UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A methodological approach for interpreting disaster response in antiquity Marlyn, Allison


Archaeologists have long been interested in identifying earthquakes in the archaeological record, although they have traditionally portrayed seismic disasters as cataclysms over which humans have no control. However, a seismically-induced disaster is not just an event visited upon a human population, but is the result of interactions between human actions and natural processes, meaning that humans have some agency over the occurrence of a disaster and its outcomes. This failure to consider the role of human agency in seismic disasters has limited our ability to understand the material record at sites affected by these events. In order to resolve this issue, I present a new methodological for understanding ancient seismic disasters which investigates the role of human agency in these events by taking people’s responses as its focus. Since people’s responses to modern disasters have been subject to more thorough investigation, this approach draws partly from methods developed for the study of these modern events. As a case study, I apply this method to evidence from Kourion, a city on the island of Cyprus which was affected by an earthquake in the late fourth century CE. The traditional interpretation of the Kourion earthquake, developed by David Soren, is that it struck the city and the nearby Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates in 365 CE, resulting in the abandonment of both sites, with the city being reoccupied in 383. My analysis of the earthquake differs from Soren’s in several respects, as I suggest that the earthquake occurred between 370 and 380, and that the city was not abandoned following the event. Moreover, I argue that changes to the urban landscape at Kourion after the earthquake are not solely attributable to the earthquake, but are also related to broader cultural and religious changes happening in the Mediterranean region during the Late Antique period. I also suggest that the abandonment of the sanctuary was related to these changes, and was not caused by seismic activity.

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