New discoveries regarding a key site from the Greek Dark Age - the Greek village of Nichoria -
reveal the demise of ancient civilization during the Dark Age.
The village of Nichoria in Messenia was located near the palace of Pylos during the Greek
Bronze Age, when Greece was considered a Superpower of the Mediterranean. The region thrived
on its trade and economic stability, culture, and art and architecture, including great
monuments, palaces and writings.
The collapse of the Bronze Age (beginning around 1,200 BC),
including the abandonment of cities and the destruction of palaces, is known as the Greek Dark Age.
Nichoria remained through both the Late Bronze Age and the Greek Dark Age, and scholars
have suggested that it turned to cattle ranching during the region's collapse. That made
sense, the remains of cattle bones are prevalent among bone fragments in the soil.
W. Flint Dibble, a University of Cincinnati doctoral student in the Department of
Classics, and Daniel J. Fallu, a doctoral student in archaeology at Boston University suggests
that soil formation after the abandonment of the site in the Dark Age led to poor preservation
of the historic record, and as a result, the thicker, larger
bones of animals such as cattle survived the breakdown of other bone fragments.
Other possible remains would have been destroyed as a result of the more acidic soil.
The researchers report that Dark Age sediments contain few visible calcite formations,
indicative of poor site preservation
"There's no monumental architecture and little art, writing disappears and there
are considerably fewer sites," says Dibble explaining that Nichoria is one of the few settlements
in Greece that remained occupied during both the Bronze Age and the Greek Dark Age.
It's believed that the widespread abandonment of settlements was due to the adoption of
pastoralism, making populations more mobile as they herded animals.
The monumental Bronze Age tomb at Nichoria from above. Image: Univ. of Cincinnati Credit: Jonida Martini
The explanations for the sudden collapse of civilization in the Dark Age have ranged from
believing it was the result of the invasion of another society to a catastrophic climatic event.
"We were exploring this as evidence for a possible climate event, but the soil samples
came back inconclusive," says Dibble.
"We actually think that as more of these sites are abandoned in the Dark Age, the
landscape becomes very stable, and the weather destroys more of
what's in the top upper layers than the archaeological material buried deeper below.
At this site, we have no evidence that the destruction of bone was the result of climate change."
Previous research from the first excavation of Nichoria in the late '60s - an extensive
project led by the University of Minnesota - has suggested that Nichoria survived the Dark
Age by turning to cattle ranching, after villagers took control of the herds of the palaces
in the wake of their collapse.
"We're using modern biology to understand what is happening to
ancient remains and we're finding that the bone is dissolving away.
I've found teeth that are hollow because the dense enamel is still there, but the dentin is
gone, which also tells me that more porous bone is dissolving away," says Dibble.
Dibble adds that their study is unique in that soil that was collected with the bones was
also studied before being washed away to better examine the bones. Fallu conducted the
examinations of the soil. Concerning the fact that many bags of bones still had dirt, Dibble
says, "We got kind of lucky in a sense."
"I want to see if this kind of soil environment that destroys bones also destroys
other types of evidence, because there is bone destruction at other sites being
studied from the Dark Age," says Dibble. "Bone is made up of calcium carbonate,
so other carbon materials could be destroyed, such as charred plants - key to
understanding agriculture at that time.
Also, there are few metal objects from the Dark Age, and the soil environment might be an explanation for that."
Research presents on Jan. 9, at the joint annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute
of America (AIA) and Society for Classical Studies (SCS, formerly known as the American Philological Association),
in New Orleans.
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