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Open letter to science editors
Samples from Pylos and Gordion:
Carbon 14 Dates and Velikovsky's
Revision of Ancient History
Israel M. Isaacson (E.M.S.)
The author is engaged in
studies of the ancient Eastern Mediterranean and Near East.
He has performed research for Velikovsky on topics suggested by the
latter, including the archaeology of Pylos and Gordion and the C14
tests on samples from the two sites.
We are constantly assured that the chronology of Egypt from
the time of the 18th Dynasty on is absolutely accurate with perhaps only 20
years uncertainty in a couple of places (1). The absolute dates obtained
are founded on numerous texts of a historical nature inscribed on stone and
written on hides and papyrus, on lists telling the order and regnal periods
of the pharaohs, and on astronomical calculations for the position of the
star Sothis during different reigns, the latter giving the precision of
mathematics and science to the scheme.
Since Egypt's dates are regarded as sound they are seized upon
by archaeologists dealing with cultures in contact with Egypt which were
either non-literate or whose writing is non-historical or still
undeciphered. The absolute dates attached to finds in Greece for the Late
Bronze (also called Late Helladic or Mycenaean) Age are thus derived
directly from Egyptian ones. Once dates have been assigned to Greek
material, exports of that material from Greece to other lands in turn
furnish absolute dates to the places and strata in which they are
encountered. This is especially true of the Mycenaean pottery of Greece
which is quite distinctive and whose sequence has been established by
experts noting stratigraphy of the finds and changes in shape and
decoration. The absolute dates assigned to the various pottery phases
depend on Egyptian chronology (2). When this pottery is found in Greece, in
Near Eastern contexts, or in the West, it furnishes the absolute dates it
acquired from Egypt. A system has thus been set up for Egypt, taken over by
those working with cultures in contact with Egypt and then used for
cultures in contact with cultures in contact with Egypt. Egypt is the key
to this scheme.
Dr. Velikovsky in the first volume of Ages in Chaos
(1952, 223ff.) asserts that Pharaoh Akhnaton is misdated by over 500
years, and belongs in the 9th not 14th century B.C. If this is true, the
Mycenaean pottery designated Myc. III A:2 I found in his capital
likewise dated ca. 500 years too old, and whenever it appears in
Greece, Crete, Asia, or the West the date it furnishes should be lowered
appreciably. Velikovsky has amassed a great deal of evidence for his
claim in the first volume of his work; in subsequent ones he promises to
demonstrate the invalidity of the whole Egyptian system based on the
kings' lists and astronomical calculations by pointing out the flaws,
lacunae, duplications and contradictions in the lists and the erroneous
assumptions made for the stellar arithmetic.
The historical documents will be used in future volumes as they were in
the first one to show that the true dates of their composition and the
events they relate are much younger than those so unquestioningly
There are physical means of determining dates for objects.
These are not subject to the theories of historians but are impersonal
and scientific. If understood and used properly they furnish
unprejudiced dates. These depend upon the conversion of an unstable
element to a stable one at a measurable rate, e.g., potassium to argon,
uranium to lead, carbon14 to nitrogen14 (4).
The radiocarbon method has been applied only very sparingly
to Egyptian objects of the 18th-21st Dynasties (those of most concern to
Velikovsky's revision of ancient history), because, for one thing, the
system of absolute dates is assumed to be more accurate and have a
smaller margin of error than the C14 method provides
Some carbon dates for short-lived samples from the tomb of
Tutankhamon, a successor to Akhnaton, have already been published by
Pensée (6), and as was stated, the results fit in perfectly with Velikovsky's, not the old, scheme. A few other C14 samples
have been tested and reported. These "tend to be young" and are, in
fact, from wooden planks and beams (7), the type of sample to be
discussed in this article. One wonders how many more samples were
tested yet never reported, especially in the light of the statement: "If
a C14 date supports our theories, we put it in the main text. If it
does not entirely contradict them, we put it in a foot-note. And if it
is completely 'out of date,' we just drop it." This is called "a common
attitude among archaeologists" (8).
There are, of course, those cultures which came into contact
with Egypt, and acquired their absolute dates therefrom, such as Crete,
the Greek mainland, the Hittite sphere, etc. Precious few dates have
been reported for them. (I hope to treat the results for the areas other
than Greece elsewhere.) For the Mycenaean culture of Greece, we are
told that the absolute dates, supplied by Egypt, are far more accurate
than any that radiocarbon dating can provide (9), so for Late Helladic
Greece only one site, to my knowledge, has had its Cl 4 dates reported.
Near the modern town of Pylos in Messenia in the southwestern
Peloponnesus, a Mycenaean palace and town, taken to be the ancient
Pylos of which Homer sang, were uncovered. According to legend,
Nestor, its aged king, fought in the Trojan War. Carl W. Blegen, the
excavator of both Troy and Pylos, assigned absolute dates to a burned
layer at the site of Hissarlik in Northwestern Turkey, which he assumed
to represent the Greek destruction of King Priam's Troy, and to the
palace of Nestor, also destroyed by fire. The absolute dates were
furnished by Mycenaean pottery in and under both destructions, and as
noted above, the pottery dates come from Egypt, so that if Velikovsky is
correct and the Egyptian dates are centuries too old, then so are the
dates of the pottery and the conflagrations. A great deal of
archaeological evidence can be amassed for the burning of both Pylos and
Troy to support dates centuries younger than those furnished by Egypt.
