Back to the Bronze Age

Granted, my sources may not be up-to-date. I was, for instance, just consulting a book I acquired in high school, during the heyday of my enthusiasm for archaeology, more than half-a-century ago. I note it was printed in 1937, so about thirty years had already passed until it fell into my hands. Some Oxford perfesser wrote it — Lt. Col. Stanley Casson, born 1889.

I believe he is still in good odour, among classicists, archaeologists, and anthropologists of the eastern Mediterranean, for having died in 1944, his Tweets will never come to light. However, it may be discovered that he was a white man. A scholar, connoisseur, and adventurer, according to an obituary I just electronically exhumed; a “monument” in his own right to the British School at Athens. I suppose this might also count against him. Fortunately no statue to topple.

His semi-popular account of Ancient Cyprus is not the only book I have ever read, even on that topic, but it is memorable. If gentle reader has ever stood on the north shore of that island, and noticed that the coast of Asia Minor is in sight, he will begin to see my point. But first I have to make it.

We are shown, in schools and websites, the layers of ancient history, as if they were sharply compressed geological slices. We are told of lines of transmission, and evolution, as if they were inevitable. Well, if you have students you will understand the need to simplify some things, but it is important to remember that you are lying to them. The future may be unknowable, but the past is generally unknowable, too. We impose our own sense on it, using the same squirrelly methods by which we think ahead.

When did the Bronze Age end, and the Iron Age begin? The ages of plastic, silicon, and graphene may have succeeded even the latter, but I’m still not comfortable with iron. Neither were the Cypriots, nor the Egyptians, incidentally — some thirty-something centuries back. Before even that, iron was freely available in a globalized world. I once took a modified fishing boat from Cyprus to Mersin; I wouldn’t encourage swimming it. But the voyage is not far, and too quick with a motor. Even in a row boat, it would have been easy to smuggle ferrous materials, either way.

Yet for centuries, such “highly sophisticated” societies as those of Cyprus and Egypt, stuck with copper and bronze; with gold and silver adornments. The rest of the world might have been with the progressive agenda, but they were not. I speculate that they didn’t like the way iron rusts; there’s something cheap about it. But whatever the objection, they stood their ground. There are old iron objects to be found in both places, but few.

Much later, when the “lifestyle” advocates for the new fashionable metal had won out, and the tide of iron was flooding, it is interesting that the craftsmanship of objects is relaxed. Even ceramics become dull, boring, repetitious; skills are forgotten. We have craftsmen who obviously don’t give a damn any more, just like today. We have the encroaching realm of “productivity,” quantity. Soon these places are easy to knock over, by the conquering savages always lurking about.

We have conservative societies, overwhelmed by technology; and no longer trading on their own terms. In the larger Minoan sphere, we have barbarization. Dynastic Egypt will survive only in Coptic fragments. Greeks, Romans, and finally Arabs will be trashing the place. Ancient civilizations fall.

I regret “progress.” We should resist it heart and soul.