Monday, October 20, 2014

Collapse, 1177 Edition

From the "collapse is the norm, not the exception," files:
The Late Bronze Age that [George Washington University professor Eric H.] Cline is interested in stretches from about 1500 B.C. to 1100 B.C. The Bronze Age itself, as opposed to the Stone Age before it, begins somewhere around 3000 B.C. At that point, people developed sophisticated metallurgy techniques allowing them to mix copper and tin into an alloy — bronze — strong enough for serious sword blades and other goods. It is in the Bronze Age that city building, and the sprawling kingdoms they engendered, begins in earnest. Egypt of the pharaohs was a Bronze Age civilization as was the Babylonian empire.

It was the transport of copper and tin for bronze that helped establish complex trade networks. Grain and manufactured goods also became part of that transportation web. Alliances between city-states followed. In this way, the Egyptians, Hittites, Canaanites, Cypriots, Minoans, Mycenaeans, Assyrians and Babylonians became the economic powerhouses of the ancient world — what Cline calls the "Group of 8." Together they built the first version of a "global" culture using long-distance economic and military partnerships that required advanced — for its day — technologies.

The evidence that a prolonged shift in climate was a factor in bringing down the Mediterranean Bronze Age comes from a number of studies...showing that cooling sea surface temperatures led to lower rainfall over inland farming areas. Pollen analysis ...also indicates a fairly rapid transition to a drier climate during this period that includes the Late Bronze Age collapse. What followed were drought, scarcity and desperation...And with famine came migration and wars. The scourge of the era was the mysterious "Sea Peoples" who had swept across the region... it is likely that the marauding Sea Peoples came from the western Mediterranean and "were probably fleeing their island homes because of the drought and famine ... moving across the Mediterranean as both refugees and conquerors."

For Cline, climate change — along with the famines and migration it brought — comprised a "perfect storm" of cataclysms that weakened the great Bronze Age "global" culture. But the final blow, the deepest reason for the collapse, may have come from within the very structure of that society.

The world of the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians was complex, in the technical meaning of the word. It was a system with many agents and many overlapping connections. That complexity was both a strength and weakness. Cline points to recent research in the study of so-called complex systems that shows how susceptible they can be to cascades of disruption and failure from even small perturbations. Perhaps, Cline says, the Bronze Age societies exhibited the property called "hypercoherence" where interdependencies are so complex that stability becomes ever harder to maintain.

Thus complexity itself may have been the greatest threat to late Bronze Age civilization once the pressures began. And it is that fact, more than anything else, that speaks to the dangers we face today....
 Lessons From The Last Time Civilization Collapsed (NPR)


  1. The eruption of Thera/Santorini played a big role in the collapse of Crete, and maybe contributed elsewhere. Massive disruption of agriculture. Like he says, it all adds up. Then there is the bottom up effect... people get so sick of the whole effing empire that they begin to root for collapse (and help it where they can).

  2. When I read the title and saw a thumbnail of the image you used, I was expecting an entry about the collapse of the Anasazi, which began about 1177 CE. I was surprised, but not disappointed, to read that it was about the collapse of the interconnected Bronze Age civilizations instead. Just the same, the confusion prompts me to suggest that you should have called this post "Collapse, 1177 BCE Edition."

    1. I thought about that, but I liked the ambiguity. It was kind of like a teaser. Of course, I could have written it like everything else on the Web nowadays, "You'll never believe what caused this collapse!" or "10 reasons behind collapse you'll never see coming!"


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