Elsewhere I hope to treat both sites in detail, but the present article
restricts itself mainly to a consideration of the C14
Blegen found Mycenaean pottery in the destruction layer of
Pylos obviously representing "the ceramic shapes and styles that were in
normal current use on the very day the palace was set afire and
destroyed" (10). "The collection as a whole reflects chiefly the latest
stage in the style of Mycenaean III B" but there were quite a few pieces
belonging to the III C period (11). Arne Furumark set the transition
from the one style to the other at ca. 1230 B.C., about the time of the
death of Pharaoh Ramses II (12). Blegen revised this downward by about
30 years, setting the date of Pylos' destruction at ca. 1200 B.C.
In the debris of the palace he also found a great deal of
pottery which was dated not by Egyptian criteria but on the internal
evidence from Greece itself. This ware he ascribed to ca. 600 B.C.
(14). Blegen saw that after the fire "the site was obviously abandoned
and thenceforth left deserted" (15). To account for the mass of later
pottery he acknowledged that ca. 600 B.C. "there was fairly widespread
activity on the site" (16).
This later pottery appeared in many rooms of the palace,
often, in fact, in the same layer as the pottery dated 600 years older
(17) so that the earlier sherds must have percolated up. In one case
the later sherds were found together with the earlier ones in a layer
"which rested on the stucco pavement of the court" and "unquestionably
represents the latest phase of occupation of the palace." Since, by the
accepted chronology, they are six centuries too young to have been in
use "on the very day the palace was set afire and destroyed" (see note
10 above), they “must somehow have penetrated from above"
however much dirt settled and vegetation grew over 600 years, then
slipping through "a compact layer of smallish stones closely packed in
blackish earth" (19) .15 - .25 m. thick, they finally forced their way
into a .03 -.10 m. thick "clayey deposit" (see note 18 above), for how
else could they have gotten there?
Two sets of pottery are involved here: a group dating to the
7th century on internal grounds, and a group dating to the 13th century
on external grounds—the time of Ramses II of Egypt, with whose scarabs
Mycenaean III B and C pottery is found (20). Though the two groups were
found together in the same strata, because of the supposed passage of
600 years, the "late Geometric" pottery was branded part of "an
intrusive deposit" (21) and the Mycenaean was used as a dating
criterion for the fire. Velikovsky promises (22) to demonstrate in a
future volume that Ramses II reigned ca. 600 B.C., not in the 13th
century B.C. This would solve a problem at Pylos. No pottery
percolated. None "penetrated from above." The two styles were
contemporaneous. Both were used in the palace before the fire and
buried by the debris.
We've seen the date Blegen assigned to the fire and how he
reached it with the help of Egyptian chronology. What does the
radiocarbon method tell us about Pylos? Pieces of charcoal were
submitted to the C14 laboratory of the University of
Pennsylvania for radiocarbon analysis. Ten samples were published
(23). The conclusion reached by the lab was that "the C-14 dates
calculated with the 5800 half-life value place all samples close to or
earlier than 1200 B.C., the date estimated by Blegen and Rawson for the
destruction of the site" (24). The dates ranged from 1176 ± 50 B.C. to
1638 ± 60 B.C. (25) (recently revised to ca, 1359 - 1852 B.C.)
These findings are hailed since they seem to confirm the archaeologists'
date and thus the Egyptian chronology upon which it was based
does this affect Velikovsky's reconstruction? As was initially stated,
these results are valuable only if properly understood and properly
Before proceeding further with the Pylos results, we shall
make a brief sojourn at a place in Asia Minor famed for its intricate
knot and its legendary King Midas with his golden touch. The site is
Gordion, capital of the ancient Phrygian empire.
The Phrygians are listed by Homer as allies of Troy (28) in
the same war in which he says King Nestor of Pylos fought, so that if
one believes Homer and if the Trojan War was fought in the 13th century
B.C. (Blegen, again because of Mycenaean pottery, set the date at ca.
1260 B.C.) (29), their presence in Asia Minor if not their empire should
extend back at least that far. "Their first archaeological traces,
however, appear in the middle of the 8th century" B.C. (30).
Unfortunately for Homeric studies, the Phrygians can't be pushed back by
Unfortunately as well for archaeologists deriving their dates
from Egypt, Phrygian art and architecture cannot be pushed back either.
As has been documented by Greenberg and Velikovsky (Pensée,
winter, 1973, pp. 26-3 1), before Mycenaean Greece acquired absolute
dates from Egypt (31), the Lion Gate at Mycenae, now dated to ca. 1250
B.C. (32), was seen as a Greek copy of Phrygian lion tombs and was thus
dated to the 8th century B.C. At Gordion itself the relation between the
Phrygian and Hittite strata, so painful to explain as topsy-turvy for
proponents of the old chronological scheme, will be treated by
Velikovsky in his volume dealing with Ramses II, where it will be shown
to represent the true sequence of events, i.e., the material from the
layer above is not older than the layer below. Finally there is the
problem of the 8th century walls of the Phrygian Gate at Gordion, for
"their closest parallel" architecturally is found "in the walls of the
sixth city at Troy ... separated in time by five hundred years" with no
"intermediate examples" known (33).
The Palace of Nestor key plan: 1-2 Propylon; 3 Court; 4 Portico/ 5
Vestibule; 6 Throne Room; 7-8 Archives Rooms; 9 Pantry; 10 Waiting Room; 11
Lobby; 12 Possible Southwest Entrance; 13 Corridor; 14-15 Southwest
Stairway; 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 Pantries; 23,24, 32 Oil Magazines; 25,28,35
Northwest Corridor; 26 Corridor; 27 North Magazine; 29 Lobby; 36 Northwest
Stairway; 37 Corridor; 38 Lobby; 41 Northwest Gateway; 42 Court; 43
Bathroom; 44 Northeast Stoa; 45, 51, 52 Southeast Corridor; 46 Queen's Hall;
47 Court; 48,49 Corridors; 54 Southeast Stairway; 58 Court; 59 Open Ramp; 60
Pantry; 61 Corridor; 63 Court; 64 Entrance Hall; 65 Hall; 66 Lobby; 67, 68
Pantries; 69 Stairway; 70 Corridor; 75,79 Lobbies; 76 Light-well; 88 Court;
91 Open Ramp; 92 Court; 93 Shrine; 94 Colonnade; 95 Corridor; 101 Steet; 102
Resevoir; 104-105 Wine Magazines — Numbers on the chart not mentioned in
the above list designate rooms and areas the specific use of which has not
been determined. (From Blegen and M. Rawson, The Palace of Nestor in
Western Messina, vol I, Part I, copyright 1966 Princeton University Press
and University of Cincinnati.)
