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Saturday, 31 October 2015

Tin and Oil

The Archaeology Reading Group has been running at the University of Melbourne for quite awhile now. The numbers of attendees, mainly postgraduate students and early career researchers can vary based on the topic, readings or guest presenter. There is nonetheless always something interesting to read every month with this group, and often even more interesting things said in discussion.

We were fortunate enough to have Dr. Giorgi Bedianashvili of the Georgian National Museum to discuss some food for thought in an article on the Bronze Age Collapse. The paper was called "Tin and Oil: Can we Forsee the Future through the Remote Past?" by Mikheil Abramishvili, Illia State University and the Georgian National Museum. It comprised the opening lecture of the 4th Eurasian Archaeology Conference (11/10/2012) and will be published in the forthcoming "Fitful Histories and Unruly Politics: The Archaeology of Eurasia from Past to Present."

It gave us all pause to see to the comparison drawn between  the internationalism of complex societies of the Near Eastern Bronze Age, revolving around the economy of access to tin to produce bronze, prior to the collapse, and our own complex international economies  so heavily focused on that other resource - oil. Are we too headed for collapse and will new societies rise from the ashes?

One thing that we kept coming back to was the nature of the transition to the Iron Age. While iron would come to replace bronze, iron was certainly widespread naturally and iron smelting technology and iron objects were still in use before the dawn of the Iron Age. We noted that the Hittite Empire collapsed at the same time, despite already having a growing population and having already developed Iron technology for use in warfare, so "new" technology in the form of Iron, nor demographic expansion is likely to have been a substantial cause of the collapse of Hittite power. Giorgi noted that in the Caucasus region too, we see no direct disruption of power reflected in the archaeological record. Instead there is just a more gradual transition from Bronze to Iron Ages.

So renewable energy technology may or may not to spell the beginning of the end for our fossil-fueled age today, but is that a cause or a result of declining supplies of a finite resource? Does it reflect cultural and demographic shifts. The extent to which such things co-occur in the same socio-economic climate rather than preceded each other is still not well understood, but is nonetheless worth giving some future thought to when considering what can the remote past teach us about our future.