Conflict-induced Movement and Refugees in the Mediterranean at the End of the 13th c. BC

Louvain-la-Neuve - 16-17th of March 2017 - UCL-Salle du Conseil FIAL

Collège Érasme - Place Blaise Pascal 1 - Louvain-la-Neuve - Belgium

Migration in general has been essential to the history of mankind and is largely responsible for part of our human legacy and, throughout history, is seen as beneficial e.g. where gene flows and economic impact are concerned. Migration periods are punctuating the histories of many regions and is a phenomenon well-known by archaeologists (e.g. Burmeister 2000; Hakenbeck 2008). In contrast, much less attention has been given to conflict-induced mobility – active or passive (as deportation) –, which forms a particular case within migration studies.

Characterized by urgency, unplanned departure, short-term duration and considerable risk, it is more than amply illustrated by the present-day refugee crisis. This crisis, although particularly heavy in its human toll, and inviting both the worst and best of human reactions, is, however, neither exceptional nor unique, only closer at home and better covered by the media than similar events in more distant parts of the world in the last decades. From the point of material studies, this refugee crisis allows an appreciation of the diversity of archaeological evidence accompanying the events: from children’s cemeteries, make-shift camps, abandonment patterns along refugee routes, increased border security, hotspot infrastructures, to, what has been described as ‘refugee porn’ including Ai Weiwei’s installations. The related question is then also how we can record, explore, and understand the materiality of the experience of forced and undocumented migration today, in its diverse forms (Hamilakis 2016)? Without neglecting the variety of push and pull factors, conflict-induced movement processes imply a variety of temporal and scalar categorisations.

Temporal since at least three broad episodes may be identified: (1) the forced departure from the natal settlement, where archaeological evidence should be forthcoming illustrative of sudden abandonments and conflict, (2) the passage itself, direct or with intervals, following either maritime and land routes or both, again with potential repercussions on material culture which could imply temporary shelters or intrusive elements, and (3) the arrival or settling at the final destination, prioritising basic survival needs. Scalar too since such movements can be individual, household-based, extended group-related or massive. Moreover, the impact on the homeland, the frequency of movements, the prior existence of social networks, the nature and scale of transport facilities, the receptiveness of the host country are all elements that need to be taken into consideration and all have material correlates.

The present meeting has different aims: it wants to explore (1) whether a distinction between migration in general and conflict-induced migration in particular can be made in the archaeological record, (2) whether the concept of conflict-induced migration is at all relevant to understand the collapse of Bronze Age societies in the 13th c. BC. Moreover, (3) we also hope to see how present-day archaeology can help us to understand earlier assumed cases of conflict-induced migration in general and the 13th c. Mediterranean in particular since, in popular discourse, the present Syria exodus is comparable with what some assumed happened in a reverse direction during the Mediterranean Late Bronze Age1. Moreover, (4) following ethnoarchaeological research, Hodder (1979, 1982), insisted that the active signalling of ethnic identity may be more pronounced in contexts characterized by severe economic stress and competition and we want to explore whether there is archaeological evidence for this.

A panel of distinguished anthropologists and archaeologists should help us to see clearer.