The problems involving 500 years faced by Homeric scholars and
the archaeologists for Phrygia and Gordion seem imposing indeed, but
the reason we turned from Pylos to Gordion was to note a problem for the
Samples of organic material unearthed at Gordion were carbon
dated at the same time and by the same lab that tested the Pylos
specimens and the results were published in the same articles that
treated Pylos (34). Specimens of material with a short life-span
(P-128: textiles, and P-134: food), and P-127 "the outer part
[emphasis mine]" (35) of a "semi-unfinished log"
(36) were "in
reasonable agreement with the estimated archaeological date of 725
B.C." (37) for the tumulus in which they were discovered
there were other samples from Gordion which required "additional
processing and extra care." From each of these "several portions were
processed" and the portions "counted several times" because they yielded
"unexpectedly old dates" "not representative of the dates of
construction of the structures" from which they came—in fact, these
dates were "erroneously old" "by several hundred years"
(39). Why were
some samples "in reasonable agreement" with the archaeological date and
others "erroneously old" "by several hundred years"? The tests, as
noted, were carefully and repeatedly performed so that the samples, not
the tests, must have been at fault.
The first set of samples was from short-lived material and the
outer part of a log, while the second set consisted solely of wood from
constructional beams. An explanation for their "erroneously old C14
dates" was required. The wood was studied, the species of trees
involved were determined, the growth rings measured and counted, and the
answer finally became obvious. A " 'physical' problem" was now
recognized and "emphasized": "only the outer growth layers of a tree
will represent the time of the cutting of the tree and usually the date
of construction of a building" (40. The second set of
samples "could be inner wood and therefore may not date the building of
the structures from which they came" (41). Some of the samples had been
charred by fire, most consisted of "crumbling dry wood" from beams which
had rotted away (42), one (43) came from a log that had been shaped and
thus lost outer growth rings, and at least one (P-133), dating nearly
400 years too early, was "from a squared beam." The all-important
"outergrowth layers" (44) were "removed in the shaping of this squared
beam" (45). Fire, rot, and shaping (especially squaring) remove outer
growth rings which are the essential element for dating the cutting of
a tree. The trees here were centuries old before they were felled, so
the inner wood "antedated the cutting of the trees by several hundred
years" (46), two samples (P-353 and P-218) antedating the cutting by
over 500 years (47). Since the rings were "exceptionally narrow"
the forces that removed the outer wood eliminated centuries of growth
R. Stuckenrath, Jr., who co-authored the 1962 Radiocarbon
report treating Pylos and Gordion, more recently summarized thus:
"Each growth ring of a tree is, for purposes of Carbon-14 dating, an
entity representing only the period in which it was formed; hence in a
two-hundred-year-old tree the pith should be two hundred years older
than the outside ring. The date of the outside ring will be the date of
the felling of the tree and, presumably, not far from the date of
construction of the building." "When the carpenter squares the log and
perhaps splits it to form two beams, he is removing the outer rings
along the sides of the beams. As a result, when wood from old
construction is sampled to provide radiocarbon dates, it makes
considerable difference from where the sample is taken. And if there is
eventually fire or rot . . . the problem of accurate dating becomes more
involved." "When we are dealing with large trees or slow rates of
growth, the carpenter can quite easily present us with a built-in error
of several hundred years" (49) (See Fig. 2). At Gordion fire, rot, and
the carpenter all removed outer rings, so the "physical problem" was
Now, having seen the Gordion dates, problem, and solution, we
return to Pylos where the C14 dates "place all samples close
to or earlier than 1200 B.C." (50). These samples were not of food and
textiles. Like the second set of Gordion samples, they came
exclusively from constructional beams. All were of charcoal. It was
admitted that at least 4 of the 10 samples came from beams that were
probably squared (51), and a fifth probably was of inner wood, whether
or not it was squared (52).
Blegen describes the palace as built in "the canonical
Mycenaean manner with vertical chases and horizontal grooves for the
heavy timbers of the wooden framework" (53). "Almost every wall" had
"a substantial framework of heavy upright, horizontal and transverse
timbers and beams" (54). "In several places in the Main Building of the
palace" and in the Southwest Building, the impressions left in the walls
from the timbers make it "likely that the wooden beams were nearly
square in section" (55). The palace was "a half-timbered construction
of stone and wood," many of the timbers being"apparently square in
section" (56). "Many seem to have been as much as 0.25 m. to 0.30 m.
broad and thick" (57). One of the C14 samples (P-326) came
from a "substantial" wooden door jamb squared to perhaps 0.50 m. x 0.58
m. in cross-section (58). Quite possibly all the samples tested came
from squared beams from very large trees. We are nowhere told the type
of wood used or whether the rings here are also "exceptionally
narrow." No one bothered to compute what the age of the trees
involved, whatever their species (59), would have to be before such.
