OLD TREES, NEW DATES and the trojan war

As at 2009: dating now confirmed 2014

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OLD TREES, NEW DATES and the end of Mycenaean civilization

Many of those who have seen Hollywood’s version of the Trojan War will be more convinced than ever that it never happened. Others will want to know when the epic events it portrays took place.

Among these are those archaeologists and scientists who believe that the period in which the Trojan War may best be set in the heyday of the brilliant prehistoric civilization known today as Mycenaean. This civilization is named after its principal city, Mycenae in southern Greece, the seat of Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks. It is marked by great fortress citadels, elaborately decorated palaces, a complex administration which used records written on clay tablets in an early form of Greek and a network of trade and contact extending from Egypt to Sardinia.

Until now the acme of this civilization has been has been set in the 14th and 13th centuries BC on the basis of a chain of archaeological evidence which starts with the Pharaohs of Egypt. The destruction of the palaces and the end of this period of prosperity - after which the concerted effort of a major expedition against Troy is thought inconceivable - is usually set around 1200-1180 BC. 

Among the charred building timbers found at Assiros are a group from a building horizon (Phase 7) which is contemporary with the final stage of the Mycenaean period, after the destruction of the palatial centres. Four of these timbers have been dated using the Carbon 14 wiggle match technique, giving a felling date of around 1270 BC. 

This date is not only the first direct and reliable scientific date for Mycenaean civilization from within Greece but shows that the destruction of the palatial centres occurred some 50 years before the date usually expected. Why ? - because this must have occurred before this building horizon at Assiros, which is characterised by a style of pottery (known to specialists as Late Helladic IIIC) which only developed after these destructions.

In consequence the end of the period of greatest Mycenaean achievement and the date before which the Trojan War took place (if it ever did), must be set, at the latest, around 1250 BC. This date intriguingly matches the date proposed for the war nearly 2500 years ago by the Greek historian Herodotus who set it ‘800 years before our time’ with nothing better to start from than the number of generations since the heroic expedition.

All that remains to obtain a precise date for the war itself is to find some of the timbers used to build the wooden horse................

K.A. Wardle, University of Birmingham

Peter Ian Kuniholm, Maryanne Newton, Cornell University

Bernd Kromer, Heidelberg Academy of Sciences

A full report on the new date for the destruction of the Mycenaean palaces was presented at the  Archaeological Institute of America conference in Boston in January 2005

tabulation of dates

Old trees, new dates and the end of Mycenaean civilization