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The debate on the Absolute Chronology for the End of the Late Bronze Age and the Beginning of the Early Iron Age in Greece in its Mediterranean Context

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The debate on the Absolute Chronology for the End of the Late Bronze Age and the Beginning of the Early Iron Age in Greece in its Mediterranean Context
  The debate on the Absolute Chronology for the End of the Late Bronze Age and theBeginning of the Early Iron Age in Greece in its Mediterranean ContextIntro The debate on the absolute chronology for the end of the Late Bronze Age (henceforth LBA) andthe beginning of the Early Iron Age (EIA) is one of the e most complex problems affecting thereconstruction of the formation process of Greek (and Eastern Mediterranean) cultures of historicage. Similarly to the preceding Middle and Late Bronze ages, the “traditional” chronologicalreconstruction, that fixes the Bronze/Iron transition in Greece to about 1050 BC, has beenquestioned following a) the radiocarbon results from a restricted number of Key-sites (Manning andWeininger, 1992; Manning et al. 2001a), b) the reanalysis of levantine contexts that have yieldedimported products of the Greek proto-geometric period (Finkelstein e Piasetzky, 2003a,2003b,2003c, 2006; Hagens, 2006). The End of the Bronze Age in the Eastern Mediterranean: Definitions The end of the Late Bronze Age, whose periodisation is heavily dependent on the framework of archaeological interrelations between different regions of the eastern Mediterranean, has beendefined on the base of different phenomena occurring in the Near eastern and Aegean/Cypriotarchaeological record, thus leading to possible terminological ambiguity (Hagens, 2006).In an extreme sum, the scholarly definition of the Bronze/Iron transition is based on the observationof a series of new trends in the archaeological record, the most relevant being:(1)The fall of the international trade network of the LBA eastern Mediterranean following thedestruction of Mycenaean centres and the movements of the People of the Sea;(2)The appearance of LH III C 1b (Submycenean) wares in several centres of the Levant, inlevels corresponding more or less to the time of People of the Sea arrival, after RamessesIII's yr. 8 battle (dated to 1175 BC in the traditional chronology);In the Aegean and mainland Greece area the LBA/EIA transition is linked to a long series of socialand economical changes (including destruction horizons at different sites attesting a politicaldiscontinuity with the preceding phases) attested in the archaeological records, and changes inmaterial culture (with the appearance of new ceramic typologies and decorations) that took place ina slightly later period, if compared to the LBA/EIA transition in the Levant, whose chronology has been defined on the basis of a relatively small number of imports of Aegean srcin from levantinecontexts that have yielded also (or are linkable to) Egyptian imported fossil-guides.During the last 50 years (for example Desborough, 1952) this correlations have often beenquestioned, particularly from the incertitude about contexts stratigraphical reliability. A goodexample at this regard may be found in the chronological “datum-line” offered by the Egyptian vase bearing the cartouche of queen Tawseret (1193-1186 BC in the traditional chronology), found atDeir 'Alla in association with LH III B ware (Hagens, 2006), that has been used to argument thechronological correspondence between the fall of the Mycenaean trade network and the levantinesites dated to the (early) XII century BC (Drews, 1993). This chronological correlation is however questionable for two main reasons:(1)A significant part of the mentioned contexts has yielded mixed materials belonging to older  phases also (LH III A), thus throwing some doubts on the effectively possible relevance of   Heirloom effects (Hagens, 2006);(2)Following (1), it seems not possible at the present stage to determine the effective life-spanof some prestige import productions (as those found at Deir 'Alla) that may certainly have been kept in use/circulation for a significant time after the fall of the Mycenaean network;  Another argument for the chronological correlation of the fall of the Mycenaean trading network with the LBA/EIA transition in the Levant is to be found on the analysis of the diplomatic relationsattested in some palatial archives (mostly Ugarit) that allow a reconstruction of the internationalmaritime trade in this period.The correspondence between Alshya-Cyprus and Ugarit, attested in the town archive (Drews, 1993)shows how the two areas kept in contact until a period later than the end of Tawseret's reign and thedestruction of the city (Hagens, 2006). However, this correlation does not allow to link the absolutechronology of the destruction of Ugarit with Cypriot LC II C as well, as the term Alashya may refer more to a particular centre in Cyprus than to the whole island: this seems particularly likely if oneholds the identification of Alashya with the site of Alassa-Palaeotaverna, (Karageorghis, 2002) asvalid, as this site survived the destructions of the end of the LC II and continued to flourish in thesubsequent LC III A (Karageorghis, 2002).The record of LH III B imports in Cyprus seem to show a sensible interruption before the end of theLC II C period, a phenomenon that may be situated in the course of the progressive collapse of theinternational Late Bronze Age trading network, which in turn seems to be a longer and morearticulated process than previously thought (Karageorghis, 2002).LH III C 1b (Submycenean) imported wares in the Levant coming from contexts that are linkable toRamesse III's reign in Egypt (i.e. Around 1175 BC in the traditional chronology), that have beenused for the interlinked chronology of the end of the LBA may not be used in turn to date the LH IIIB/LH III C 1b transition in the Aegean without running the risk of falling into a circular argument,given, in particular, the lack of elements to determine the effectively time-span of the LH III C 1a phase (Hagens, 2006).This incertitude may effectively imply that the production and international spread of LH III Bwares may as well have took place several decades prior to the destruction of Ugarit, and up to 50calendar yrs prior to Ramesses III's reign in Egypt.In the last two decades, these contextual incertitudes have brought to the formulation of (at least)three different chronological scenarios for the interlinked chronologies for the LBA/EIA transitionin the eastern Mediterranean: Submycenean and Proto-geometric wares in the Levant and the “Low” chronology Being dependent to a long series of possible sources of incertitude, the “traditional” chronologicalreconstruction for the beginning of the EIA in the Aegean and mainland Greece has been mostlydrawn on the basis of archaeologically attested exports of Late/Submycenean and Proto-geometricwares in the Levant (for a general sum of chronologically relevant imports see Fantalkin, 2001 and2003). However, since there is no available extra-biblical source for the historical chronology of theareas in question (with the notable exception of Egypt) during the EI I and II (between thechronological datum-lines offered by Ramesses III's battle against the People of the Sea and theAssyrian King-lists of the VIII century BC), the absolute periodisation of Submycenean and Proto-geometric Greece remains fundamentally hypothetical at least until the end of the IX century BC(Fantalkin, 2001, 2003; Lemos, 2002).For what concerns the beginning of the Proto-geometric period, a good example of the above-mentioned uncertainties is to be found in the Aegean imports from the sites of Tel Hadar (Kochavi,1996; Fantalkin, 2001) and Tel Dor (Gilboa and Sharon, 1997; Fantalkin, 2001):(1)Tel Hadar: fragments of a Proto-geometric lebes of Euboean srcin (attributed byColdstream, 1998, to the Middle Proto-geometric-MPG) has been found in a level belongingto stratum IV (Kochavi, 2006), and is to be dated to the middle X century BC, if the parallelwith Lefkandi holds valid (Fantalkin, 2001). However, a slightly later date of productionmay not be excluded (Kopcke, 2003). This periodisation seems problematic if comparedwith the 1100 – 980 BC life-span attributed by the excavator to the stratum (Kochavi, 2006);(2)Tel Dor: several fragments of LPG pottery have been found in contexts belonging to the  level 8b (dated by the excavators to IA IB-IIA, corresponding to 1050 – 950 BC) in the D/2area of the site. The absolute chronology of these fragments seems once again problematic,given the fact that the main parallels for these productions in Greece has been dated to after 950 BC (Coldstream, 1952);Both sites have been quoted in recent studies by A. Fantalkin (2001, 2003) as supporting the so-called “Ultra-Low Chronology” (ULC – Finkelstein and Piasetzky, 2003a, 2003b, 2003c, 2006;Fantalkin, 2001, 2003). The interlinked chronology for the Submycenean-Protogeometric transitionis effectively based on a limited number of Aegean imports found in levantine contexts (Saltz, 1978;Francis and Vickers, 1985; James, 1991; Fantalkin, 2001, 2003), that seem to show a gap of about50 to 100 calendar years between the periodisation of PG imports in the Levant and the traditionalchronology of the PG period in mainland Greece, a gap that may be hypothetically resolved by theadoption of the ULC (Fantalkin, 2001, 2006; Finkelstein e Piasetzky, 2003a, 2003b, 2003c, 2006).The most relevant context for the period in question (apart from the two above-mentioned) are:(1)Tell Abu Hawam: A fragment of a semi-circular skyphos and a complete one-handled cup, both datable to the Early-to-Middle Geometric period (EG-MG), have been found in thecourse of the 30's excavations at the site in a context attributed to level III (Hamilton, 1935).This level has been dated by the excavators to about 925 BC, but reliability of the geometricimports context is questioned (Fantalkin, 2001), having yielded also fragments that have been dated by Coldstream (1977) to the time between the end of the IX and the half of theVIII centuries BC, and a fragment of LPG pottery also (Hamilton, 1935);(2)Megiddo: At least five fragments of Geometric wares (of Aegean or Cypriot srcin,Fantalkin, 2001) have been found in a context attributed conversely to phase V (Clairmont,1995), early IV (Riis, 1970), or “transitional” VA/IVB (Coldstream, 1968). Coldstream(1968) recognised this fragments as belonging to typical Attic Middle Geometric productions, and used them to correlate the level in question with the MG in mainlandGreece (Coldstream, 1968; Riis, 1970; Fantalkin, 2001), but given the uncertaintiesaffecting the periodisation of the level in question this chronological datum-line seems notreliable (Fantalkin, 2001);(3)Samaria: At least eleven fragments of Attic MG II have been found at the site. Four of thefragments were unearthed in the early XX century (Reisner et al., 1924), from anunregistered context. The other seven were found in the 50's excavations (Crawford et al.1957), in levels attributed to the early VI century BC, and another six MG II fragments werefound in