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Dirt Reveals Demise of Ancient Civilization During Dark Age

Jan 05, 2015 05:38 PM EST

In a new study, dirt is revealing the demise of ancient civilization during the Dark Age, as well as providing a new twist on what these people did for a living so long ago.

Previous research of the Greek village of Nichoria - one of the few sites that remained standing through both the Late Bronze Age and the Greek Dark Age - suggests that the adoption of cattle ranching helped this settlement survive. That's because pastoralism would have made populations more mobile as they herded animals, researchers say.

Evidence of cattle ranching came from soil samples containing the bones of animals, but this latest study indicates that other evidence may have been lost over time, leading to a possibly inaccurate picture of settlements during the Dark Age.

"I want to see if this kind of soil environment that destroys bones also destroys other types of evidence, because there is bone destruction at other sites being studied from the Dark Age," W. Flint Dibble, from the University of Cincinnati, said in a statement. "Bone is made up of calcium carbonate, so other carbon materials could be destroyed, such as charred plants - key to understanding agriculture at that time. Also, there are few metal objects from the Dark Age, and the soil environment might be an explanation for that."

Dark Age sediments contain few visible calcite formations, indicating that the Nichoria site was poorly preserved and acidic soil may have disintegrated other types of evidence.

The Dark Age refers to the collapse of the Bronze Age, beginning around 1200 BC, when people abandoned cities and palaces were destroyed. Theories for the demise of ancient civilization during this time include the invasion of another society to a catastrophic climatic event.

"We actually think that as more of these sites are abandoned in the Dark Age, the landscape becomes very stable, and the weather destroys more of what's in the top upper layers than the archaeological material buried deeper below," Dibble explained. "At this site, we have no evidence that the destruction of bone was the result of climate change."

What they did find, from the use of more modern technologies and methods, was proof that cattle ranching may have helped the people of Nichoria survive.

Dibble, along with his co-author Daniel J. Fallu who is a doctoral student at Boston University, will present their findings Jan. 9, at the joint annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and Society for Classical Studies in New Orleans.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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