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BRONZE AGE CHRONOLOGY


One of the problems facing archaeologists in the late 19th century was how to date their findings. Heinrich Schliemann, for example, could provide a relative chronology for the seven successive 'cities' he uncovered at Troy (the one below is older than the one above it), but he had no means of dating them; he couldn't say with any certainty at what time in history each city had existed. In fact, there were vehement disputes between 1880 and 1890 about the dating of Schliemann's finds at Mycenae.

The problem of dating was solved in an article by the British archaeologist and Egyptologist Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), "The Egyptian Bases of Greek History" in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, 11 (1890): 271–277), which established an absolute chronology of the Greek civilization on an Egyptian basis. At Kahun, in the Fayum, and elsewhere in Egypt Petrie had found Mycenaean vases together with Egyptian objects which could be dated to a period spanning the reigns of two Egyptian rulers, from Amenophis III to Rameses VI, whose dates were otherwise known (1400-1050 BCE).

The dating of Egyptian finds is largely accomplished through reference to the reigning pharaoh. A chronology of the order of succession of Egyptian pharaohs has been more or less established using "king lists" which were compiled mostly in the period of the New Kingdom. One of the most important was written on papyrus during the reign of Ramesses II (19th Dynasty; 12791213 BCE) and is now in the Turin Museum. The Turin Papyrus provides not only the order of succession but the length of reign, though the latter especially often seems fantastical. While a workable relative chronology can be established, an absolute chronology, the actual dates of a pharaoh's reign, remains imprecise.

However, disagreements remain among scholars regarding Egyptian Chronology.

The excavations of Arthur Evans at Knossos showed that the site was not Mycenaean but part of separate civilization that existed on Crete during the Bronze Age. Among the evidence for this was pottery, especially the type known as Kamares ware, with its rich polychrome decoration on a dark ground, which was clearly not Mycenaean. As the stratification of the palace sites became known (example of archaeological stratigraphy), Evans used pottery and pottery styles to plot the whole history of the Bronze Age on Crete. He identified three main phases - Early, Middle, Late - each of which was split into three numbered sub-divisions. This system became the basis for dating the whole Bronze Age Aegean.

To this relative chronology, Evans was able to attach an absolute chronology using correspondences based on finds of Minoan objects in dated Egyptian deposits or of dated Egyptian objects on specific levels of Minoan sites. For example, a first phase in the second palace at Knossos is dated by Evans's discovery of an alabaster lid inscribed with the cartouche and name of the Egyptian Hyksos king named Khyan (c. 1600 BCE).


Alabaster lid of a pyxis with a cartouche with the name of the Hyksos king Khyan. Egypt, 15th dynasty (first half of 16th century BCE). It was found under the foundation wall of the north lustral area of the palace at Knossos (Archaelogical Museum, Heraklion, Crete)

A Egyptian vase bearing the cartouche of the pharaoh Tuthmosis III (1483-1370 BCE) found in a tomb allowed Evans to date the Minoan objects with which it was found. This enabled Evans to show that the height of Minoan palace building coincided with the first part of the Egyptian 18th Dynasty. The date of the destruction of the palace at Knossos in approximately 1400 BCE was fixed through the discovery of scarabs at that level bearing the cartouches of Amenophis III and Queen Tiy (1403-1370 BCE).


Bronze Age Chronology





© Christopher L.C.E. Witcombe