huge timbers could be obtained. No one knows how much outer wood was
planed off, although Kohler and Ralph "assume that a squared beam could
have been fabricated from a tree at least 200 years old, from which 100
or more growth rings were removed in the process of shaping"
order to explain 17th century B.C. dates. Perhaps the trees were very
ancient, their rings extremely narrow and ,.several hundred years" were
removed in the manner described by Stuckenrath. This is not the only
Charcoal is "a good absorber" and can pick up "humic
contamination" from the soil and thus needs to be treated with NAOH to
offset this (61). Only 5 of the 10 samples were so treated (see
below). Three of those untreated had rootlets from modern olive trees
imbedded in them, "all visible ones removed" (62). At least two samples
(63) came from a room containing a layer of oily black earth so acidic
that it burned into, pitted, and seared stone blocks in a few places in
the palace (64). Blegen attributes this to an oil spill 600 years after
the fire (65). If the charcoal, "a good absorber," was contaminated by humic acid, later olive oil, or still later roots and the enzyme they
secrete or any combination of these, this would completely throw off
measurements—making the dates seem too young but still invalidating
the results of the tests.
The wooden beams, if not replacement material, came from trees
felled at least 100 years before the fire (Blegen set the construction
of the palace about 100 years before its destruction) (66). It is
possible that over those 100 years the wood had begun to rot just as did
the Gordion material over a much longer period of time. That might
explain certain remodeling phases of the palace (67). If the wood
rotted before the fire or the charcoal deteriorated over the millennia
in which it was buried, or both, that would also remove more outer wood
from dating considerations.
The rotting and contamination factors are possible, the
squaring of the beams from the evidence of wall impressions is "likely,"
but one thing is certain: at Pylos the palace was destroyed in a
"holocaust" (68) which "consumed everything that was inflammable within
it, and even melted gold ornaments into lumps and drops of metal"
This was such a "devastating fire" (70) it even melted brick and stone
into "a solid mass . . . as hard as rock," so hard, in fact, that it
"had to be chiseled and chopped out by sheer force"
(71); in one room it
converted two large pots "into a molten vitrified layer which ran over
the whole floor" (72). Stones melted and disintegrated from the heat.
Some of the charcoal samples came from incinerated beams in walls
constructed of stones that were"burned into lime" (73). Every sample
tested by the Pennsylvania laboratory was of charcoal produced by this
intense fire. Not only wood but a huge quantity of stored olive oil
fueled the flames (74) so that this must have been a real inferno. In
addition to the possibility of rot and contamination, the likelihood of
squaring of the beams which at Pylos just as at Gordion removed outer
growth rings and "can quite easily present us with a built-in error of
several hundred years" (75), there was a tremendous conflagration that
destroyed still more outer growth rings, perhaps hundreds of them,
leaving only inner wood as charcoal. Even without rot or contamination
either the carpenter or the fire could have eradicated centuries of
outer wood, and the two together probably did exactly that. In fact,
the four samples acknowledged to come from large squared timbers,
consisting of three beams perhaps "as much as 0.25 m. to 0.30 m. broad
and thick" and one up to .50 m. x .58 m., were among the five not
treated for humic contamination because the fire incinerated so much of
the wood (i.e., the wood left after squaring) these samples "were too
small for pretreatment with NAOH" (AJA 366 n.18).
Many factors were not taken into account for Pylos' C14
dates, the most embarrassing of which must be those related to squared
beams because the same lab tested the Gordion and Pylos samples at the
same time, and published the results of both in the same reports. Once
the significance of this "physical problem" was recognized and
"emphasized" for one site it should have held no less importance for
the other. Why did this not occur? In both cases the lab knew what
results the C14 method was expected to produce in order to
fit the excavators' predictions: 8th - 6th century dates for Gordion,
12th or earlier for Pylos. When R. S. Young, the excavator of Gordion,
found 8th - 6th century pottery and other artifacts associated with his
structures, the carbon dates were expected to match, and when found for
the short-lived samples but not for the others, an explanation was
needed. The wood from the second group was examined, its use noted,
rings studied, growth rate postulated, species of trees determined,
squaring and disintegration taken into account. When the excavator of
Pylos found pots dated by Egyptian chronology to the 13th century at his
site, the C14 method should have verified this (76), and when
it appeared to, even though the same factors should have been taken into
account for all squared beam samples, such was not done and all seems
harmonious. Physics seems to confirm historical theory. But does it
The charcoal samples from Pylos had the same origin as those
from Gordion-stout constructional beams. Squaring alone could account
for the carbon dates' being "erroneously old" by centuries. In
addition, there is the possibility that disintegration, or contamination
by humic acid, olive oil acid, and rootlets threw off the measurements,
and the certainty that the beams were burned intensely, losing still
more outer rings perhaps hundreds of them—before leaving the pieces of
charcoal that Blegen found. Quite recently Mrs. Ralph co-authored an
article (see note 7 above) in which she acknowledged the problem of "
'long-lived' samples, such as supporting timbers" which could be
"several hundred years" old, and the problem of charcoal which could
come "from trees which were up to several hundred years old when
felled." In both cases "radiocarbon dates of these samples should
exceed the archaeologically determined ones" (pp. 112-13). At Pylos
the two problems are compounded since we have charcoal from squared
supporting timbers. Only such unreliable samples as these came from
Nestor's palace. The dates they furnish tell us only when the trees
were still alive and growing, not when they were felled, which, just as
at Gordion, was probably centuries later.
