International conference
3-4 December 2012


Reading catastrophes

Prof. Frank Braemer, University of Nice -CNRS France

Chronology and settlement patterns of Third Millennium steppe area villages comparing Northern Syria and Southern Syria/ Northern Jordan

The differences in timing, form and rhythm of urbanization between northern and southern Levant t are now well defined for large agglomerations and urban centers. Using detailed inventory of all habitats listed in the PaleoSYR and MegaJordan databases, it is now possible to compare the all range of living agglomerations in both steppe regions. This chronological approach allows identifying failures and changes in land use in a finer way than before. The question is whether the differences and timing differences between north and south are related to climatic variations or socio-political events.

Prof. Giuseppina Capriotti, ISCIMA, Dr. Maurizio Fea, Associazione Geofisica Italiana (AGI), Dr. Stefano Gusmano, Scuola di Aerocooperazione Ministero della Difesa (SAC-MD), Dr. Roberto Salzano, Istituto sull’Inquinamento Atmosferico del CNR (IIA-CNR), Dr. Chris Stewart, Università di Roma Tor Vergata

Preliminary considerations on the application of satellite remote sensing to archaeological research in Egypt

This paper reports on preliminary work being done by a dedicated team (“Satellite Remote Sensing in support to Egyptological Research”) in the framework of the Research Program “Egyptian Curses” linked with the Italian PRIN 2009 (Relevant Projects of National Interest) entitled “The seven plagues”, which has been approved by the Italian Ministry for Education, University and Research (MIUR). Findings of many projects have confirmed that satellite remote sensing is an instrumental tool for investigating territorial features and is, therefore, a key support to archaeological research. In particular, data acquired by Synthetic Aperture Radars (SAR) can be very useful for the study of the Egyptian territory, because microwave radar pulses not only give additional information with respect to optical data, but they can also penetrate very dry sand, thereby frequently showing what is hidden beneath the surface. The objective of this project is to implement a methodological approach to the archaeological investigation by combining together in a multidisciplinary group the experience, skill, knowledge, culture and research methods of scientists from different disciplines. Specifically, satellite data over the areas of interest with a complex geological environment have been acquired by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the European Space Agency (ESA) from the Cosmo-SkyMed 4-satellites constellation, and Envisat ASAR and ALOS PALSAR satellite instruments, respectively. Currently, the preparatory processing and georeferencing of some sixty radar images has almost been completed and preliminary analyses have been done. Currently, the interpretation of these radar images is being carried out, with specific care, and some preliminary conclusions have been drawn.

Dr. Felix Höflmayer, German Archaeological Institute – Orient-Department

New radiocarbon data for the late Early Bronze Age in the southern Levant and its implications for the end of the first urbanisation

The late Early Bronze Age did not only saw the collapse and abandonment of the first urban systems of the southern Levant but also the end of the Old Kingdom and the advent of the First Intermediate Period in the Nile Valley as well as the collapse of the empire of Akkad in upper Mesopotamia and disruptions in settlement patterns in Western Syria. Reasons for the apparent collapse of early states and urban systems were sought in historical sources as well as in scientific data. For a long time the Amorites were considered as playing a crucial role either in the destruction of the Early Bronze Age urban centres or as the carriers of the second urban revolution of the Middle Bronze Age. In recent years however, it was argued that climatic reasons, especially the rapid climate change (RCC) in the late third millennium BCE (the famous 4.2 ka BP event) might have triggered the supra-regional decline and collapse that can be traced in western Asia and Egypt during this time. While recent research carried out by the University of Oxford showed conclusively that radiocarbon dating and the historical chronology of Egypt are in agreement with each other, radiocarbon evidence from short-lived botanical remains for key-sites of the southern Levant show that a reasonably higher dating for the end of the urbanisation of the Early Bronze Age might be in order. Therefore a revision of current chronological schemes and synchronisations between northern Mesopotamia, northern and southern Levant as well as with Egypt on the basis of radiocarbon dating is needed in order to set the chronological relations between collapses in Egypt, the Levant and northern Mesopotamia to a firm ground. The present contribution will discuss new radiocarbon evidence and its possible implications for current models of Early Bronze Age urban collapse in the southern Levant.

