Visiting Research Scholar Spotlight: Sarah Adcock


As 2020 draws to a close and the global coronavirus pandemic continues to make news around the world, we are bombarded by predictions of collapse in various permutations. Among archaeologists, historians, and scholars of the ancient world more broadly, recent years have seen a surging interest in the study of societal collapse. This growing scholarly interest coincides with contemporary preoccupations with geopolitical uncertainty, climate crisis, mass extinction, and global disease. In essence, these concerns center on the end of the world as we know it.

However, the year 2020 isn’t the first time such challenges have been faced. The Late Bronze Age (ca. 1600-1200 BCE) in the Eastern Mediterranean is remembered as a time of political and economic consolidation, with multiple great powers – Mycenae, Babylonia, Egypt, the Hittites – exerting their military power in the region and engaging in an unprecedented degree of international trade and diplomacy. This Bronze Age “brotherhood of kings” came to a dramatic end at the beginning of the twelfth century BCE, when polities across the region entered a period of large-scale destabilization and collapse associated with invasions, disease, drought, changes in dynasties, the cessation of monumental building, and, ultimately, silence in the textual record.

My work at ISAW aims to help us make sense of this significant moment in world history by illuminating local responses to the Late Bronze Age collapse across the Eastern Mediterranean region. How did people in different areas (e.g. the Aegean vs. central Anatolia vs. northern Mesopotamia) experience the political and economic destabilization associated with the Late Bronze Age collapse, and what decisions did they make in response? How did responses vary in imperial heartlands vs. provincial regions vs. frontiers, and across different geographies/ecologies? My project, “Everyday Lives at the End of the World?: Post-Collapse Animal Economies in the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean,” works to address these questions by surveying and synthesizing zooarchaeological (animal bone) data from archaeological sites around the Eastern Mediterranean in order to identify changes and continuities in how people managed animals and their products before and after the Late Bronze Age collapse. This information, in turn, can offer insight on changing organizational structures and lifeways.

Understanding past responses to collapse is extremely important as we face contemporary challenges. The research I’ve outlined here directly addresses food systems, which are key to understanding collapse – both ancient and modern. By enhancing our understanding of the relationships between food systems and political and economic collapse, this research will contribute new information that can help shape how we approach our future.

Read more about Sarah Adcock here.