Mysterious Bronze Age Collapse

Image Credit: By Finn Bjørklid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve started work on a google site for this lesson.

I’d like to start students off on the home page with generative questions about approaching an event that is not in the textbook, where we do not have a written record, and where historians are uncertain of what happened.

The next step is to visit the late Bronze Age Mediterranean. I have a few maps and there are treaties and letters between the civilizations that students can interact with to develop their knowledge of this historical scene. I may also use a relationship web or other graphics showing the social circles between the rulers, the trade links, and diplomatic ties. I would then contrast this with the early Iron Age in the same region to show how radically different it was.

I then want to expose them to the half dozen written records from the time. This includes the Letter from Ugarit:

“My father, behold, the enemy’s ships came (here); my cities(?) were burned, and they did evil things in my country. Does not my father know that all my troops and chariots(?) are in the Land of Hatti, and all my ships are in the Land of Lukka? … Thus, the country is abandoned to itself. May my father know it: the seven ships of the enemy that came here inflicted much damage upon us.”

Nougayrol, J. (1968). Ugaritica. Paris: Geuthner.

After that I will role out the classic “Sea Peoples” hypothesis, explore who they were and what we know about them, and ask students to consider if this is a satisfactory explanation. “Are the ‘Sea People’ the ultimate cause or a proximal cause?”

After that I would set students loose on alternate explanations including the earthquake storms (I have maps, but I need to do some leg work to find the number of earthquake fatalities, and photos of walls destroyed by earthquakes around 1200 B.C.E.). I could potentially bring in the Biblical story of the fall of Jericho and ask students to contextualize this account.

I want to offer them the climate change evidence for drought caused by an Icelandic volcanic eruption. The pollen study in particular is compelling here. I have access to an adjunct professor at the local college who might be a good guest lecturer. He currently teachers courses on climate change and meteorology.

I would offer them evidence from Crete that shows that people abandoned the valleys and settled in hill forts. There is a good YouTube video on this.

Lastly, I would expose them to a site in Israel where the two lead archeologists who work together at the site disagree about the meaning of the findings. They have discovered that the damage and destruction was focused on the political and religious elites–suggesting to one that this was an internal revolt. Additionally, the other expert emphasizes that all the religious icons were destroyed–suggesting an external invader, potentially the Israelites.

I may close the activity with an online survey asking students to what extent they agree with various explanations and giving them a text section to explain why. I might even let them respond by video.

One Reply to “Mysterious Bronze Age Collapse”

  1. Great idea for a lesson and I applaud your initiative in gathering all these sources. Student will love the chance to “figure it out,” share and defend their theories. Sort of the essence of what historians do.

    Years ago, I used to teach a US history lesson where students had to evaluate the causes of the Salem Witch Trials. We had about 4 or 5 theories to explore (including the rye grain turned “LSD-like” by some sort of fungus). One of the best lessons I had in the toolkit. Students loved it.

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