Monday, April 11, 2011

Olive branch solves a Bronze Age mystery

collapsed main staircaseThis collapsed main staircase is one of the remains uncovered at Akrotiri, once a major prehistoric settlement on Santorini


Compared to the well-studied world of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the civilizations that flourished in the eastern Mediterranean just before Homer’s time are still cloaked in mystery.

Even the basic chronology of the region during this time has been heatedly debated. Now, a resolution has finally emerged -- initiated, quite literally, by an olive branch.

Scientists have discovered the remains of a single olive tree, buried alive during a massive volcanic eruption during the Late Bronze Age. A study that dates this tree, plus another study that dates a series of objects from before, during and after the eruption, now offer a new timeline for one of the earliest chapters of European civilization.

The new results suggest that the sophisticated and powerful Minoan civilization (featured in the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur) and several other pre-Homeric civilizations arose about a century earlier and lasted for longer than previously thought.

The new timeframe also downplays Egypt’s role in the region,

suggesting that the cultures of the Levant, the stretch of land that includes Syria, Israel and Palestine, may have been a more important outside influence. ...

During the Late Bronze Age, large building complexes appeared on Crete and later on mainland Greece as part of the Minoan “New Palace” civilization. At its high point, this civilization seems to have been the dominant cultural and economic force across the region, as the result of trade rather than military strength. On Santorini, a major prehistoric settlement called Akrotiri was buried by the Minoan eruption, preserving what’s often called “the Pompeii of the Aegean.” Archeologists have uncovered three- and four-story houses and many other finds there, including an extraordinary collection of wall paintings that offer a glimpse into Minoan life. Women apparently played important civic and religious roles, including joining men in the sport of “bull-leaping,” which seems to have been religiously significant and as dangerous as the name implies. ...

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