BMCR 2019.12.35

An Archaeology of Forced Migration. Crisis-Induced Mobility and the Collapse of the 13th c. BCE Eastern Mediterranean. Aegis, 15

, An Archaeology of Forced Migration. Crisis-Induced Mobility and the Collapse of the 13th c. BCE Eastern Mediterranean. Aegis, 15. Louvain-La-Neuve: Presses Universitaires de Louvain, 2018. 314. ISBN 9782875587343. €36,50 (pb).

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The contributions in this volume comprise the majority of papers presented at a workshop held at Université catholique de Louvain in March 2017 INCAL. The workshop and consequent edited volume are a part of the broader ARC (Action de recherche concertée)-funded research project A World in Crisis?. The title of this edited volume does its contributors a bit of a disservice; it undersells a collection of case studies that consider crisis-induced mobility, ranging from the Late Bronze Age through to the present day and venturing beyond the geographical confines of the eastern Mediterranean. The introduction by Jan Driessen is followed by eighteen contributions listed in roughly chronological order, including anthropological, historical, and archaeological approaches, followed by a brief concluding chapter by Eric Cline.

This volume seeks to extend recent turns in the fields of archaeology, anthropology, and refugee studies. It draws inspiration from the pioneering work of Catherine Cameron1, who has convincingly argued that archaeologists need to consider coerced forms of movement, including captive taking, fissioning, and forced relocation (in her study, in non-state societies), as well as from recent affective and material approaches to documenting the modern refugee crises, including the work of Jason de León2 on the US-Mexico border and Yannis Hamilakis on Greece.3

In a concise and informative introduction, Jan Driessen sets out the twin aims of the volume (and the workshop from which it arose): to explore whether tangible material evidence exists for conflict-induced migration in the 13th century BCE and to examine whether the concept of conflict-induced migration is relevant to understanding Late Bronze Age societies. Reviewing the existing scholarship, Driessen argues that archaeologists have tended to focus on mass migrations, while forced movements (usually due to political and military conflicts) have been studied through a literary rather than material lens. In addition, he provides crucial definitions and frameworks for studying forced movements and argues that they should be viewed in the longue durée, as involuntary dislocations are experienced both in the past and present and by more people than is often realised.

The volume takes as its point of departure much more recent case studies. The first case-based contribution by Sandra Dudley focuses on modern displacement from Burma to Thailand and examines the interplay between physical possessions and their sensory and emotional connotations for refugees in modern conflicts. By focusing on Karenni women’s skirt-cloths, she highlights how the garment’s role, meaning, and significance changes in time and space during displacement. Dudley’s chapter is particularly effective in showing how the materiality of these skirt-cloths has a key and active meaning in constituting the shifting the sense of belonging and identity before, during, and after forced displacement.

The following three contributions maintain this modern focus by zooming in on conflicts that have played out in Mediterranean Europe in the past century. Maja Gori and Martina Revello Lami discuss two displacements, the first from Libya to Italy in the early 21st century and the second between Italy and the Caput Adriae region in the first half of the 20th century, while Jean-Pierre Legendre presents the material and non-material evidence for the Retirada, the Spanish exodus to France in 1939. A short note on the current state of refugee camps in Greece by Dimitris Dalakoglou, accompanied by a photo essay by Yannis Ziindrilis, offers an activism-focused contribution. These modern case studies provide a helpful reference to archaeological approaches in tracing forced migrations, as they draw — either explicitly or implicitly — one’s attention to the low visibility of refugee material culture and the importance of attending to actions and habits, such as food preparation, rituals and religious practices, and other aspects of placemaking, rather than simply attending to material possessions alone.

An excellent contribution by Elena Isayev builds on this set of opening chapters. Focusing on earlier periods of the 1st millennium BCE, Isayev considers a variety of modes of populating Italy by discussing legends and historical cases of colonists, exiles, refuge seekers, and mercenaries. She provides a critical overview of terminology and concepts used in modern migration studies, including discussion of non-effective citizenship and the transformations within the process of de-placement, involving both rupture and integration. Isayev’s contribution advances two central claims. By contrast to modern studies of forced migration, she argues that in ancient accounts of legendary and historical displacements the focus is on the vulnerability rather than the marginality of the social, political, and economic position of refugees. Second, she highlights how ancient accounts emphasise endings, rather than beginnings, in narrating displacement, in another departure from what we might expect today.

The following two chapters concentrate on written evidence from antiquity. Johanne Garny and Jan Tavernier discuss what is possibly the earliest Hittite-Egyptian treaty, which is attested (mostly indirectly) in three late 14th-13th century BCE Hittite texts, and which discusses transfers of people. Robert Garland explores instances of involuntary displacement in Livy’s Books 1-5, arguing that the writer took much notice of the plight of refugees in Rome’s early history.

