The Sea Peoples, from cuneiform tablets to carbon dating
David Kaniewski, Elise Van Campo, Karel Van Lerberghe, Tom Boiy, Klaas Vansteenhuyse, Greta Jans, Karin Nys, Harvey Weiss, Christophe Morhange, Thierry Otto & Joachim Bretschneider PLOS ONE (June 8, 2011)
The 13th century BC witnessed the zenith of the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean civilizations which declined at the end of the Bronze Age, ∼3200 years ago. Weakening of this ancient flourishing Mediterranean world shifted the political and economic centres of gravity away from the Levant towards Classical Greece and Rome, and led, in the long term, to the emergence of the modern western civilizations. Textual evidence from cuneiform tablets and Egyptian reliefs from the New Kingdom relate that seafaring tribes, the Sea Peoples, were the final catalyst that put the fall of cities and states in motion. However, the lack of a stratified radiocarbon-based archaeology for the Sea People event has led to a floating historical chronology derived from a variety of sources spanning dispersed areas. Here, we report a stratified radiocarbon-based archaeology with anchor points in ancient epigraphic-literary sources, Hittite-Levantine-Egyptian kings and astronomical observations to precisely date the Sea People event. By confronting historical and science-based archaeology, we establish an absolute age range of 1192–1190 BC for terminal destructions and cultural collapse in the northern Levant. This radiocarbon-based archaeology has far-reaching implications for the wider Mediterranean, where an elaborate network of international relations and commercial activities are intertwined with the history of civilizations.