Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Revealing the End Among the Dry Dust

Civilization is a tenuous construct, and this is illustrated nowhere more plainly than in Eric Cline's 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed. Cline demonstrates how the civilizations of that area - Egyptian, Hittite, Mitanni, Mycenaean, Ugaritic - were tied together by trade rather than isolated civilizations and how the best evidence of this trade lies in the exchanges of wealth among the elite, not only in (relative) imperishables, but also in the more fragile goods, whether worn or consumed. He further shows that there were merchants of foreign nations in the capitals of these nations, possibly for generations. The specter of imprecise archaeological chronology rears its head, but Cline handles it as well as can be expected. The source material is richer than in past decades, but all archaeology is feeding on scraps! The interconnection of the civilizations presents a clearer picture of the post-apocalyptic past, but muddies the waters of the lives of the survivors, since the equation of new pottery forms with invasion and a new population is no longer a Euclidean equation. Cline's book is informative, but written in a style too dry for the casual reader, and not technical enough for a professional. Some authors have the skill to walk the via media: in this book, Cline is not among that company.

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