Bronze Age Earthquakes on Minoan Crete (Eastern Mediterranean). Breaking the Myth through Interdisciplinarity

16 November 2018 10:20

Manuel Sintubin (1) and Simon Jusseret (2, 3)

(1) KU Leuven, Departement of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Celestijnenlaan 200E, B-3001 Leuven,

(2) University of Texas at Austin, Department of Anthropology, 2201 Speedway Stop C3200, Austin TX 78712, USA,

(3) Université catholique de Louvain, Aegis-CEMA-INCAL, Place B. Pascal 1, L3.03.13, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve

In the second volume of the Palace of Minos, published in 1928, Sir Arthur Evans introduced for the first time a stratigraphic framework relating every significant destruction at Knossos (Crete, Greece) to an earthquake of variable intensity. More than 20 years later, Claude Schaeffer expanded this theory by using destruction layers attributed to earthquakes for inter-site correlations throughout the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean. This idea of regional seismic stratigraphy – what Schaeffer called ‘Stratigraphie comparée’ – ultimately culminated in the hypothesis of a widespread seismic destruction ca. 1200 BC, heralding the demise of the Bronze age in the Eastern Mediterranean. To a large extent, these theories became part of the ‘Minoan Myth’ – a romanticized vision of the Cretan (‘Minoan’) Bronze Age as an era of peaceful prosperity only interrupted by the catastrophic effects of natural disasters.

In this contribution, we argue that interdisciplinarity is the key to the future success of Minoan archaeoseismology. Such a perspective may eventually allow the discipline to distance itself from the myth it has contributed to perpetuate. We consider the following issues: the role of earthquakes in Minoan archaeology and in Minoan society, the relationship between earthquake archaeological evidence and the seismotectonic context of Crete, and the necessity of developing quantitative research methodologies enabling transparent and systematic appraisals of seismogenic hypotheses.

A thorough interdisciplinary analysis reveals that, in spite of being often seen as the ‘cradle of Mediterranean archaeoseismology’, Minoan archaeoseismological research is still in its infancy. Nonetheless, high-profile archaeological research combined with a burgeoning interest for the paleoseismological record of the island, lay a solid foundation for the future flourishing of the discipline. It is clear that the role of earthquakes in both Minoan archaeology and Minoan society needs to be reassessed in the light of old evidence, new data and original approaches devised to embrace the specificities and uncertainties of archaeological data.