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Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning

May 29, 2023

Recently, scientists discovered that a two-year mega-drought beginning in 1198 BC hastened the Hittite Empire’s collapse. The finding sheds new light on the history of the decades around 1200 BC, adding specificity to the timing and cause for the period’s social and political chaos. Today on the Unsupervised Learning podcast Razib discusses the “Bronze Age Collapse,” the end of the first globalized world.

This collapse marked the end of a multi-century period when the Near East’s empires and states had matured to the point where a common system of diplomacy and trade could emerge, centering on the three major foci of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Anatolia, but including smaller states like the kingdoms of Greece and the Levant. The end of this world was so sharp and abrupt that many regions, like Greece, lost their memory of these centuries, plunging into a “Dark Age,” when urban life disappeared and life regressed back to a Neolithic scale. The Hittites were entirely forgotten, recalled only in a few mentions in the Bible.

Razib discusses whether these sorts of shifts are inevitable in any sufficiently complex social system, or whether external shocks like climate change are necessary. What can the end of the Bronze Age tell us about other civilizational collapses?