Seismology and Chronology

Independently of my effort to construe a synchronical history starting with the common event that overwhelmed and vexed all nations of the globe—the great catastrophe that ended the Middle Kingdom—a similar effort was made by Claude F. A. Schaeffer, Professor at College de France. The reader of Ages in Chaos is familiar with his work of excavating Ras-Shamra (Ugarit) from the chapter carrying this title. He observed in Ras-Shamra on the Syrian coast obvious signs of great destruction that pointed to violent earthquakes, tidal waves, and other signs of a natural disaster. At the occasion of his visit to Troy, excavated by C. Blegen, Schaeffer became aware that Troy was destroyed by the elements—and repeatedly so—at the same times when Ras-Shamra was destroyed.

The distance from the Dardanelles, near which the mound of Troy lies, to Ras-Shamra is about six hundred miles on a straight line. In modern annals of seismology no earthquake is known to have affected so wide an area. Schaeffer investigated the excavated places in Asia Minor, and the archaeologists’ reports, and in every place found the same picture. He turned his attention to Persia, farther to the East--and the very same signs of catastrophes were evident in each and every excavated place. Then he turned his attention to the Caucasus—and there, too, the similarity of the causes and effects was undeniable. In his own excavations on Cyprus he could once more establish the very same series of interventions by the frenzied elements of nature. He was so impressed by what he found that during the next few years he put into writing a voluminous work, Stratigraphie comparée et chronologie de l’Asie occidentale (IIIe et IIe millennaires), published by Oxford University Press in 1948. In over six hundred pages supplemented by many tables, he presented his thesis.

Several times during the third and second millennia before the present era the ancient East was disturbed by stupendous catastrophes; he also found evidence that in the fourth, as well as in the first millennium, the ancient East went through great natural paroxysms, but their description Schaeffer reserved for future publications. In the published work covering the third and second millennia, Schaeffer discerned five or six great upheavals. The greatest of these took place at the very end of the Early Bronze, or the Old Kingdom in Egypt. At each of these occurrences, life was suddenly disturbed and the flow of history interrupted. Schaeffer also indicated that his acquaintance with European archaeology made him feel certain that Europe, too, was involved in those catastrophes; if so, they must have been more than continental—actually global in dimension.

Thus Schaeffer, like myself, came to the conviction that the ancient world was disturbed by repeated upheavals. We even arrived at the same number of disturbances, a common realization of their grandiose nature, and the same relative dating of these events. However, we came to the same conclusions travelling by entirely diffferent routes. In this there was a considerable assurance of our having closely approached the historical truth.

A reader unequipped to follow Schaeffer through his large and technical volume may well let the the last chapter (Resume et Conclusion) impress him by its questions and answers. In concluding his book Schaeffer epitomized: “Our inquiry has demonstrated that these repeated crises which opened and closed the principal periods . . . were caused not by the action of man. Far from it—because, compared with the vastness of these all-embracing crises and their profound effects, the exploits of conquerors and all combinations of state politics would appear only very insignificant. The philosophy of the history of antiquity of the East appears to us singularly deformed”—namely, by describing the past of nations and civilizations as the history of dynasties, rather than as a history of great ages, and by ignoring the role physical causes played in their sequence.

As to the chronology—in his printed work Schaeffer follows with certain reservations, the accepted timetable. In correspondence, however, he envisaged the possibility of shortening the Egyptian history, but not to the extent claimed in Ages in Chaos. Then how can we be in agreement as to the times of the catastrophes?

The answer lies in the fact that both of us relate these catastrophes to the termination of the (identical) great periods in history. In other words, we are in agreement as to the relative chronology, not the absolute one.

At the end of his long discourse, Schaeffer also made clear his stand even before he became aware of my work. He wrote: “The value of absolute dates adopted by us depends, understandably, to an extent on the degree of precision obtained in the field of study of the historic documents that can be used for chronology and that derive from those collected in Egypt, Palestine, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and Persia.”

Thus the absolute dates used in his work are dependent on chronology that in its turn depends on historical documents. But he adds: “On the other hand, thanks to the improvement of archaeological methods, today we no longer depend so completely on epigraphic documentation for an absolute chronology.”

I regard myself very fortunate that the task of presenting the archaeological evidence from the lands of the Middle and Near East was performed by a scholar of great stature, Claude F. A. Schaeffer. The almost superhuman enterprise of unravelling the manifold ramifications of the recent tribulations of this planet was not committed all to one scholar.