The remaining contributions focus on Late Bronze Age case studies from the Aegean, Levant, Egypt, and central Mediterranean. First comes the Aegean. Stéphanie Martin presents an engaging methodological study concerned with issues of the material visibility of refugees, forced flexibility in decision making, and the role of social networks. She hypothesises that Ayia Irini (Kea) and settlements on relatively nearby islands, such as Phylakopi (Melos) and Gournia (Crete), might have provided a new home for refugees fleeing the volcanic destruction at Akrotiri (Thera) in the late 17th century BCE. She argues that in times of abrupt crisis, such as the Thera eruption, it might be possible to distinguish between material correlates of different types of movements, including forced movement. The following two chapters discuss late 13th/early 12th century BCE signs of crises and recoveries through the study of settlements and landscapes. Krzysztof Nowicki’s chapter brings defensive and refuge settlements on Crete into focus, while Leonidas Vokotopoulos and Sophia Michalopoulou contextualise the settlement of Megali Koryphi on Aegina within the wider Aegean background and provide a helpful overview of issues to consider when applying a landscape approach to identifying displacement.

The contributions focusing on the Levant primarily discuss topics related to the migrations of the Philistines and Sea Peoples. Responding to Driessen’s call for approaches to forced migration rooted in a longue durée framework, Assaf Yasur-Landau speaks directly to the issues raised in the volume’s introduction and advocates for a deep-time and comparative approach to identifying the experience of forced movement in order to ‘put a human face’ to processes in the deep past. He invokes some of the crucial strategies during displacement, such as flexibility and adaptation to a new environment, captured in stories of two exiles well known from the ancient literary record — the Egyptian Sinuhe and Idrimi from Alalakh. Anne Killebrew provides an informative overview of the complex reactions to upheavals in the southern Levant. She discusses the archaeological evidence of six major sites — Hazor, Dan, Megiddo, Tel Beth Shean, Tel Miqne-Ekron, and Lachish — and emphasises high local variability of relocation and in dealing with the changing sociopolitical landscape. Stefania Mazzoni demonstrates the differing fates of the Highland and Lowland settlements in eastern Anatolia and the Levant, paying special attention to the effect on the countryside of political destabilisation of the Hittite and Aramean centres.

In the first of the contributions on Egypt, Shirly Ben-Dor Evian provides a thoughtful reading of inscriptions from the reigns of Ramesses III and VI, in which she focuses on identifying fugitives from Amurru in Egypt and other parts of the Near East. She suggests a critical contextual approach to reading these difficult texts by distinguishing formulaic units common to narrative genres from historically specific information. Aaron Burke questions the lack of attention to ancient refugees in the archaeological literature and provides a critical discussion of the nature of available evidence for the study of modern and past forms of displacement and risk management by the refugees. He suggests that forced relocation was more prevalent in the past than existing scholarship permits. His argument is that the withdrawal of Egyptian control from Canaan after 1125 BCE corresponds with the start of a phase of unrestricted movement within the Canaanite heartland, correlating with Iron I Highland settlements, which were populated by displaced groups from ‘not so distant communities’ (p. 236). The last contribution on the archaeology of Egypt and the Near East is provided by Rachel Mittelman, who argues that the presence of Libyan Meshwesh and Labu migrants in Egypt during the Third Intermediate Period was ultimately the result of environmental stress.

Two contributions focus on the central Mediterranean. Bartłomiej Lis proposes an interesting hypothesis that captive Mycenaean potters operated in southern Italy in the 13th century BCE. He demonstrates an intimate understanding of technological transfer, as well as the learning process in pottery production, when discussing the nature of the skill and learning needed to produce Italo-Mycenaean pottery of that period. Reinhard Jung provides a detailed overview of major movements in the Mediterranean and argues for the presence of mercenaries from central Italy in various parts of the eastern Mediterranean based on the material proxy of weapons, such as the Sicilian Certosa and Naue II Type A swords, and pottery. These movements, however, were not always forced; they might have been motivated by economic opportunities.

While the original workshop was divided into a number of sessions, the edited volume is presented without any subdivisions. Eric Cline’s useful concluding remarks reflect on the workshop’s aims and individual contributions in order of the workshop’s sessions rather than their appearance in the volume. He, unfortunately, does not comment on Isayev’s and Dalakoglou’s essays, which were not presented at the workshop.

