Studies in Ancient Chronology

Studies in Ancient Chronology

This publication was launched in 1987 at the London Institute of Archaeology as an occasional series (ISSN 0952-4975), with the aim of advancing research into the chronology of the Old World from Neolithic to Roman times. Chronological articles were invited for consideration, including on specific archaeological assemblages, sites or regions; historical subjects; general theoretical and methodological issues; scientific dating techniques; and work from a range of disciplines such as textual analysis, calendrical studies, paleoastronomy and historiography.

From the Editorial

The main thrust of the editorial was as follows:

Without a sound dating framework for the history of the ancient world little of its technological, cultural, social and religious development can be interpreted correctly... Along with articles, brief communications and book reviews, future issues will contain reports on progress in both established and developing scientific dating techniques, focussing on their value to the archaeologist and ancient historian. There is a real need to foster dialogue among those working in different geographical areas as well as with specialists from such diverse fields as astronomy, dendrochronology, radiometric dating, palaeography, numismatics, geology, palaeomagnetism, comparative anthropology, climatology etc. It is remarkable that hitherto there has been no periodical publication devoted to the vital topic of chronology... Despite the modest beginnings of this new project (a non-profit making venture sponsored by private donations), it is hoped that with continuing interest and support it will help to restore chronology to its natural place at the centre of archaeological and historical studies.

Volume 1

The first volume of SAC was a monograph by a group of archaeologists and ancient historians (P. J. James, I. J. Thorpe, N. Kokkinos & J. A. Frankish) entitled: Bronze to Iron Age Chronology in the Old World: Time for a Reassessment? This study of some 150 pages, in preparation since 1985, was presented as a 'discussion paper' and ultimately served as a pilot project to the book Centuries of Darkness published in 1991 (when R. Morkot also joined the team). A preface was followed by thirteen chapters (I. Introduction; II. Central Mediterranean; III. Thrace, Macedonia and Illyria; IV. & V. Greece; VI. Troy and Central Anatolia; VII. Southeastern Anatolia and Northern Syria; VIII. Cyprus; IX. Syro-Palestine; X. Egypt; XI. & XII. Mesopotamia; XIII. Conclusion), abbreviations, notes and references, and 4 maps.

SAC vol. 1 was published in September 1987. Copies were sent for response to over 30 eminent scholars working in the field of chronology. Private reactions, such as the following, were very encouraging:

Professor Colin Renfrew (Cambridge): "... splendidly provocative volume... Many congratulations."

Professor Anthony Snodgrass (Cambridge): "I congratulate the compilers on a very thorough piece of work. I also welcome the proposal for a radical reappraisal of accepted schemes."

Dr John Bimson (Bristol): "A spirited and scholarly reassessment of ancient chronology. The troublesome data collected here must be followed up, and future volumes should be the forum for a lively and enlightening debate."

Dr Anthony Frendo (Rome): "The authors are proved right on two counts at least: first, that such a publication is necessary, and second, that the present chronological framework stands in need of a serious reassessment... it should be given serious attention by scholars who study the Ancient World from various perspectives."


SAC vol. 1 had several academic reviews, including the following:

  • Palestine Exploration Quarterly 121 (Jan./June 1989), pp. 79-81 (by T. Watkins)
  • History and Archaeology 4 (Summer 1989), p. 55 (by A. & S. Sherratt)
  • Antiquity 63 (1989), pp. 147-52 ("The Beginning of the End: Progress and Prospects in Old World Chronology" by A. F. Harding & W. J. Tait)
  • Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Society (by R. M. Porter)


Citations of SAC vol. 1 include:

  • P. Warren & V. Hankey, Aegean Absolute Chronology, Bristol Classical Press, 1989, pp. 167, 197
  • R. Kletter, "The Rujm El-Malful Buildings and the Assyrian Vassal State of Ammon", Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 284 (Nov. 1991), pp. 37, 45, n. 5
  • R. Lane Fox, The Unauthorised Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible, London: Viking, 1991, p. 451
  • W. Biers, Art, Artefacts, and Chronology in Classical Archaeology, London: Routledge, 1992, p. 99, n. 6


A few quotes from reviews may be of interest:

Trevor Watkins: "Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who had an interest in the young students studying at the [London] Institute [of Archaeology] which he did so much to create, and from which this promised series emanates, was concerned half a century ago that we should not remain preoccupied with the timetables, but show more interest in the trains. Dead archaeology, he concluded, meaning archaeology which is not about people, is 'the driest dust that blows'... 'Dark Ages' were so labelled because they did not produce texts from those sites which archaeologists had chosen to dig. Where archaeologists have taken a positive interest in the question of what was going on after the collapse of the Late Bronze Age internationalism, as in Greece, Cyprus, and the south Levant, it has begun to become clear that there is at the very least a ceramic or stratigraphic sequence. In the chronological sense the 'Dark Age' period exists, and I would rather see effort devoted to positive exploration of its nature here and there rather than to negative efforts to reduce the apparent extent of our ignorance by the compression of embarrassing historical lacunae." (From his review in Palestine Exploration Quarterly.)

Andrew & Susan Sherratt: "Whatever solution is ultimately adopted, this survey is a timely, and radical, reconsideration of current assumptions. 'The net result', as Bertrand Russell observed in another context, 'is to substitute articulate hesitation for inarticulate certainty'. (From their review in History and Archaeology.)

A. F. Harding & W. J. Tait: "[We] are impressed by the amount of material that has been assimilated by the authors... the separate building blocks of the chronological edifice that has been erected so carefully over so many years are now being reshaped into what could be their definitive form... the omens are looking remarkably favourable for a resolution of many outstanding chronological problems of the Old World sequence by the end of the century." (From their review in Antiquity.)

Robin Lane Fox: "... [they] have attacked the entire accepted framework of Bronze to Iron Age dating: their work does, at least, bring out the centrality of Egyptian evidence very well." (From his The Unauthorised Version.)

William R. Biers: "The lack of definitive, or at least good, chronological markers for the Early Iron Age allows a lot of discussion and controversy as it is, and suggestions for re-evaluation across the board have not been wanting. See P. J. James et al. "Bronze to Iron Age Chronology in the Old World..." (From his Art, Artefacts, and Chronology.)


Unfortunately, for various reasons, the second volume of SAC (which was half written and in an advanced stage of preparation by the late 1980s) was never produced. At the moment, there are no plans of reviving the series - basically due to lack of funds rather than lack of interest by the editors or the readership. The first volume, however, has become something of a collectors' item. A limited number of copies are still available - for those interested in acquiring a copy see Contacts on the Homepage.

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