, by Edwin M. Schorr--An older article, and not really the best look at the situation, but it does show very well how long the debate has been going on, and how fluid the dating system has always been. 

       I hope to be adding a nice timeline chart to this page when I get a chance.  There are also other books and papers on the chronology subject which I have not seen, such as  S. Manning's The Absolute Chronology of the Aegean Bronze Age, 1995 (ISBN 1850753369).  No idea which ones are good or bad, nor whether they support the Low Chronology or not.  In the meantime, books and articles on ancient history are still pouring out with the old High Chronology dates blithely repeated as if they were engraved in stone, as it were.  Beware of them, if only to keep in mind that they might be wrong.

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