The temple cum palace of Medinet Habu, on Luxor’s west bank, is notable for two things.
The first is the tall tower over the gate which, contrary to appearances, has nothing to do with defence. It was the royal harem, as a series of explicit reliefs in the upper rooms makes plain. The second is the reliefs inside the first pylon, which depict, in graphic detail, Rameses III’s defeat of the Peoples of the Sea.
According to conventional history, these included the Philistines who, around 1200 BC, marched east through Asia Minor, destroying the Hittite empire as they went and then turned south, swept through Palestine and finally attempted the invasion of Egypt. In two desperate engagements, one on land and the other at sea, Rameses III succeeded in turning back the invaders, thus preserving Egyptian civilisation from the fate of the Hittites. So great was the destruction wrought by these Peoples of the Sea as they marauded their way across the Middle East that their name, like that of the Vandals, has become a by-word for those who despise any sort of culture.
Now Amos Nur, a geologist of Stanford University in California, has declared the Philistines are innocent. Reading reports of archaeological excavations he found many reported discovering badly damaged skeletons buried in the ruins of collapsed buildings, many of which showed signs of fire. The excavators had attributed the destruction to enemy action, but Nur, a geologist, suspected earthquakes might be the culprit.
In order to confirm his hunch he plotted these sites on a geological map and discovered that almost all of them were in areas known to be earthquake danger zones. A complicated pattern of fault lines runs though Greece, Turkey and around the Fertile Crescent, an area prone to “earthquake storms” as built-up stresses trigger a whole series of quakes.
There was just such an “earthquake storm” in northern Turkey in the middle years of the twentieth century which lasted for thirty years. An examination of ancient records turns up evidence for similar storms in the 4th, 8th and 15th centuries, when series of earthquakes spread over a short period of time brought devastation to a particular geographical locality. Professor Nur believes that a similar “earthquake storm” spread over half a century was responsible for the destruction of the cities of Mycenae, Troy, Knossos and the collapse of the Hittie empire. The Peoples of the Sea merely took advantage of this collapse in order to loot the riches of more advanced peoples and finally to set up their own dominion. Egypt, which had not been affected by the earthquakes, was the first country they encountered which still possessed sufficient strength, organisation and government to resist them.
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