Dr. Arkadi Karakhanyan, Dr. Ara Avagyan, Institute of Geological Sciences of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia

Evidence of a strong earthquake between 1200 and 900 B.C. identified in the Temple of Amenhotep III and in other temples of the ancient Thebes

The Strabo’s account about the earthquake in 27 В.С. and destruction of one of the Memnon Colossi in the temple of Amenhotep III is one from rare historical reports attesting to destructive earthquake impacts in the ancient Egypt. The earthquake of 27 В.С. initially listed by catalogues is presently considered false, and the destruction of the Memnon Colossus is attributed to the Persians. Accounts about other damaging earthquakes in Thebes during the Pharaonic time are vague. Our studies in the temple of Amenhotep III conducted under the project on Excavation and Conservation at Kom el-Hettan provided new information about the seismic history of the ancient Thebes. Distinct signs of liquefaction were revealed at the temple site: dykes and sills generated extension cracks by the mechanism of lateral spreading. Clear effects of liquefaction by lateral spreading were discovered in other monuments on the West bank of the Nile. Many rotations of stone blocks and chipped off corners of pedestals recorded in the Karnak and Luxor temples on the eastern bank of the Nile also bear evidence of a strong seismic impact during the Pharaonic period. Application of the historical, paleoseismological and archaeological methods enabled us to constrain the time of the earthquake responsible for the damage in the ancient Theban temples between 1200 and 900 В.С. According to the INQUA scale (2004), intensity of the earthquake that could have caused soil liquefaction of this scale could be estimated at IX, while its magnitude would correspond to a value not less than 6.0 - 6.5.

Prof. Mario Liverani, Sapienza Università di Roma

Convivere con le catastrofi

Le catastrofi sono all’ordine del giorno, dal gusto romantico per le rovine alle previsioni econometriche, dalle piccole catastrofi locali alla catastrofe globale. L’attesa della fine del mondo rivisitata. Ma cosa collassa? Un approccio sistemico potrebbe mostrare la coesistenza di processi positivi e negativi, di crescita e di crisi. Nel mondo post-moderno prende piede l’idea che la catastrofe sia uno “stato mentale”, e dunque non esista come cosa vera e concreta. I pessimisti saggi egiziani dei “periodi intermedi” consideravano come indicatori di catastrofe fenomeni di mutamento sociale. Più realisticamente gli scribi mesopotamici avevano i loro elenchi di “fattori di catastrofe”, precursori dei “Sette Cavalieri dell’Apocalisse”. Venendo alla grande crisi del passaggio dal Tardo Bronzo all’età del Ferro, certamente ci furono fattori negativi (alto tasso di distruzioni, diminuzione della popolazione in certe zone, riconversione a forme semplici e locali dell’organizzazione politica ed economica, interruzione di certi traffici, ecc.), ma ci furono altrettanti fattori positivi (nuove tecnologie della comunicazione e della produzione, occupazione di spazi aggiuntivi, apertura di nuove vie, maggiore partecipazione politica, ecc.).  Le catastrofi non sono la fine del mondo, ma uno stimolo a ripartire. Meglio però non trovarcisi in mezzo, vederle dopo e da lontano.

Dr. Christophe Morhange, Dr. Nick Marriner, Institut Universitaire de France – Aix Marseille Université

Coastal geoarchaeology and neocatastrophism in the Eastern Mediterranean : a dangerous liaison?

We will explore the relationships between Mediterranean archaeology and the geosciences with particular emphasis on shoreline mobility and harbour evolution. We review ancient and recent geoarchaeological research on the palaeoenvironmental evolution of ancient harbours; in particular, we elucidate a renewal of catastrophism. We argue that there is an absence of rational grounding and overemphasis on natural hazards at historical time scales. Research into the collapse of ancient societies is, in our view, oversimplistic and partly driven by bibliometric opportunism. Caution is needed to ensure that neocatastophism does not alter the paradigm of geoarchaeology.

Prof. Lorenzo Nigro, Sapienza Università di Roma

The Archaeology of Collapse: Tell es-Sultan/Jericho as a case study

Archaeology is a historical science. It is able to reconstruct chains of events within firmly (physically) established sequences. Such events are bricks to build up history (?) or to try to interfere with history. Very often this bricks consists of ashes, charcoals, and broken or worn material i.e. “collapse or destruction” layers. This reflects a view of history as a succession of catastrophes and destructive events, easy to be traced on the ground and followed up in sources. The case study of Tell es-Sultan/ancient Jericho is a good example and its Biblical implication may provide several useful insights, as well as Jerichoan archaeology may help in defining a reliable set of indicators of ancient events as recorded in earth.

