OLD TREES, NEW DATES and the end of Mycenaean civilization

As at 2009: dating now confirmed 2014

See also

OLD TREES, NEW DATES and the trojan war

Summary

International collaboration between experts at the Universities of Birmingham, Cornell and Heidelberg has resulted in a breakthrough in determining an absolute date for the end of the Mycenaean period and beginning of the Greek Iron Age. Until now this has been deduced from a tenuous chain of ceramic parallels and historical inferences. The new dating evidence also has implications for how an important period of prehistory in Europe and the Middle East is understood.

The study of burnt construction timbers from the prehistoric site of Assiros in Greek Macedonia using the independent techniques of dendrochronology (tree ring dating) and wiggle-matched radiocarbon determinations have provided the dates of 1080 and 1070 +4-7 BC for the felling of the timbers used in two successive buildings. A Protogeometric style amphora, made soon after the beginning of the Iron Age and found on the lower floor, can thus be securely dated after 1080 BC and before 1070 BC.

This date for the start of the Iron Age is not only the first such determination in Greece and the adjacent region, but is some 50 years earlier than that usually proposed. It will require reassessment of the accepted dates for equivalent developments in Cyprus, Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

The context

Excavation at the settlement mound of Assiros Toumba in Central Macedonia, conducted between 1975 and 1989 by the British School at Athens and the University of Birmingham, revealed a series of construction levels dating from the Middle Bronze Age (c 2000 BC) to the Iron Age (c 850 BC). Several of these were destroyed by fire and the charred oak construction timbers were thus preserved for modern study.

The results reported here are based on timbers used in constructing the second and third Iron Age settlements (Phases 3 and 2 respectively). Scattered on the floor of the second settlement (Assiros Phase 3) and sealed under the floor of the third (Assiros Phase 2) were many fragments from a clay amphora made in the Protogeometric style which marks the beginning of the Iron Age in southern Greece. The fabric and decoration of this example matches others which have been found in Central and Northern Greece and at Troy and have conventionally been dated between 1025 and 975 BC. (See R.W.J. Catling in Studia Troica vol. 8, 1998)

A full report has been published in Archaiologiko Ergo Makedonias Thrakis for 2003, (pdf here).

Fig 1. Protogeometric amphora from Assiros sealed below the floor level of the third Iron Age Settlement (Phase 2)

 

Dendrochronology

Painstaking examination of four different timbers at the Malcolm and Carolyn Wiener Laboratory for Aegean and Near Eastern Dendrochronology at Cornell University enabled the growth patterns for a period of over 100 years to be recorded. Comparison of this pattern with that established and dated from timbers found at Gordion and other Anatolian sites revealed that those used in the early Iron Age constructions at Assiros had been cut down by 1070 +4-7 BC.

Carbon 14

The 100 year span of the Assiros timbers also allowed the application of a powerful technique, dendrochronological 14C wiggle-matching (DWM), in which samples extracted at approximately 20 year intervals from the timbers were processed at the Radiocarbon Facility of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and the Institut für Umweltphysik at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg. Seven determinations, related absolutely in this manner, were then matched statistically with the relevant section of the internationally recommended radiocarbon calibration curve, INTCAL98. Fluctuations in this curve are particularly marked during the final part of the 2nd Millennium BC, making it impossible to distinguish the correct absolute date from a single 14C determination.  We use the time series represented in the tree-rings at Assiros to match the 14C fluctuations with a DWM model that ‘fits’ the calibration curve with remarkable precision at 1075 ±7 BC, a date which is statistically indistinguishable from the date provided by the dendrochronology match.

Fig. 2: Seven 14C determinations from timbers at Assiros fitted precisely to the INTCAL98 calibration curve.

Significance

For over one hundred years, dates for the end of the Mycenaean period and start of the Iron Age have been based on a tenuous chain of argument, which has used the occasional discoveries of Protogeometric style pottery in Near Eastern sites as starting points despite their poor contexts and uncertain correlation with datable historical events such as the Old Testament reign of King David or the hieroglyphic record of the campaigns of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses III in Palestine. Conversely, dates for Near Eastern sites have sometimes been based on the presence of ‘datable’ examples of Greek Protogeometric pottery, a circular argument which gives little confidence in the whole chronological framework currently accepted.

While the new dates will impose an adjustment of fifty years upwards on the chronologies of the whole Eastern Mediterranean region, they do provide, for the first time, an independently derived starting point for the Protogeometric period which can be fixed within a narrow period between 1100 and 1070 BC . In addition, they should finally lay to rest the radical proposals of James and others in ‘Centuries of Darkness’ for the removal of over 200 years from the Dark Age chronology, proposals which were in part based on the inadequacies of the existing frameworks.

 

Return to Assiros web pages

The Trojan War

tabulated dates

 

Authors

Bernd Kromer, Sahra Talamo, Heidelberger Academie der Wissenschaften, Universität Heidelberg (14C determinations): Email: bernd.kromer@iup.uni-heidelberg.de

Peter Ian Kuniholm, Maryanne Newton, Cornell University, (Dendrochronology): Email: MARYANNE@dendro.mail.cornell.edu

K.A. Wardle, University of Birmingham: (Director Assiros Excavations): k.a.wardle@bham.ac.uk

  Links

For further details about:

Assiros visit:

 

the rest of the ASSIROS RESEARCH PAGES

 

The Malcolm and Carolyn Wiener Laboratory for Aegean and Near Eastern Dendrochronology at Cornell University visit:

 

http://www.arts.cornell.edu/dendro/

 

14C at the Institut für Umweltphysik at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, visit:

 

http://www.iup.uni-heidelberg.de/institut/forschung/groups/fa/radiokohlenstoff/radiometrie-web-html