Before leaving the area, however, let us travel only 9 km.
south of the palace to Osmanaga Lagoon at the head of Navarino Bay on
Messenia's west coast, and we will find the kind of sample termed
"ideal" by Kohler and Ralph (77), because, unlike mammoth trees, its
life span is so very short. When pollen grains annually produced by
flowering vegetation in the area around Pylos are dispersed by the wind,
and land on the lake's surface, they "become waterlogged, and settle to
the bottom, where they are buried by sediment" (78). This process has
occurred for thousands of years. Two cores of the lake bottom were
taken, the pollen identified and the stratified levels carbon-dated
We will concern ourselves only with the olive pollen from the
lake since it has been generally agreed that intensive olive cultivation
was practiced by Late Helladic Greeks, and the storage and export of oil
was a major economic activity for them. In Mycenaean times "olive oil,
for which there is both archaeological and written evidence—the latter
recording large quantities—must have been one of the most important
sources of wealth" (80). Pylos must have been wealthy indeed to judge
by the numerous references to olive oil in the palace archives
the "vast supplies of olive oil" stored in the oil magazines
There were at least five rooms inside the palace used to store the oil
(83), and a large olive press for producing oil was also uncovered
(84). The rulers of Pylos were very much concerned with olive oil.
In addition, it appears that "there was a real 'population
explosion' during (and perhaps partly as a result of) the political
consolidation under the Neleids in the thirteenth century B.C."
Messenia, and it was then "more densely populated than almost any other
part of Greece" (86). The Pylian kings could thus draw upon a large
labor force to tend to the trees and produce the oil.
With these facts in mind "one might expect extensive olive
cultivation to mark the time of high population and a vigorous economy,
such as the time of the zenith in the thirteenth century B.C."
expect that this "was one of the major agricultural activities of the Mycenaeans"
The palynological study performed by Professor Wright of
Minnesota indicated that "the high value of olive pollen" "(more than 40
percent [compared to 35% today]) must reflect extensive olive orchards .
. . The alluvial fans and slopes bordering Osmanaga Lagoon on the north
and east must have been covered with olive trees, as they are today."
Rather than providing absolute dates within the Mycenaean period (1550 -
1200 B.C.), however, the "radiocarbon dates place the olive maximum at
about 1100 - 700 B.C . . . when the population and political importance
of southwest Peloponnese was much reduced compared to both earlier and
later times." For the accepted time of the Mycenaeans (i.e., prior to
the absolute date of 1100 B.C.) he detected "low values of olive pollen"
(89), in fact, only "a modest amount"
An "ideal" sample placed the olive maximum during the Dark Age
when it was totally unexpected (see below) and showed practically
nothing for the period when it was expected. Wright despaired at these
results and sought an explanation.
The trees that produced the "vast supplies of olive oil" in
Nestor's palace must have been miles from the lagoon since "olive pollen
travels in quantity far from its source." Where were they? Rather
than have this rich area around the lagoon totally uncultivated by the
Mycenaeans, Wright postulated that it was used for other crops which
unfortunately left "a poor pollen record." He rejected the possibility
that pollen from wild rather than domesticated olives was represented
in the core for 1100 - 700 B.C. because the percent of pollen was too
He also rejected the possibility that if the trees were
cultivated here during the Mycenaean period (and where is the pollen to
prove it?) they could propagate, themselves produce that much pollen, or
indeed find it easy to survive if left unattended. Someone was tending
those trees. He looked for organic sources of contamination to explain
away the unexpected carbon dates. He found none. He checked for
inorganic sources and again found none (92). He learned that the
results were not an isolated phenomenon for the Pylos region anyway,
since a core from Lake Voulkaria near the Ambracian Gulf, well over 200
km. to the northwest, also showed that "the rise of olive pollen
follows the Mycenaean interval, lending support to the hypothesis
that olive was not introduced into Greece as a major food crop until
after Mycenaean time" (93).
He checked for laboratory error but concluded "there is no
reason to suspect" any; "all six dates" from the Osmanaga core, ranging
from modern to ca. 2000 B.C. "are at least in the correct chronological
order" as determined by the layering of the sediment. "Other
explanations might be that the radiocarbon dating is not accurate, or
that the archaeological dating of the Mycenaean period is incorrect. An
error in archaeological dating as large as 300 years seems unlikely."
"It is possible that the radiocarbon time scale is not the true time
scale" since the C14 produced in the atmosphere "may not have
been constant" (94). He was forced either to doubt the Cl 4 dating or
to accept "the likeliest explanation" (95) that little if any olive
cultivation occurred here during the Mycenaean period (96). He chose to
believe the latter.
According to Wright, "during the unstable years after the end
of the Mycenaean period" (97), the so-called Dark Age "of presumed
cultural degeneracy. . that has left such a lean archaeological record
in Greece" (98), when the area "was only extremely thinly populated"
(99), hungry squatters, numbering "scarcely more" than 10% of the 13th
century population (100) grew olives as a subsistence crop
how could "an error in archaeological dating as large as 300 years"
Wright, with the results of his pollen analysis in hand,
convinced that during the Greek Dark Age olive production was at a peak,
reviewed a theory recently proposed by Rhys Carpenter that the Dark Age,
which he called "a gap of emptiness wide enough to engulf any bridge
that you might try to build from the pre-Hellenic [i.e., Mycenaean] to
the Hellenic world" (102), was caused by drought
(103). Wright, as
director of the Limnological Research Center of the University of
Minnesota, has "long specialized on the pollen, lake-level and
geomorphological evidence about which he writes, with special reference
to Rhys Carpenter's Discontinuity in Greek Civilization"
and according to him the olive record disproves that theory (105).
Long before Carpenter expressed his view, in fact, 30 years
ago, Axel Persson noted what he considered to be the "particularly
widespread" "use of oil lamps" in the Mycenaean Age and again in
post-Dark Age Greece with none in between to bridge the Dark Age. He
commented: "It may well be asked what caused the disappearance of the
true lamp with the downfall of the Minoan-Mycenaean civilization"
(106). He suggested that a climatic change may have disrupted olive
production (107). Wright shows that the olives not only grew then but
flourished. Dark Age lamps even after 30 years of continue excavations,
however, still haven't turned up (108).
