This radar image of a region in northern Sudan called the Keraf
Suture reveals geologic features buried beneath layers of sand.
The Nile is the yellowish/green line that runs from the top to the
bottom of the image. A sharp, straight fault cuts diagonally across
the image, to the right of the Nile river. The area between the
fault and the Nile is part of the collision zone where the ancient
continents of East and West Gondwana crashed into each other to
form the supercontinent Greater Gondwana more than 600 million years
ago. On this image, the Nile approaches but never crosses the fault,
indicating that this fault seems to be controlling the course of
the Nile in this part of Sudan. A small town, Abu Dis, can be seen
as the bright, white area on the east (right) bank of the Nile (about
a third of the way down from the top) at the mouth of a dry stream
valley or 'wadi' that drains into the river. Wadis flowing into
the Nile from both east and west stand out as dark, reddish branch-like
drainage patterns. The bright pink area on the west (left) side
of the Nile is a region where rocks are exposed, but the area east
(right) of the Nile is obscured by layers of sand, a few inches
to several feet thick. Image courtesy NASA
TEXTS document mass migrations that dispersed the population among places
previously sparsely populated. Reasons for these migrations aren't clear,
but Cline believes this mass exodus could have been a large reason for
the cities' demises. Archaeologists know that international trade was
suddenly cut off during this period and Cline concedes that earthquakes
could have been responsible. Yet another domino could have been drought,
Meanwhile, Drews proposes that warfare destroyed
the Middle Eastern cities. He says invaders came from the Mediterranean
Sea region and ransacked the Middle Eastern civilizations. These invaders
set out with one purpose-to sack and loot, not to conquer, Drews says.
"These days when rioters loot cities, they don't try and take over the
store. If they're going to loot, they loot," he says. Drews believes
the invaders came from regions where people were poor, and their motive
was wealth. Once one group proved invading the Middle Eastern region
paid off, the idea spread, Drews contends. "Somebody thought of it and
it worked. Just like in modern times when someone tried hijacking a
plane and once it worked the idea spread," Drews says.
But Nur contends earthquakes were the dominant force
in these civilizations' downfall, wars in the region were only possible
because of the quakes, he argues. "These cities were run by a small
elite. There was continual conflict between the elite and the poor people
living in the countryside," he says. He concedes that his tone on this
issue has evolved. Initially, when he was saying that earthquakes caused
the end of the Bronze Age, "I didn't have it clear in my mind how they
(quakes) did it. Now I've thought it through and I realize that earthquakes
create a mechanism for the powerful elite to lose control."
However, Drews takes issue with Nur's peasant uprising
theory, "Villagers living in the vicinity of the center depended on
those centers and would be the first to give aid. Nur seems to think
these people were controlled by despot rulers and that's simply not
the way it was."
WHY is the earthquake theory gaining attention now?
"Before last year, when Nur's Biblical Archaeology
Review paper came out, no one had heard of him. Nur simply wasn't reaching
us (archaeologists) before," Cline says. But he also has another theory.
"The new interest may be because of the coming millenium, hence the
interest in Armageddon," Cline says.
The newfound attention has helped Nur's cause. Last
July, a meeting at Cambridge University brought together experts from
a broad range of disciplines including archaeology, geology, and astronomy,
to discuss the roles natural catastrophes could have played in the ending
of Bronze Age civilizations. At the Cambridge conference, Nur told the
audience about a gathering in Athens in 1991 where geologists and archaeologists
discussed earthquakes in archaeology together for the first time. "When
we (geologists) gave talks, the archaeologists would drink coffee outside,
and when they gave talks we would drink coffee. So communication was
not good. We didn't understand what they were talking about, and they
didn't believe what we were saying."
But that tension is waning. A book, "Archaeoseismology"
(edited by geologist S. Stiros), which came out of the 1991 meeting
between geologists and archaeologists has made more ancient scholars
aware of the emerging field. Cline believes Nur's theory warrants serious
consideration, and he's currently collaborating with Nur on a scholarly
paper about the earthquake theory. They hope their paper will give the
battered hypothesis serious attention.
Although he doesn't believe earthquakes are the entire
story, Cline believes Nur's expertise can contribute to archaeology.
"Nur is a specialist in tectonics, he's familiar with rock formations
and he might be able to look at a site and see evidence archaeologists
can't. Archaeology frequently borrows from other sciences, this could
allow archaeology to tap into geophysics."