New Evidence for an Early Date for the Aegean Late Bronze Age and Thera Eruption

By Manning, Sturt W.; Ramsey, Christopher Bronk et al. | Antiquity, September 2002 | Go to article overview
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New Evidence for an Early Date for the Aegean Late Bronze Age and Thera Eruption

Manning, Sturt W., Ramsey, Christopher Bronk, Doumas, Christos, Marketou, Toula, Cadogan, Gerald, Pearson, Charlotte L., Antiquity


Marked controversy surrounds the dates for both the beginning of the Aegean Late Bronze Age and the associated eruption of the Thera (Santorini) volcano (e.g. Hardy & Renfrew 1990; Manning 1999). We report new sets of [sup.14]C (radiocarbon) data from the Aegean. These offer important clarification to existing data and scholarship. They demonstrate that the long-held conventional dates derived from archaeological cross-dating appear incorrect (too low by around 100 years), and instead support much earlier date ranges. This has great significance for the correct interpretation of Aegean-Egyptian linkages in the mid 2nd millennium BC.

The conventional chronology of the Aegean Late Bronze Age places the diagnostic initial cultural phases, the Late Minoan IA and IB phases of Crete (LMIA, LMIB), respectively c. 1600/1580 to 1480 BC, and c. 1480-1425 BC (Warren & Hankey 1989). This chronology derives from over a century of intensive scholarship interpreting the limited and often ambiguous material culture exchanges and stylistic associations between the approximately historically dated civilization of Egypt, and the Aegean. The eruption of the Thera volcano, located in the mature LMIA phase (Hardy & Renfrew 1990; Warren & Hankey 1989: 72-8, 214; Warren 1999; Manning 1999; Macdonald 2001), is dated c. 1520-1500 BC following this approach (e.g. Warren 1984; 1998; 1999). Attempts over the last 20 odd years to revise the dates for either the LMIA and IB phases, or the eruption of Thera, have been firmly rejected by most leading scholars associated with the conventional chronology (e.g. Warren 1984; 1985; 1987; 1998; Eriksson 1992; Matthaius 1995; Bietak & Hein 2001; Wiener 2001). Nonetheless, a variety of data, both archaeological and scientific, indicate that an alternative chronological scheme some 100 years or so earlier is viable (e.g. Kemp & Merrillees 1980; Betancourt 1987; Manning 1988; 1999; Manning et al. 2001; in press; Marketou et al. 2001), leaving the field characterized by deep controversy for the past 20 years.

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We sought to test and refine current date estimates for the beginning of the Aegean Late Bronze Age by [sup.14]C dating carefully selected organic materials from specific contexts in the Aegean from the LMIA and IB phases: TABLE 1 and FIGURE 1. New data presented here were measured at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit. TABLE 1 and FIGURE 1 also include eight previously published Oxford data (Housley et al. 1999) and four previously published Copenhagen data (Friedrich et al. 1990). Calibration and statistical analysis employed the OxCal 3.5 (2000 release) software package (at 1-year resolution with cubic interpolation off--all calibrated ages rounded to whole integers) and the current, internationally recommended, INTCAL98 [sup.14]C calibration dataset (Bronk Ramsey 1995; 2000; Stuiver et al. 1998a).


Late Minoan IA

To estimate the date range of the LMIA phase, we consider data from the early and then late parts of the LMIA phase from Trianda, Rhodes, and data from the mature to late LMIA phase, and late LMIA Volcanic Destruction Level (VDL), at Akrotiri, Thera. The Trianda material from early LMIA consists of: (i) a 30-year (tree-rings) pith to bark (cutting year) oak branch sample (AE1024), with the bark offering a specific terminus post quem for a point in early LMIA, and, as a relatively short-lived branch (non-architectural) sample from an area of industrial (grinding) debris, in fact a likely date close to its human use in early LMIA, and (ii) two other non-defined small wood charcoal samples (OxA-10623, 10642). The 30-year sample to bark (AE1024) was dated as three consecutive 10-year sections. The defined sequence--wiggle-match--calibration for the outer decade is, at 1[sigma] (68.2%) confidence, 1857-1840 BC, P=0.188, 1765-1716 BC, P=0.736, 1698-1689 BC, P=0.076, and, at 2[sigma] (95.

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New Evidence for an Early Date for the Aegean Late Bronze Age and Thera Eruption


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