Talented geoarchaeologist Zangger (The Flood from Heaven, 1992, etc.) provides an engrossing overview of the changes in our understanding of Aegean prehistory.
It was standard for many decades to blame the collapse of Minoan high culture on the eruption of Thera, and to attribute the ends of Mycenae and Troy similarly to natural catastrophes. But Zangger's particular bailiwick, the period between the production of the first tools and the beginning of classical antiquity, has undergone significant development over the past few years that has sent the simple catastrophic theories packing as single explanations for calamitous cultural moments. In energetic prose, he tells of geoarchaeologists bringing aboard other scientists—palaeo-ecologists, soil specialists, hydrologists, and archaeozoologists—to circumvent the problems associated with specialization and “to combine the data gathered into a single panoramic view of landscape and culture,” uncovering vital but gradual aspects of change that might include climate, migration, the great wars of 1200 b.c., the invasions of the Sea People, and the breakdown in land management. As much as Zangger admires the introduction of high tech and rarified mathematics to geoarchaeology, he is also deeply humanist and will never forego fieldwork (which includes a lot of “sitting on high viewpoints, looking at the landscape, and pondering”) as a research tool. He also firmly believes in two old chestnuts: that a fresh eye can provide unexpected insights (“the circle of obvious experts does not always include the people best able to solve a problem”) and that troublemakers and dissidents make the world of research go round (which is why he ponders at length the idea that Troy may be Atlantis). This touch of fustiness may also explain his occasional nationalist utterings, understandably disquieting to some, such as, “Traditional archaeology and neoclassical thinking were largely molded by German scholars. . . . In the twentieth century, Germany has lost its leading role. With a little courage it could win it back in the twenty-first.”
A sensibly holistic approach to modern geoarchaeology. (Two 16-page b&w photo inserts)