Hellenistic-to-roman age contexts, showing the scarce reliability of these findingsin determining an interlinked absolute chronology for the Early Iron Age imports (Fantalkin,2001);Following this scenario, even if levantine contexts have not yielded any unequivocal argument for shifting the Proto-geometric-Geometric transition in mainland Greece from the “traditional” intervalof 900/875 BC, the interlinked “traditional” chronologies (Desborough, 1952; Coldstream, 1968),seem to be questionable.In Coldstream's reconstruction in particular, a key-argument lies in the absolute chronology of Megiddo phase VA/IV B, traditionally attributed to a period contemporary with the reign of Solomon in Israel, with the destruction of the city by the Lybian-Egyptian king Shseshonq I, andwith phases III in Samaria and VII in Hazor (Aharoni and Amiran, 1958). However, the excavatorsof the sites (Kanyon, 1957) had already defined phase IV of Megiddo as possibly lasting well intothe second half of the IX century BC. Following Kenyon's reconstruction, that would “fix”Megiddo V between 870 and 840 BC, one would obtain a rather too low chronological framework,which seems hardly acceptable on the basis of the present data, not least because of the possibleuncertainties in the mentioned contexts, admitted by the excavators (Kenyon, 1971).As a result, it seems that building an absolute chronology for the Proto-geometric and Geometric   periods in Greece through imported items in the Levant runs the risk of falling into a circular argument (Fantalkin, 2001).Another interesting example at this regard may be found in the greek imports from Al Mina(Kearsley, 1989, 1995): Following Kearsley (1989), the production of semi-circular skyphoi inGreece does not appear before the half of the VIII century BC. Following this assumption, phasesX-VIII of Al Mina would have to be dated to 750-700 BC (Kearsley, 1989), which would imply asignificant lowering of the absolute chronology of the first greek presence at the site (Snodgrass,1991). This reconstruction has been questioned by Popham and Lemos (1992), who fix the phasesX-VIII of the site to 825-720 BC, following the “traditional” chronology (Taylor, 1959),highlighting the fact that Kearsley's periodisation would imply a lowering of the interlinkedchronology by some 75 calendar years even with respect to the ULC hypothesis. This downwardshift seems hardly acceptable (Fantalkin, 2001), and it has to be remember that the excavator of thesite has soon rejected the “low” reconstruction proposed at first (Kenyon, 1957, 1971).On the basis of these observations, Fantalkin (2001) concludes that, taking in account (1) thechronological uncertainties affecting the contexts which have yielded the earliest imports of Geometric pottery in the Levant (Abu Hawam, Megiddo, Samaria), and (2) the uncertainties in theinterrelation of the relative chronologies of the sites in question, it is unsafe to suggest “precise” periodisation for the so-called Aegean “Dark Age” through eastern Mediterranean contexts just untilthe first half of the VIII century BC (Fantalkin, 2001, p.122). However, the Proto-geometric periodin Greece may be at least hypothetically dated to about 980 – 920 BC, without contradicting any of the above elements (Fantalkin, 2001; Lemos, 2002).  Tab. 1 - “Traditional” chronology for the XIV-IX centuries BCDate BCLevantAegeanCyprusEgypt1400-1350LB II ALH III A1LC II A/BXVIII Dyn.1350-1300LH III A2/BLC II BXIX Dyn.1300-1250LB II BLH III BLC II CRamesses IIMerneptah1250-1175Ramesses III1175-1150/30Iron I ALH III CLC III A1150/30-1100Iron I BLH III C/SubmyceneanLC III BRamesses IV1100-1050LH III C/Proto-GeometricRamesses XI1050-1000Proto-GeometricCypro-Geometric I1000-900Iron II ALPG/EG Radiocarbon chronology The ULC hypothesis has recently been the object of an important debate, also following theradiocarbon measurements obtained from a few sites in the Aegean, the most relevant of which areKastanas, Mycenae, Apliki, Maroni and Assiros (Manning e Weninger, 1992, Manning et al., 2001a, contra Hagens, 2006; Fantalkin, 2011). These sites may offer a key-argument for the radiocarbonchronology of the period in question, in particular as “pure” levels pertaining to the LBA/EIAtransition in Greece are extremely rare if present at all (Sanders, comm. Perss. 20/11/2010;Fantalkin, comm. Perss. 12/1/2011). The most relevant case is undoubtedly that of Assiros, a sitethat has yielded a long series of samples for radiocarbon and dendrochronological dating (Newtonet al., 2004). Assiros Several samples of charcoalised/carbonised beams have been found from 1975 to 1989 in the courseof the excavations conducted by K.A. Wardle, and have been analysed at the Malcolm and CarolynWiener Laboratory for Aegean and Near Eastern Dendrochronology (Newton et al. 2004).The LBA to EIA transition (phases 9/5 to phase 4) is signaled by a new architectonical phase at thesite, with less complex and regular buildings if compared to the preceding phases, that were oftencontoured by organic refuse waste deposits, and that have yielded a different ceramic productionthat is always distinguishable from that of the preceding phases (Newton et al., 2004).The life-span of phase 4 is not easily determinable, but in correspondence with the following phase3 the site shows a new major architectonical phase with more regular buildings that is soonfollowed by a a destruction episode (burned horizon), followed by subsequent reconstruction (phase2) and a second destruction episode. Samples presented here come from the two destruction
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