Prof. Claudio Prati, Politecnico di Milano

Observing the Earth surface with microwaves

The Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) is a remote sensing tool usually mounted on polar orbit satellites or airborne platforms. The ability of such a sophisticated instrument is to image large regions of the world from space, using different microwave frequencies that can penetrate clouds, rain and, depending on the used wavelength, even dry sand cover. This capability of low frequency SARs can be used for example to image branch of ancient rivers now buried under thousands of years of windblown dry sand. Another important peculiarity of SAR is its capability to get coherent images of the observed areas thus achieving a very precise measurement of the satellite-target electromagnetic travel path. In principle ground relative motion of fractions of millimeter can be achieved just by comparing the electromagnetic travel path measured during repeated SAR observations. Unfortunately the travel path “noise” introduced into the SAR signal by time-space varying atmospheric component poses a severe limit to the achievable motion measurement precision. This limitation can be overcome by examining multiple images (usually a minimum of 15 scenes are required). The process by which removal of atmospheric effects is achieved involves searching for pixels that display stable amplitude and coherent phase throughout every image of the data set. They are referred to as Permanent, or Persistent, Scatterers. Thus a sparse grid of point-like targets characterized by high signal to noise ratios (SNR) is identified across an area of interest on which the atmospheric correction procedure can be performed. Once these errors are removed, a history of motion can be created for each target. Such Permanent Scatterers are usually identified on man-made structures the motion/deformation of which can be followed in time with millimeter precision. A few examples of such a technique applied to monuments will be shown.

Prof. Robert K. Ritner, Dr. Nadine Moeller, The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

The Ahmose Tempest Stela: An ancient Egyptian account of a natural catastrophe

During the reign of Ahmose, founder of the Egyptian 18th Dynasty (New Kingdom), a highly destructive storm occurred. To commemorate his reconstruction efforts, Ahmose erected a stela at Karnak temple in Thebes, which recounts meteorological phenomena6 and devastations, then the restorations he undertook. While sudden and violent storms are recurrent feature in ancient Egyptian life and literature, the Ahmose stela is unique in describing details of such a severe catastrophe which go beyond what is usually experienced by a regular storm and therefore might be the oldest description of a catastrophic event such as the Thera eruption which affected much of the Eastern Mediterranean. Our inquiry offers not only a detailed analysis of this account but also a new contribution to the ongoing discussion on the absolute Egyptian chronology and its possible link to the now well-dated eruption of the volcano at Thera.

Prof. Frédéric Servajean, Université Montpellier 3-Paul Valéry

Les catastrophes naturelles en Égypte ancienne. De l’événement naturel à son traitement rituel

L’Égypte, comme toutes les régions du monde, a été affectée par des catastrophes naturelles. Mais, curieusement, les attestations sont rares. Ce travail a pour objectif d’en répertorier les principales, d’analyser les sources où il en est question pour comprendre pourquoi elles ont été mentionnées, alors que d’autres ne l’ont pas été, et, enfin, d’analyser la réponse rituelle apportée.

Dr. Hourig Sourouzian, Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III Temple Conservation Project

Colossal Statues of Amenhotep III collapsed due to an earthquake in Antiquity at Thebes

A devastating earthquake around 1200 BC in Western Thebes toppled the largest funerary temple and subsequently its ruins were used as quarry for several millennia. Only a pair of colossal statues of Amenhotep III, today called the Colossi of Memnon, had remained at their place, preceding the First Pylon which has since then completely disappeared. Recent investigations carried out in the temple funerary temple and around the Memnon Colossi by ‘The Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III Temple Conservation Project’ in cooperation with the Armenian Academy of Sciences, have found evidence to date the catastrophe, and discovered the places in the temple which were undoubtedly struck by the earthquake. Two other pairs of seated colossi of the king had collapsed at the gates of the Second and Third Pylons respectively, as well as standing royal colossal statues, fallen in the Great Peristyle Court, which were partly quarried away in the Ramesside Period. The discovery of these colossi, their conservation program and their actual reconstruction process will be described in this paper.