There are then two problems: where did the oil come from in
Nestor's palace if not from trees somewhere near Osmanaga Lagoon, and
where are the lamps representing the time that olive production was at
a peak? We must also ask ourselves if the Mycenaean rulers of Pylos
neglected olive production when all the archaeological and
inscriptional evidence shows how concerned they were with it, and if it
is likely that "olive was not introduced into Greece as a major food
[or oil-producing] crop until after Mycenaean time" when Dark Age
squatters decided to perform such intensive agricultural production.
Velikovsky's readers have seen that he pulls down the
beginning of the 18th Egyptian dynasty to the 11th century B.C., and
since the Late Helladic period's inception is synchronized with this, it
too comes down by over 500 years, eliminating the unbridgeable gap of
the Dark Age (109). There is no problem with the lack of Dark Age
lamps, as there was no Dark Age. The lamps called "Mycenaean" are
contemporary with the olive peak. There is no problem with the results
of the pollen analysis: the olives were planted at or slightly before
the beginning of the Mycenaean Age in the 11th century B.C. and
flourished until the palace burned down in the 7th century B.C.
In summation we have touched briefly upon some archaeological
problems at Pylos and Gordion and saw 500 - 600 year discrepancies in
both. We studied the C14 dates for the Pylos samples and
then for the Gordion ones of the same type to show that despite Pylos'
results being "close to or earlier than 1200 B.C.," the samples, being
of long-living matter are unreliable, especially considering the
squaring and incineration of the beams. We looked at very short-lived
material from the Pylos region, the "ideal" type for tests, and noted
problems for the old scheme, confirmation for the new.
More C14 dates are needed for "Late Bronze Age"
Egypt, Greece, and other regions, more from short-lived material,
preferably from archaeological rather than geological contexts.
Admittedly they will be hard, perhaps impossible, to find in a burned
palace, but there are many tombs that may offer samples.
(Thermoluminescence tests on the pottery from the palace, however,
would serve to date the fire.) Many more short-lived samples need to be
found, tested, and the results published for all to see whether the
dates derived by physical means fit in best with the old scheme or the
(1) See for example T. Säve-Söderbergh and I. U.
Olsson, "C14 dating and Egyptian chronology," Radiocarbon Variations
and Absolute Chronology, I. U. Olsson, ed. (Stockholm, 1970) p
35ff., especially p. 38.
(2) A. Furumark, The Chronology of Mycenaean Pottery
(Stockholm, 1941), especially pp. 110-115.
(3) Ibid., pp. 113, 115
(4) Certain assumptions are made for these methods by
the physicists. See articles by York, Velikovsky, and Wright in
Pensée (May, 1972), 18-21.
(5) In fact, see Radiocarbon Variations, op. cit.,
pp. 35-55, where we are told that the carbon dates ought to be made to
conform with the Egyptian absolute dates, not vice versa (p. 55).
(6) Pensée (May, 1972) p. 23
(7) H. N. Michael and Ralph, "Correction factors
applied to Egyptian radiocarbon dates from the era before Christ,"
Radiocarbon Variations. op. cit., p. 117; see pp. 112-13 for a
discussion of the problem of old wood.
(8) The quotation, referring specifically to Egyptian
samples, was made by Professor Brew. It is cited with comments by Säve-Söderbergh and Olsson, op. cit., p. 35.
(9) Lord William Taylour, The Mycenaeans (N.Y.,
1964), p. 45
(10) C. W. Blegen, The Mycenaean Age, The Trojan War,
The Dorian Invasion, and Other Problems (Cincinnati, Ohio,
1962), p. 18.
(11) C. W. Blegen and M. Rawson, The Palace of Nestor
at Pylos in Western Messenia (henceforth PN), vol. I (Princeton,
1966), p. 421.
(12) Furumark, op. cit., 115.
(13) PN 421, S. E. Iakovides, Perati, vol. B
(Athens, 1970), p. 468, brings down the date a bit further. The
evidence for reducing the date is not at all secure, and, if anything,
the change now seems to me to have preceded Ramses' death.
(14) In "The Palace of Nestor Excavations of 1956,"
American Journal of Archaeology, 61 (1957), 130, Blegen cautiously
said, "perhaps of the seventh century B.C." but see PN 177, 184 for
his most recent view. He constantly called these sherds "late
Geometric" (PN 64, 175, 229, 294-6, 300, 329, 332 and see AJA 1957, p.
130). More recent analysis by J. N. Coldstream, Greek Geometric
Pottery (London, 1968), p. 330, established ca. 750-680 B.C. as the
limits for the Late Geometric phase in this area, but Coldstream seems
unsure whether Blegen's finds are "late Geometric" (408)—either the
term is incorrect in the light of this more recent analysis or the
pottery precedes 680 B.C.
(15) PN 422.
(16) PN 294.
(17) PN 181, 184, 185, 294, 300, 303.
(18) PN 294.
(19) AJA (1957), p. 130. Above the black layer the earth
was plowed (PN 294) and much disturbed (AJA, 1957, p. 131) and there is
a discrepancy whether the black layer was "immediately below the
surface" (AJA 130) or under "a stratum of plowed earth, ca. 0.15 m.
deep" (PN 294) or if the two descriptions mean the same thing. This
being the case, especially since the surface down to perhaps .15 m. was
disturbed (PN 294. AJA 131) it would be difficult to say how much dirt
would settle and vegetation grow over the 600 years (see PN 422 for
vegetation growth) but one would expect both processes to have occurred
if 600 years really did transpire. The small stones in the black layer
were presumably from the collapse of rubble walls within the palace (PN
177). Such walls would most certainly have fallen at or soon after the
time of the fire, not standing six centuries to topple onto later
(20) Furumark, op. cit., pp. 114-15 Iakovides,
Perati, vol. A (1969), pp. 166, 382: vol. B (1970), pp. 467-68.
