The Catastrophic End of the Early Bronze Age – Egypt – part 2

The evidence from ancient documents and stelae Anktifi monument, Papyrus Ipuwer, the Israele Stele, Manetho, Heroditus, Homer, the Bible, the Rig Veda, Manetho, Josephus, Africanus, Eratosthenes and Apollodorus. Comments by Ze’ev Herzog, Dr Gallballi, hieroglyphics, Exodus.

We have collected a lot of evidence from both traditional Archaeologists and geophysical scientists that a major event did occur at the end of the early Bronze Age but so far we have neglected written records and monuments. The veracity of such classic sources such as the Bible, the Papyrus Ipuwer, the Israele Stele, Manetho, Heroditus, Homer, and The Rig Veda is highly controversial to say the least. The dating of these texts is the first problem. Many modern sources site the Exodus as around the time of the 21st Dynasty (1200B.C.) whilst not a few revisionists place it at the demise of the Early Bronze.

The Israeli Archaeologist, Ze’ev Herzog, throws his hands up in despair and claims the Israelis did not even come from Egypt and that the earlier story of the Patriarchs is a mere tale.

catastrophe early bronze age

Apart from dating the events of the early Bible its literal translation has been highly criticized. For instance “and their remained not a green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the fields through all the land of Egypt he smote their fig trees and broke all the trees of their coasts”. (Psalms 105:33) Quite apart from the modern skepticism regarding God or Gods, it stretches modern credibility to accept the literal rendering of the words. Thus we hear most scholars claiming the Egyptians exaggerated everything.

Commenting on the literal Translation of the Anktifi monument in Southern Egypt Dr Gallballi of the Egyptian Supreme council of Antiquities said,

“I would take the hieroglyphics with a pinch of salt, typical Egyptian Rhetoric bound to exaggeration”.

The passage under critique stated, “all of Upper Egypt is in famine and the land is like a starved grasshopper”.A number of other Archaeologists do not support this traditional viewpoint which often ascribes the slide of the Old Kingdom to rivalry over the Pharaoh’s succession. I find it hard to put myself in the shoes of a Victorian let alone a Hittite from 4000 years ago, so I think many texts could be taken at face value in preference to theory laden interpretations that seem often to change with fashion. The Papyrus Ipuwer, generally dated to around the demise of the Early Bronze certainly is potentially rich in describing a shocking scenario. Is it literal or is it a parallel to Dante’s Inferno?


Catastrophe and the Egyptians in the Early Bronze Age

Let us examine some of the text. “Plague is throughout the land”, that is our water! That is our happiness! What shall we do in respect thereof? All is in ruin “, the towns are destroyed. Upper Egypt has become dry”, Forsooth, the desert is throughout the land. The nomes are laid waste, a foreign tribe has entered the land”, ” Forsooth, gates columns and walls are consumed”, “Forsooth great and small say I wish I might die”. To me this seems straight statement of fact and any other Papyrus does certainly not parallel the pessimism of the document. In fact it ties in with evidence of drought, death and depopulation noted in Archaeological excavations and scientific methodologies. Are modern Archaeologists so imbued with cynicism that every statement must have symbolic, mythological or hypothetical meanings? I suspect we should reserve our criticism of text to translations that are handed down, often many handed, from the original source and to these we can quite comfortably place Manetho, Josephus, Africanus, Eratosthenes and Apollodorus from whom we rely on our present day Egyptian King lists. These scholars were indeed far displaced from the time the historical events occurred and doubtless corrupted the events with the biases of the time. We can imagine why a Pharaoh boasting of victories on a Stele might exaggerate or propoganderise but less likely a private scribe depicting tragic events.

In balance therefore, these Papyri and monuments deepen the proof of a catastrophic famine, starvation, dislocation, severe breakdown of government and Plague. Further, there is no talk of battles and warfare only of foreigners in the land. This seems to cast doubt on the oft summoned explanation of war and invasion as the major cause of upheaval. There are no Pharaohs building monuments to victory in this era. Whether of Libyan, Nubian, Hyskos, Hittite or Persian origin we see nothing. Neither do we see Steles celebrating the unification of two disparate kingdoms .The picture of ruin and chaos and broken down government best fits the environment of the era.


At this stage, before we indulge in the exploration of causes and reasons, it will be helpful to illustrate the Early Bronze Age downfall with a classic case. For this we will take the typical case of Ebla in Syria. The excavation of this Early Bronze Age city was undertaken by Dr Paolo Matthiae of the University of Rome. His probing of the mound that was revealed as Ebla took fifteen years. It was apparently destroyed in 2300B.C. More than 15,000 cuneiform tablets testify to its previous greatness. The Archaeologists had to slice through several layers to come to the early Bronze age level to find the tablets that not only mention the elusive Sodom and Gomorrah but reference swarms of small states within Ebla’s sphere of influence. Pettinato says, “The enormous number of cities and villages presents an entirely new picture of the urbanization of Syria and Palestine in the 3rd millennium”.

Interestingly a relationship with Egypt has been established with the finding of pottery bearing the cartouche of Pepi 1st who reigned in Egypt from 2332BC to 2283 B.C. The location and artist impression of Ebla are contained in Plate 1 and 2 (attached) but as interesting is the plate showing the burnt and smashed clay tablets contained in the buried ruins of the city. So intense was the heat that this had preserved the clay tablets. Dr Matthiae notes two destructive conflagrations. One around 2350B.C. and the other around 2000B.C. The last in particular is covered with a “thick layer of ash found everywhere on this stratum. This signaled the collapse of the early Syrian cultures as well as this city. “The burning of a mud brick city so completely and uniformly is not an easy matter but classically such exclamations as roving Akkadians burning and plundering are bought forth to explain this widespread phenomena .In addition the thickness of the ash signals more fuel than mud brick buildings would provide. Are other vehicles such as eruptions involved? Certainly Schaeffer as distinct from Matthiae would suggest this. Nearby Nippur presents a picture of utter ruin only in this case it is swamped with sand whereas at its pinnacle it was a prosperous garden city on the Euphrates. Now it resides in the desert. What happened? ? Nearby Babylon suffered a similar fate.

Schaeffer, in private correspondence, notes the difficulty of convincing colleagues of the factuality of the Bronze Age collapse. “Perhaps it is good at present to establish only the reality of those crises and tremendous upheavals during the 2nd Millennia before our time and leave the study of causes to later research. For the historian and general public are not yet ready to accept the thought that the Earth is a much less safe place than that they were accustomed to believe. With the removal of the troublesome warlords in some of the modern nations, with Hitler, Mussolini and the Communists finally removed they think peace and eternal security will automatically be obtained everywhere but men are not easily convinced to face reality and accept the results of objective research. They prefer to live in their imaginative world. And perhaps all the better for them. These great crises will explain better than before, the historical development of the most ancient civilizations and its mechanism and they will definitely take out of the hands of man the command of the great historical happenings we thought we possessed”.

I quote this opinion at some length since it underlies the difficulty new ideas in gaining acceptance where ingrained and accepted dogma prevails. As we noted before, the mechanism usually used to explain upheaval of social structure tends to built around war, religious upheaval, rights of succession and invasion, Context that is out of human control such as disease, famine, climatic change, tectonic disturbance etc. tend to get short shift. I suspect this is possibly because such dramatic results as the Bronze Age collapse have not been witnessed in our times and therefore are poorly understood .In addition we have not possessed the tools to even research ancient disasters. This said we would look to possible causes other than the traditional, which we have already touched on.

Peter Mungo Jupp

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