Prof. Rainer Stadelmann, German Institute of Archaeology

Memnon and the earthquakes

The Colossi of Memnon have resisted to the devastating earthquake of the year 1200 BC but the pedestals broke and moved. The Northern Colossus is supposed to have fallen by an earthquake which is said to have occurred in 27BC but the date is not secure. It was restored at the end of the 3rd century most probably by order of Septimus Severus

Dr. Alain Zivie, CNRS, Paris

Le vizir et père du dieu ‘Aper-El (‘Abdiel/‘Abdouel)

La tombe d’‘Aper-El à Saqqara (Bub. I.1), repérée et explorée dès 1976 par l’auteur de la communication, a été fouillée, étudiée et restaurée par celui-ci, avec la Mission Archéologique Française du Bubasteion (MAFB), de 1980 à 1995. La chambre funéraire, découverte en 1987, bien que « visitée » dans l’antiquité, contenait encore les restes d’‘Aper-El, de son épouse Taouret et de leur fils Houy, ainsi qu’un très riche matériel. Un tel ensemble associé directement à de grands personnages du Nouvel Empire (dont, qui plus est, on a retrouvé les restes) n'avait pratiquement jamais été découvert au cours d'une fouille scientifique à Saqqara. On peut le comparer à des ensembles découverts à Thèbes, en particulier le trésor funéraire de Iouya et Touyou, les beau-parents d’Amenhotep (Aménophis) III. ‘Aper-El a vécu et exercé ses charges sous les règnes d’Amenhotep III et sans doute d’Amenhotep (IV (Akhénaton), sous la XVIIIe dynastie. Parmi ses titres et épithètes, on relève celui de vizir (sans doute celui du Nord), second personnage de l’état après le pharaon, et de père du dieu. Son fils, le général en chef Houy, a commandé les chars sous Akhénaton. Le nom ‘Aper-El (abrégé parfois en ‘Aperia) est sans doute la transcription égyptienne d’un nom «oriental», peut-être sémitique, ‘Abdiel ou ‘Abdouel. L’homme n’était pas pour autant un étranger». On sait qu’il a grandi au palais et d’autre part, sa tombe et sa famille sont bien égyptiens. Les égyptologues comme les spécialistes du monde proche-oriental vers le milieu deuxième millénaire, veulent légitimement voir la figure évanescente du vizir égyptien ‘Aper-El prendre plus de consistance. Mais il reste encore beaucoup à faire avant d'en savoir éventuellement un peu plus sur ce personnage et sur le rôle qu’il a pu jouer. La communication présentera l’état des recherches sur la tombe et son trésor, ainsi que sur ‘Aper-El lui-même.

Dr. Alain Zivie, CNRS, Paris, Dr. Fabrizio Finotelli, Wunderkammer snc

Tombe ipogee a Saqqara (Egitto): una finestra sulle dislocazioni lungo le fratture nelle arenarie calcaree della formazione di Rayan.

Questo lavoro ha preso spunto dalle osservazioni condotte durante i lavori di restauro in alcune tombe ipogee del Bubasteion, Saqqara, Egitto, nell’ambito dei lavori di ricerca archeologica della “Mission Archaeologique Francaise du Bubasteion”, diretta dal Prof. Alain Zivie (CNRS). L’area è caratterizzata da un’intensa fratturazione ed in corrispondenza di alcune di queste fratture si sono notate alcune dislocazioni che potrebbero essere ricondotte sia a movimenti tettonici, sia ad assestamenti gravitativi in seguito alla realizzazione degli ipogei. L’osservazione delle dislocazioni relative alle attività antropiche antiche, quali il disegno e la scultura in bassorilievo sulle pareti, consente inoltre una cronologia relativa incrociata fra eventi naturali ed artificiali. I dati ricavati sono estremamente puntiformi rispetto all’area coinvolta dai movimenti, se questi si riveleranno di origine tettonica, ma ciò si potrà appurare unicamente con uno studio su aree più ampie. Data la potente copertura sedimentaria di origine alluvionale che ricopre le rocce eoceniche nelle quali sono ricavate le tombe a Saqqara, proprio l’esplorazione all’interno di queste ultime potrà fornire i dati altrimenti non reperibili.