(21) PN 175.
(22) I. Velikovsky, "Theses for the Reconstruction of
Ancient History," Scripta Academica Hierosolymitana (N.Y., 1945),
Theses 172, 206,240,245.
(23) E. L. Kohler and E. K. Ralph, "C-14 Dates for Sites
in the Mediterranean Area," AJA, 65, 1961 (henceforth AJA), 366-67; E.
K. Ralph and R. Stuckenrath, Jr., "University of Pennsylvania
Radiocarbon Dates V," Radiocarbon, 4, 1962 (henceforth RC),
(24) AJA 367.
(25) AJA 366-7.
(26) Letter from E. K. Ralph to S. Talbott (Jan. 8. 1973).
(27) See for example S. Piggott, Ancient Europe
(Chicago, 1965), p. 159.
(28) Iliad, II, 862-3. And see III, 184-89.
(29) C. W. Blegen, Troy and the Trojans (London,
1963), pp. 159-60, 174. (On p. 160 of this book, as on P. 421 of PN, he
explains that he took his dates from Furumark's pottery scheme, which is
dependent on Egyptian chronology.)
(30) E. Akurgal, Ancient Civilizations and Ruins
of Turkey (Istanbul, 1970), p. 14. Earlier (Chronologie der
Phrygischen Kunst," Anatolia, 4. 1959, 119-20) he wanted to push
them back a bit further, but at no time has he placed them prior to ca.
800 B.C. His most recent opinion (1970) puts them ca. 750.
(31) P. Demargne, Aegean Art: The Origins of
Greek Art, translated by S. Gilbert and J. Emmons (London, 1964),
pp. 8, 281, shows how Mycenaean dates, unlike Phrygian ones, could be
and were pushed back by 500 - 700 years from the first millennium B.C.
dates arrived at by several late 19th century scholars, and gives the
clue why there is a dark age for Greece.
(32) G. E. Mylonas, Mycenae: A Guide to Its
Ruins and Its History, 3rd edition (Athens, 1972), p. 17.
(33) R. S. Young, "Gordion: Preliminary Report, 1953,"
AJA, 59 (1955), 13; and see "Summary of Archaeological Work in Turkey in
1953," Anatolian Studies, No. 4 (1954), 16, and R. S. Young, "The
Nomadic Impact: Gordion" in Dark Ages and Nomads etc., edited by
M. J. Mettink (Leiden, 1964), p. 52. Blegen, Troy and the Trojans,
noted that Troy VI was destroyed by earthquake (p. 144) and because
of the type of Mycenaean pottery present in the debris, he dated this to
1300 B.C. (pp. 141-2, 174).
(34) See note 23 above.
(35) RC 148.
(36) AJA 363. The accounts seem garbled. RC 148 calls
the log "unfinished" while AJA 361 says the tree was shaped and outer
growth rings were removed. The RC account calls this a sample from the
"outer part" of the log, while the AJA 363 account calls this an "outer"
log (from the outer wall of the structure?).
(37) RC 148.
(38) The dates are: food 752 ± 122 B.C., textiles 778 ± 94
B.C., and wood 851 ± 94 B.C. The 100-year discrepancy with the wood is
easily explained, especially with reference to what will follow in this
paper, since "recent examinations of the tree-ring pattern of this log
have revealed that some shaping of the log was performed which may have
removed approximately 100 growth rings" (AJA 361).
(39) AJA 362-3.
(40) AJA 357.
(41) AJA 362.
(42) AJA 362-3.
(43) P-127. See notes 35 and 36 above.
(44) See note 40 above.
(45) AJA 362.
(46) RC 148.
(47) AJA 367.
(48) AJA 362.
(49) R. Stuckenrath, Jr., "On the Care and Feeding of
Radiocarbon Dates," Archaeology, 18 (1965), 281.
(50) AJA 367.
(51) Loc. cit. It is said that the beams "had
possibly been squared," but from Blegen's account (see below) it seems
highly likely that they were indeed squared—in fact all 10 may have
(52) Loc. cit.
(53) PN 47.
(54) PN 37.
(55) PN 248.
(56) PN 37-8.
(57) PN 38.
(58) This is the measurement of the stone base upon which
it stood. PN 209, n. 69.
(59) It would be of great interest to learn whether the
trees were cypress or the slowgrowing oak. From a study of pollen,
another aspect of which will be treated shortly, it is apparent that
"there was practically no pine left" in the region of Pylos by Mycenaean
times and cypress trees and oak forests are postulated (Minnesota
Messenia Expedition [henceforth MME I, edited by W. A. McDonald and
G. R. Rapp, Jr., Minneapolis, 1972, pp. 193, 246-7). Oaks can grow very
old before cutting and it is claimed that "many of the ancient oaks that
remain in England may date from Saxon times" ("Oak," Encyclopaedia
Britannica, 14th edition, 1930, vol. 16, p. 659).
(60) AJA 367.
(61) AJA 357.
(62) RC 151.
(63) PN 66. (Blegen only mentions four of the ten samples
in his book.)
(64) PN 177, 180, 184, 296.
(65) He bases this on the abundance of "later" sherds in
the layer—sherds which probably are not later—, but if he's right,
the oil, itself organic matter, should yield a carbon date 600 years
younger than the date of the fire.
(66) PN 32.
(67) PN 281.
(68) PN 16?.
(69) PN 40.
(70) PN 199.
(71) PN 210.
(72) PN 169.
(73) PN 66.
(74) PN 10, 171, 199, etc.
(75) See note 49 above.
