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The Fall of 1200BC: The role of migration and conflict in social crises at end of the Bronze Age in South-eastern Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - THE FALL (The Fall of 1200BC: The role of migration and conflict in social crises at end of the Bronze Age in South-eastern Europe)

Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2021-03-31

The project explores the roles of migration, cultural mobility, conflict, changes in lifeways, settlement system changes and the overall context of social change associated with the collapse of urban groups in the Aegean and Balkan regions between 1400 and 1000 BC, with a key focus on the rapid changes around 1200 BC. The Mycenaean civilisation of Greece is one of the clearest cases of rapid social change / collapse in the prehistoric world. A recently discovered complex of massive fortified sites in the southeast Carpathian Basin follows a very similar timeline of growth and collapse to the Aegean case.Taking these as two parallel case studies that share some linkages and are situated in directly neighbouring geographic spaces, the project explores how mobility within and potentially between these regions was can be documented during this period of change. The overall objective is to understand how cultural change, conflict and the movement of people were factors in the rapid social changes of the end of the Bronze Age in both regions.

The importance of this for society lies in the exploration of how identity, mobility and social change were interwoven in different communities experiencing social tensions and unrest. Through such case studies, we can explore the human experiences of new forms and intensities of mobility and interaction during social transitions with a view to better understanding long-term perspectives on how these may be negotiated in different cultural environments.
Work performed as of October 2019 has primarily consisted of fieldwork, primary documentation and sampling for WP 1, 2 and 3 and regional survey, excavation and surface survey of sites for WP 4.

A list of museums visited and collaborators involved will be presented here by the end of the project.
WP 1 (and WP 2 thus far) During the first month both project bioarchaeologists agreed a recording protocol for all human skeletal remains to be analysed for The Fall. Most of the first year has been taken up with establishing contact with institutions holding human skeletal collections and consequent visits for skeletal analysis, data collection and sampling for biomolecular analysis. The latter was preceded by sampling training, which was facilitated by a researcher from the Centre for Geogenetics, University of Copenhagen. Overall, a total of 212 individuals plus a quantity of disarticulated remains have been analysed to date and 54 samples have been taken and sent for biomolecular analysis.

The work in the Balkans has progressed well, with excellent cooperation from museums and heritage authorities with regard to both, analysis and sampling of human skeletal collections. Many of the collections accessed and analysed have previously undergone some form of anthropological analysis before, but the current project work has already demonstrated that targeted analytical protocols as well as changes and progress in recording techniques can result in important new bioarchaeological results. This is exemplified by the important site of Gomolava in Serbia, a well preserved mass grave dating to the last millennium BC that during previous analyses (the last one in the 1990s) was interpreted as the result of disease-related deaths. It can now be stated that a large proportion of individuals, including women and children, died as the result of severe trauma to the head and body, indicating a violence-related origin for the site and changing the interpretation of this important site completely. Other collections, such as the assemblage of cremated human remains from Idjos, have undergone anthropological analysis for the first time as part of The Fall, in this case highlighting that the number of individuals actually present far exceeds the number of urns, with a number of double and triple burials that include men, women and even very young children. These results provide important new insights on demography, age and gender-related mortuary patterns in the region. It is expected that at least 300 individuals from four countries in the Balkan region will have been analysed by the end of the project, providing a unique bioarchaeological regional record which will be matched by both, isotopic and aDNA data.

Resolution of suitable remains for the osteological investigation of prehistoric Greek skeletal collections was completed in 2018 and fourteen applications sent to the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports for permission to study these. Osteological work has been completed on several key collections, including palaeopathological assessment, recording cranial and dental non metric traits and choosing suitable elements for future laboratory analyses (aDNA, isotopes, 14C), permits pending. In particular, osteological investigation at Ioannina provided novel anthropological information as the associated assemblages had never been examined by a trained osteologist before. In this way important data regarding health status, age, sex and number of individuals was obtained. This revealed that in specific cases “single” burials thought to consist of only one individual, actually included more. It is expected that overall 250-300 individuals will have been examined osteologically by the end of the project. The anthropological data combined with laboratory results (aDNA, strontium, carbon and nitrogen isotopes, 14C) are expected to shed light to our understanding of this turbulent period and the reasons behind The Fall.

Initial work on WP 3 has focused on the Northern Balkans in tandem with fieldwork there. WP 3 has expanded since September 2019 with the employment of our dedicated Research Scientist for 2 years. Thus far, a pilot dataset of 23 objects has been characterised for Pb isotopes and trace elements using Neptune MC-ICP-MS and Quadropole ICP-MS at UCD in collaboration with Stephen Daly. The compilation of a database of relevant published datasets, with critical evaluation of data quality, has also been initiated and is over 70% complete. Sites sampled have included hoard, settlement and cemetery contexts and careful consideration of the biography of objects studied has been undertaken.

Our sampling strategy for isotopic and elemental characterisation of metalwork targets c. 200 samples of metalwork. By incorporating object biographies and different site types, the project will position our methodology between two dominant camps in copper-alloy characterisation studies – those that explore material flow and those that explore absolute provenance. This has high potential to enable our dataset to provide a nuanced perspective on our regional study while contributing to ongoing methodological debates.

For WP4 has included Desktop Survey of sites in the Balkans using textual sources and aerial imagery. Ground truthing of sites has been initiated and will be completed in 2019. Survey, limited-scale excavation and remote sensing research of fortified sites in the northern Balkans is ongoing. This provides material for relative and absolute dating. Most of these sites are previously unknown and the density of their spacing and design indicates that there are intentional elements to settlement network design. This is crucially important as it is coeval with the spread of a new pottery tradition that extends throughout much of the Carpathian Basin. This research is in early stages, but promises to be high impact.
Gradiste Idjos, view from the north from the air