Science, Tech, Math › Social Sciences High and Low Chronologies of the Mediterranean Bronze Age Debating the Dates of the Egyptian Pharaohs' Rule Share Flipboard Email Print Theo Allofs / Getty Images Social Sciences Archaeology Basics Ancient Civilizations Excavations History of Animal and Plant Domestication Psychology Sociology Economics Environment Ergonomics Maritime By K. Kris Hirst Archaeology Expert M.A., Anthropology, University of Iowa B.Ed., Illinois State University K. Kris Hirst is an archaeologist with 30 years of field experience. Her work has appeared in scholarly publications such as Archaeology Online and Science. our editorial process Twitter Twitter K. Kris Hirst Updated November 20, 2019 One very long-lasting debate in Bronze Age Mediterranean archaeology has to do with attempting to match calendar dates to those associated with Egyptian regnal lists. To some scholars, the debate hinges on a single olive branch. Egyptian Dynastic History is traditionally split into three Kingdoms (during which much of the Nile valley was consistently unified), separated by two intermediate periods (when non-Egyptians ruled Egypt). (The late Egyptian Ptolemaic dynasty, established by Alexander the Great's generals and including the famous Cleopatra, has no such problem). The two most-used chronologies today are called "High" and "Low" — the "Low" being the younger — and with some variations, these chronologies are used by scholars studying all of the Mediterranean Bronze Age. As a rule these days, historians generally use the "High" chronology. These dates were compiled using historical records produced during the lives of the pharaohs, and some radiocarbon dates of archaeological sites, and have been tweaked over the past century and a half. But, the controversy continues, as illustrated by a series of articles in Antiquity as recently as 2014. A Tighter Chronology Beginning in the 21st century, a team of scholars led by Christopher Bronk-Ramsay at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit contacted museums and obtained non-mummified plant material (basketry, plant-based textiles, and plant seeds, stems, and fruits) tied to specific pharaohs. Those samples, like the Lahun papyrus in the image, were carefully selected to be "short-lived samples from impeccable contexts", as Thomas Higham has described them. The samples were radiocarbon-dated using AMS strategies, providing the last column of dates in the table below. Event High Low Bronk-Ramsey et al Old Kingdom Start 2667 BC 2592 BC 2591-2625 cal BC Old Kingdom End 2345 BC 2305 BC 2423-2335 cal BC Middle Kingdom Start 2055 BC 2009 BC 2064-2019 cal BC Middle Kingdom End 1773 BC 1759 BC 1797-1739 cal BC New Kingdom Start 1550 BC 1539 BC 1570-1544 cal BC New Kingdom End 1099 BC 1106 BC 1116-1090 cal BC High and Low Bronze Age Chronologies In general, the radiocarbon dating supports the conventionally used High chronology, except perhaps that the dates for Old and New Kingdoms are slightly older than that of the traditional chronologies. But the issue has yet to be resolved, in part because of the problems associated with dating the Santorini eruption. The Santorini Eruption Santorini is a volcano located on the island of Thera in the Mediterranean Sea. During the Late Bronze Age of the 16th-17th centuries BC, Santorini erupted, violently, pretty much putting an end to the Minoan civilization and disturbing, as you might imagine, all the civilizations within the Mediterranean region. Archaeological evidence sought for the date of the eruption has included local evidence of a tsunami and interrupted groundwater supplies, as well as acidity levels in ice cores as far away as Greenland. Dates for when this massive eruption occurred are startlingly controversial. The most precise radiocarbon date for the occurrence is 1627-1600 BC, based on the branch of an olive tree that was buried by ashfall from the eruption; and on animal bones on the Minoan occupation of Palaikastro. But, according to archaeo-historical records, the eruption took place during the founding of the New Kingdom, ca. 1550 BC. None of the chronologies, not High, not Low, not the Bronk-Ramsay radiocarbon study, suggest that the New Kingdom was founded any earlier than ca. 1550. In 2013, a paper by Paolo Cherubini and colleagues was published in PLOS One, which provided dendrochronological analyses of olive wood tree rings taken from living trees growing on the island of Santorini. They argued that olive wood annual growth increments are problematic, and so the olive branch data should be discarded. A fairly heated argument erupted in the journal Antiquity, Manning et al (2014) (among others) argued that while it is true that olive wood does grow at different rates responding to local environments, there are several telling pieces of data that support the olive tree date, derived from events once attributed to supporting the low chronology: A geochemical analysis of a speleothem from the Sofular Cave in northern Turkey which includes a peak in bromine, molybdenum, and sulfur between 1621 and 1589 BCThe chronology newly established at Tel el-Dab'a, particularly the timing