"Earthquakes and Archaeology: The Catastrophic End of the Bronze Age @ 1200BC"

Amos Nur (Stanford)
Wednesday, April 11, 2018 - 4:00pm to 5:00pm

“Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice” - Will Durant, 1885-1981

Earthquakes have traditionally and often vehemently been rejected (Toynbee, 1939: Ambraseys, 1971) as an important agent in past societal collapses and destructions. In this talk I show however that from a geophysics point of view, and especially our current knowledge of earthquake geography and plate tectonics, that this rejection is unwarranted and even a bit surprising given some great archaeological puzzles we face, e.g.,

  1. Why are there so many ruins around the Mediterranean basin?
  2. Why are there so many levels of destruction in so many archaeological sites (e.g., Knossos-10, Jericho-22, Armageddon-32, Troy-45)?
  3. The inexplicable nature of regional destructions and system collapses.

One of the greatest collapses we know of in history is the catastrophic end of the Bronze Age ca. 1200 BC in the Eastern Mediterranean and the near East involving not only political and societal collapses but also the physical destruction of major capital cities such as Mycenae, Hatusas, Ugarit and Troy, and important sites such as Armageddon and Jericho.

Here I show how a 50 year “earthquake storm” could have unzipped the plate boundaries in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean around 1225-1175 BC. This storm could have contributed to a “systems collapse” (Renfrew, 1981, 1987; Drews, 1993) that defines the end of the Late Bronze Age.

Here are some possible lessons:

For archaeology and history: Societal collapses or major changes by past large earthquakes did happen and may be more common than we could have assumed.

For earthquake physics: Clustering of large earthquakes in time and space may be quite common, especially in regions where plate configuration are complex.

Depiction of the prophesized earthquake collapse during the Battle of the     Apocalypse in Armageddon, according to ‘The Revelation of Saint John the Divine’.

About the Speaker

Amos Nur is widely considered one of the world’s top academic authorities on rock physics. He applies rock physics results to the understanding of tectonophysical processes in the Earth’s crust and lithosphere, a major thrust of which is the role of fluids in crustal processes and in energy resources. Nur pioneered the use of seismic velocity measurements to characterize the changing state of oil and gas reservoirs as the volume of fluid in the rock changed during pumping; the process has come to be known as “four-dimensional” seismic monitoring. He has published over 240 papers and guided dozens of doctoral and master’s candidates. Nur was on the Stanford faculty from 1970 until his retirement in 2008 and he remains affiliated with the school as professor emeritus. After his retirement, Nur joined Ingrain, a company he helped found in 2007, and where he now is Chief Technology Officer.

About this Series

Weekly talks given by leading thinkers in the areas of geology, geophysics, geobiology, geochemistry, atmospheric science, oceanography, climatology, and planetary science. Lectures take place on Wednesdays from 3:45pm in MIT Building 54 room 915, unless otherwise noted.