This volume significantly enhances our understanding of the more elusive past Mediterranean mobilities. While approaches in existing scholarship have tended to focus on elite movements and historically attested migrations, this volume highlights the possibilities for extricating other types of movement by incorporating archaeological, historical, literary, and anthropological approaches. A number of the contributors (especially Driessen, Dudley, Martin, Isayev, Yasur-Landau, Burke, and Lis) grapple with questions of viability and ethics in drawing comparisons between current ‘refugee crises’ and past phenomena, developing in the process more nuanced methodological and theoretical toolkits for undertaking this kind of comparative analysis. Moreover, a number of chapters consider the process of ‘becoming’ in displacement — the flux of being a refugee, who eventually settles, changes, or receives new realities — and the questions of agency. The title of the book, therefore, does not encapsulate well its varied content, which is a pity, as some of the most thought-provoking contributions do not focus on the Late Bronze Age and even go beyond the eastern Mediterranean. The chapters are of highly variable length, and those that are successful in ‘peopling’ the past tend to be on the briefer end of the spectrum and would thus have benefited from more room for discussion.

A brief note on the publisher’s editing is necessary. The speed of production of the workshop proceedings is praiseworthy. The volume, however, would have benefited from an index in order to facilitate one’s quest for connections. Editing is at times inconsistent (e.g., ‘c.’ versus ‘ca’; ‘c.’ versus ‘century’; occasional typos) and not all the authors have their current affiliation listed in the first footnote. Images vary in quality between contributions, and a general map of the regions and sites discussed in the volume would have been useful.

Overall, this volume is an important addition to the growing field of critical studies of the varied forms of human movement. Its strength lies in the heterogeneity (and not only in spatial and chronological terms) of its contributors’ approaches to, and case studies of, crisis-induced mobility in state and non-state societies.

Authors and Titles

1. Jan Driessen, An Archaeology of Forced Migration — Introduction, 19
2. Sandra H. Dudley, The Corporeality and Materiality of Involuntary Exile, 25
3. Maja Gori and Martina Revello Lami, From Lampedusa to Trieste. An Archaeological Approach to Contemporary Forced Migrations and Identity Patterns, 31
4. Jean-Pierre Legendre, Vestiges of the Spanish Republican Exodus to France. An Archaeological Study of the Retirada, 55
5. Dimitris Dalakoglou (Photos: Yannis Ziindrilis), Camps and Ruins. Materialities and Landscapes of the 2015 Refugee Crisis, 75
6. Elena Isayev, Tracing Material Endings of Displacement, 83
7. Johanne Garny and Jan Tavernier, The Kurustama Treaty. An Example of Early Forced Migration?, 95
8. Robert Garland, Involuntary Displacement in Livy Books 1-5, 101
9. Stéphanie Martin, Forced Migration after Natural Disasters. The Late Bronze Age Eruption of Thera, 107
10. Krzysztof Nowicki, The Late 13 th c. BCE Crisis in the East Mediterranean. Why the case of Crete matters?, 117
11. Leonidas Vokotopoulos and Sophia Michalopoulou, Megali Koryphi on Aegina and the Aegean Citadels of the 13 th /12 th c. BCE, 149
12. Assaf Yasur-Landau, Towards an Archaeology of Forced Movement of the Deep Past, 177
13. Ann E. Killebrew, The Levant in Crisis. The Materiality of Migrants, Refugees and Colonizers at the End of the Bronze Age, 187
14. Stefania Mazzoni, In Search of a Land. The Age of Migrations, Exoduses and Diaspora across the Eastern Mediterranean (13 th -11 th c. BCE), 203
15. Shirly Ben-Dor Evian, Egyptian Historiography on the Mobility of (Sea) People at the End of the Late Bronze Age, 219
16. Aaron A. Burke, The Decline of Egyptian Empire, Refugees, and Social Change in the Southern Levant, ca. 1200-1000 BCE, 229
17. Rachel Mittelman, Determining Libyan Influence in Egypt during and after the Late Bronze Age Collapse, 251
18. Bartłomiej Lis, Potters in Captivity? An Alternative Explanation for the Italo-Mycenaean Pottery of the 13 th century BCE, 261
19. Reinhard Jung, Push and Pull Factors of the Sea Peoples between Italy and the Levant, 273
20. Eric H. Cline, Inching Ever Closer. Towards a Better Understanding of the Archaeology of Forced Migration, 307


1. Cameron, C. 2013. “How People Moved among Ancient Societies: Broadening the View.” American Anthropologist 115(2): 218–231.

2. De León, J. 2013. “Undocumented Migration, Use Wear, and the Materiality of Habitual Suffering in the Sonoran Desert.” Journal of Material Culture 18(4): 321–345.

3. Hamilakis, Y. 2017. “Archaeologies of Forced and Undocumented Migration.” Journal of Contemporary Archaeology 3(2): 121–139.