of the Hyksos (intermediate period) pharaoh Khayan in the early fifteenth dynastyThe timing of the New Kingdom, including some adjustments of reign lengths, to start between 1585–1563 BC, based on new radiocarbon dates Insect Exoskeletons An innovative study using AMS radiocarbon dating on the charred exoskeletons (chitin) of insects (Panagiotakopulu et al. 2015) included the Akrotiri eruption. Pulses stored in the West House at Akrotiri had been infested with seed beetles (Bruchus rufipes L) when they burned with the rest of the household. AMS dates on the beetle chitin returned dates of approximately 2268+/- 20 BP, or 1744-1538 cal BC, fitting closely with c14 dates on the legumes themselves, but not resolving the chronological issues. Sources Baillie MGL. 2010. Volcanoes, ice-cores and tree-rings: one story or two? Antiquity 84(323):202-215.Bronk Ramsey C, Dee MW, Rowland JM, Higham TFG, Harris SA, Brock F, Quiles A, Wild EM, Marcus ES, and Shortland AJ. 2010. Radiocarbon-Based Chronology for Dynastic Egypt. Science 328:1554-1557. doi: 10.1126/science.1189395Bronk Ramsey C, Dee MW, Rowland JM, Higham TFG, Harris SA, Brock F, Quiles A, Wild EM, Marcus ES, and Shortland AJ. 2010. Radiocarbon-Based Chronology for Dynastic Egypt. Science 328:1554-1557.Bruins HJ. 2010. Dating Pharaonic Egypt. Science 328:1489-1490.Bruins HJ, MacGillivray JA, Synolakis CE, Benjamini C, Keller J, Kisch HJ, Klugel A, and van der Plicht J. 2008. Geoarchaeological tsunami deposits at Palaikastro (Crete) and the Late Minoan IA eruption of Santorini. Journal of Archaeological Science 35(1):191-212. doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2007.08.017Bruins HJ, and van der Plicht J. 2014. The Thera olive branch, Akrotiri (Thera) and Palaikastro (Crete): comparing radiocarbon results of the Santorini eruption. Antiquity 88(339):282-287.Cherubini P, Humbel T, Beeckman H, Gärtner H, Mannes D, Pearson C, Schoch W, Tognetti R, and Lev-Yadun S. 2013. Olive Tree-Ring Problematic Dating: A Comparative Analysis on Santorini (Greece). PLoS ONE 8(1):e54730. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0054730Cherubini P, Humbel T, Beeckman H, Gärtner H, Mannes D, Pearson C, Schoch W, Tognetti R, and Lev-Yadun S. 2014. The olive-branch dating of the Santorini eruption. Antiquity 88(39):267-273.Cherubini P, and Lev-Yadun S. 2014. The olive tree-ring problematic dating. Antiquity 88(339):290-291.Friedrich WL, Kromer B, Friedrich M, Heinemeier J, Pfeiffer T, and Talamo S. 2006. Santorini Eruption Radiocarbon Dated to 1627-1600 B.C. Science 312(5773):548. doi: 10.1126/science.1125087Friedrich WL, Kromer B, Friedrich M, Heinemeier J, Pfeiffer T, and Talamo S. 2014. The olive branch chronology stands irrespective of tree-ring counting. Antiquity 88(339):274-277.Gertisser R, Preece K, and Keller J. 2009. The Plinian Lower Pumice 2 eruption, Santorini, Greece: Magma evolution and volatile behaviour. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 186(3-4):387-406. doi: 10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2009.07.015Knappett C, Rivers R, and Evans T. 2011. The Theran eruption and Minoan palatial collapse: new interpretations gained from modelling the maritime network. Antiquity 85(329):1008-1023.Kuniholm PI. 2014. The difficulties of dating olive wood. Antiquity 88(339):287-288.MacGillivray JA. 2014. A disastrous date. Antiquity 88(339):288-289.Manning SW, Bronk Ramsey C, Kutschera W, Higham T, Kromer B, Steier P, and Wild EM. 2006. Chronology for the Aegean Late Bronze Age 1700–1400 B.C. Science 312(5773):565-569. doi: 10.1126/science.1125682Manning SW, Höflmayer F, Moeller N, Dee MW, Bronk Ramsey C, Fleitmann D, Higham T, Kutschera W, and Wild EM. 2014. Dating the Thera (Santorini) eruption: archaeological and scientific evidence supporting a high chronology. Antiquity 88(342):1164-1179.Panagiotakopulu E, Higham TFG, Buckland PC, Tripp JA, and Hedges REM. 2015. AMS dating of insect chitin – A discussion of new dates, problems and potential. Quaternary Geochronology 27(0):22-32. doi: 10.1016/j.quageo.2014.12.001Ritner RK, and Moeller N. 2014. The Ahmose ‘Tempest Stela’, Thera and Comparative Chronology. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 73(1):1-19. dio: 10.1086/675069 Does the Tempest Stele Report the Effects of Santorini's Eruption? What Caused the Rise and Fall of the Early Bronze Age Minoans? How Does the Radiocarbon Dating Method Work and Is It Reliable? The Rise and Fall of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms in Egypt When Was the Lovely Olive First Domesticated? Chronological Debate at Thailand's Bronze Age Village and Cemetery Who Were the First Archaeologists? The Palatial Archaeology of the Minotaur, Ariadne, and Daedalus Timelines and Chronologies of Roman Emperors Accounting for Atmospheric Wiggles in Radiocarbon Dating All About Bronze Age Drums, Fishing and Hunting in Vietnam Evidence for Upper Paleolithic Textiles in the Republic of Georgia Ancient Knowledge of the Beauty and Utility of an Ostrich Egg Shell What Do Archaeologists Mean by BP, and Why Do They Do That? Bronze Age Greece Do You Know About the Female Pharaoh Hatshepsut of Egypt?