(76) Young decided that Hittite pottery 500 and more years
too old at Gordion was an intrusive element. Blegen made the same
decision for pots 600 years too young at Pylos and only considered the
Mycenaean pottery for dating purposes. These 500-600 year "intrusions"
should be of especial interest to readers of Ages in Chaos.
(77) AJA 357.
(78) H. E. Wright, Jr., "Vegetation History," MME 189.
(79) For the method see MME 189 ff.
(80) Taylour, op. cit., p. 126.
(81) Loc. cit. for "large quantities" recorded. J.
Chadwick ("The Mycenaean Documents," MME 115) says "olive oil is amply
attested on the tablets." Wright (MME 195) says "the Pylos tablets
refer repeatedly to olive oil." E. L. Bennett, Jr. (The Olive Oil
Tablets of Pylos, Madrid 958 [Supplement 2 to Minos])
interprets all of these references as small quantities of scented oil
for religious purposes (37). He admits that there is a "real
possibility of misinterpretation" and his view may be "misguided" (38)
but even if he is correct, there is ample physical evidence for a great
concern for and a vast storage of olive oil (see below).
(82) Taylour, op. cit., p. 96; and see MME 195 and
(83) Four (Nos. 23, 24, 27, 32) were on the ground floor,
which, excluding corridors and stairways and exterior courts, had only
about 40 rooms total, some of these being unroofed or not fully enclosed
areas (e.g. 1-4, 41, 44) and at least one oil magazine is postulated on
the second floor above room 38. The rulers of the palace were so
concerned with the storage of oil that they completely altered the
north corner of the complex by adding Room 27, the largest of the
ground-floor oil magazines, and Corridor 26, which gave access to it, to
the original building during a later period of construction (PN 46-7,
47 n. 6, 145 42
(84) Rooms 89 and 90. Blegen (PN 295-98) attributes the
press to the period 600 years after the fire because of the 7th century
sherds found in it, but for a number of reasons, both the press and the
sherds seem to predate the fire, probably belonging to a later phase of
construction during the palatial period. The gigantic oil spill
encountered throughout the palace seems to represent the unburned
residue of the stored oil in the palace, not a 600-year later spill.
(85) W. A. McDonald and R. Hope Simpson, "Archaeological
Exploration," MME 141. They believe part of the increase may have been
due to an influx of foreign slaves. Neleus was the father of Nestor.
The dynasty he founded, the 'Neleids,' ruled at Pylos (according to
Pausanias) until the so-called Dorian Invasion. See PN 423 where Blegen
connects the different events in the history of the palace with the
legends about Neleus, Nestor, etc.
(86) BIMN, Mycenaean Age, op. cit., p. 9.
(87) M 195.
(88) H. E. Wright, Jr., "Climatic Change in Mycenaean
Greece," Antiquity, 42 (1968), 126.
(89) MME 195.
(90) W. A. McDonald and G. R. Rapp, Jr., "Perspectives,"
(91) MME 195.
(92) MME 196.
(93) MME 199 and see 249-50.
(94) MME 196.
(95) MME 143.
(96) The "low values" for Mycenaean times might represent
(97) E 196.
(98) Wright, Antiquity, op. cit., p. 126.
(99) V. R. d'A. Desborough, The Last Mycenaeans
and Their Successors (Oxford, 1964), 234.
(100) MME 143.
(101) MME 195-6 and see 143.
(102) R. Carpenter, Discontinuity in Greek
Civilization (Cambridge, England, 1966), p. 35.
(103) Ibid., passim.; B. Bell, "The Dark Ages in
Ancient History, I, The First Dark Age in Egypt,"AJA (1971), 75 accepts
(104) Editor's note preceding Wright's Antiquity
article (p. 123).
(105) Wright, Antiquity, op. cit., 123-6; MME 40, 196,
and see 251.
(106) A. W. Persson, New Tombs at Dendra Near Midea
(Lund, 1943), p. 109.
(107) Ibid.. 108-11.
(108) See R. H. Howland, The Athenian Agora IV: Greek
Lamps and Their Survivals (Princeton, 1958), p. 7; G. S. Kirk, The
Language and Background of Homer (1964), 181; A, M. Snodgrass, The
Dark Age of Greece (Edinburgh, 1971), P. 394.
(109) Two books on the topic, A. M. Snodgrass' The Dark Age of
Greece (Edinburgh, 1971) and V. R. d'A. Desborough's The Greek Dark
Ages (London, 1972), have come out quite recently. Neither treats the
matter as a chronological problem and both are thus left with unanswered
questions and seemingly insuperable problems. Velikovsky (1945, op.
cit., Theses 106-12) saw the problem and how to solve it nearly 30 years
ago. At a future date I hope to treat this subject in great detail.
(110) Blegen sees the site of the palace occupied from before the
beginning of the Mycenaean Age (PN 31-33) and "surrounded by a circuit wall
in the sixteenth [by the new scheme the 11th] century" (32). The problem of
dating the "late Geometric" pottery in the palace which should tell us the
date of the fire was already discussed (note 14), but it should fall
sometime between 750 - 600 B.C. The dates for the olive peak were originally
given as 1000 - 600 B.C. (Wright, Antiquity, op. cit., P. 126). Why
this was changed to 1100 - 700 (MME 195) is not explained. It may be hoping
for too much but it would be of great interest to learn if a layer of ash
was detected in the cores for a date in the 7th century, the time here
proposed for the conflagration of the palace (I do not follow Blegen's
interpretation of invaders burning the site). It is possible that ash from
the conflagration was blown onto the lagoon as was olive pollen.
PENSEE Journal IV
Velikovsky's "Astronomy and Chronology in this issue. Ed.
After completing this article, the author found references to a few more
Mycenaean C14 dates which he will treat separately in a
short article in a subsequent issue of Pensée.