The First Dark Age

I recently caught up on some of my reading by working through the archived discussion led by Jerry Pournelle on the subject of Velikovsky and his enthusiasms. Central to this is an active reconstruction of Bronze Age society and its abrupt cessation. We have dated its ending in 1159 BCE driven by the massive eruption of Hekla in earlier posts. The attached item is still quite fuzzy of time and place.

I had proposed the existence of a fully developed palace based society distributed throughout the ancient world and also including a subsidiary presence in the Americas. A large seaborne trade existed to support this society. Writing and record keeping was complex and restricted to a handful. This was true even in Mesopotamia.
The evidence strongly supports the above proposition and also leads to the very natural conclusion that the evidence to date represents but a fraction of that which will be found. It was way too easy and way too appealing to establish a new trade and husbandry center in any open valley to which sea access was available.

The millennia old civilization led by the city state of Atlantis and trading with the states of Egypt and the Middle East and Brazil and Maya land and the Mississippi was palace controlled. This was necessary in light of the need to organize access to copper and tin through the sea lanes. Bronze was money in the Bronze Age and most certainly not lost willingly, let alone buried for us to find. We get a taste of the political and economic strength of this civilization through reading the remaining ancient sources such as Homer and the Bible.

The 1159 BCE collapse did not end the Bronze Age which continued on as the preferred economic system in China and elsewhere. It did however leave a huge surplus of bronze above ground that was not in immediate need of replenishment. This cutting off of fresh supply certainly encouraged the adoption of low quality iron at a local level to produce plows and hoes. Long distance sources of copper disappeared from the market with the collapse of the sea trade at this time.

Since bronze was the currency of the palace system their economic basis collapsed at this time and never really recovered in the same form. The Iron Age needed access only to the local bog to produce a viable product. It was pretty lousy metal but it improved over time and it was produced at the village level, rather than at the state treasury. Even when better ores became available they were plentiful unlike high quality copper ores.

What is often forgotten is that the archeological evidence supports a very long lived Bronze Age world of at least two thousand years that simultaneously organized agriculture that was immensely stable. It was also predecessed by an assortment of equally long lived antique stone based agricultural societies. Political stability was the norm in this world. Dynasties might last a few generations but for most their families and villages survived for centuries.

The principal reason for this is the limited mobility of the warfare practice of the day. That only changed in the last two thousand years with the advent of the riding horse.


At some point I will do a short introductory essay; the important point is that sometime in the Bronze Ages, a thriving civilization with writing and the ability to build large walled cities and the beginnings of a market economy -- there were traders who were not merely raiders -- collapsed so thoroughly that it became legendary. The walls of Tiryns were so large and imposing that the people who lived in the region thought they were built by giants: by the Cyclopes, and they were called Cyclopean Walls by people who probably counted the actual builders among their ancestors.

Writing was lost and had to be reinvented. Much technology was lost.

It is a time that bequeaths us many legends, from the Trojan War to the legends of the House of Atreus, and Pelops, and Theseus, and Minos, Achilles and Odysseus, Talos and the stone god who rose from the sea, Jason and the Argonauts, all of which seem to reflect real events, embellished, of course, but real all the same. It was a time when the Maryannu and the Battle Ax people roamed the land, and the Peoples of the Sea invaded Egypt and came to Palestine where, as Philistines, they gave the region its name and passed into history as giants whose champion was a bronze armored hero named Goliath.

In the Bible it is an age in which there was no king in Israel, and each man did as he thought right in his own heart. And so it was through the world.

But that Dark Age came after a rich civilization with writing and commerce and technology: what killed that civilization? Theories run from barbarian invasions (the return of the Dorians) to earthquakes, to astronomical disasters, to volcanoes. It may have been all of these. If the issue is settled once and for all, that has happened very recently indeed: it certainly was no more than speculation last year...

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