Demographics is destiny and the 2023 Stavcamp

Published: Fri, 01/27/23

1177 BC is considered to be the date that the Bronze age civilizations collapsed. I listened to a talk by an archeologist called Eric Cline (link below) in which he described the complex web of political organisation, communication, monumental building, trade, and advanced communication which existed around the Mediterranean area 5000 years ago. Egypt was at its height, the Assyrian empire was feared and respected, and cultures such as the Philistines and the Hittites flourished and have left impressive monuments which survive to this day. Then, quite suddenly, in archaeological time, The whole civilization seems to have collapsed. Some parts of it such as Egypt survived, but never again recovered their past glory. Others such as the Hittites vanished for ever. Apparently a similar level of civilization was not seen in the area until the height of the Roman empire 1500 years later.
No one really knows why this civilization collapsed when it did. It might have been war, a protracted drought, internal political conflicts, or, most likely, a combination of factors. What particularly intrigues me is that this civilizational collapse is considered to be the end of the Bronze Age and the start of the Iron Age. The mighty kingdoms which made up the civilization described above were built using bronze tools, weapons, and other artifacts. Apparently iron was not unknown at this time, according to Eric Cline an iron dagger has been found in an Egyptian tomb dating from before 1177 BC, but the preference was for bronze.
Bronze is made from 90% copper and 10% tin. The copper was relatively easy to find, apparently most of it came from what is now Cyprus. However, the tin had to be brought from what is now Afghanistan. A long trade route when the main means of overland transport was pack animals such as donkeys or perhaps carts pulled by oxen. It is possible that a breakdown in what we would now call that ‘supply chain’ limiting the availability of bronze contributed to the catastrophic collapse. Or it may simply have been that the breakdown in communication and finance largely ended the trade in tin.
It may seem strange to us that bronze should have been preferred to iron for making tools and weapons. Does anyone reading this have a bronze knife in their kitchen or a bronze chisel in the workshop today? Today we take steel very much for granted. However, fairly pure iron is actually pretty soft and doesn’t hold a better edge than work hardened bronze, or even copper. Impure iron may be harder, but will tend to be brittle and break easily. Bronze melts at a temperature of around 950 degrees Centigrade but you have to heat iron to more like 1300 degrees centigrade before you can smelt it. This lower melting point makes bronze much easier, and safer to both make and cast. Bronze does not rust like iron does either.
Steel as we rely on now was not widely available until about 100 years ago. When Henry Ford put the famous Model T into production the design was quite simple, even by the standards of the time. However, the chassis was manufactured from a special alloy of vanadium steel which made the T lighter, stronger, and much more resilient than other vehicles of the time. I also own several Victorinex ‘Swiss Army Knives’ which make excellent everyday tools because they are manufactured from the highest quality stainless steel. The steel alloys we rely on today are still more than 90% iron but the advances in metallurgy which we have seen, even in the last century have transformed our world. Yes, master smiths have been able to forge high quality sword blades for hundreds of years. The best known example being the famous Katanas as carried by the Japanese Samurai. Medieval European sword smiths were pretty skillful too. However, an
extraordinary amount of work was needed to produce even the relatively small amount of high quality steel needed for a sword blade. Large quantities of reliable quality steel were not available until the invention of the Bessemer, and then the Open Hearth process, in the second half of the 19th century. It is extraordinary how much technological development there was between the early 19th century and the middle of the 20th.
What drove the developments we have seen in the past 200 years? The rapid increase in population meant more available labour to build canals and then railways. Such projects also cost money, but there were also more people looking to invest surplus income.
Also needed for technological development are engineers and entrepreneurs who will always be a small very small proportion of the population. The growing population not only increased the number of potential innovators, the expansion also provided the resources for their ideas to become reality. The success of early industrialization and transport networks drove further expansion in food supplies, technological development, education, and financial investment and we are living with the fruits of this process.
Alongside growth in production has gone the establishment of large scale health services, welfare states, education, all of which have become very expensive to maintain. On the back of the demographic growth and technological development has also come the big corporations and huge financial institutions which flourish by creating debt. While populations were expanding and there was a corresponding growth in material productivity and wealth it was just about possible to carry these burdens. When the real expansion peaks out and goes into decline then what happens? At the very least there is a long period of painful adjustment. At worst? Who knows? History shows that civilisations can decline pretty suddenly and those left behind have to adapt to a new reality as best they can.
The human race is not going back to the past. The post peak demographic world will be very different from the early industrial world of the early 19th century. So, what can we do to be ready for inevitable change? Stav is an education system from a world before the technocratic society which is currently teetering on the precipice of decline. Can we once again learn to be self-reliant? To cooperate as equals? Make fair exchange without endless credit? Live in harmony with the natural world and rely on mother earth to provide our needs? I believe the principles of Stav will give us guidance that the human race is about to desperately need.
The theme of the 2023 Stav Camp will be thinking about surviving and thriving in a changing world. Please have a look at the updated site here

Eric Cline talking abut 1177 BC on the Long Now channel which you can find on You Tube. It is quite long but very thought provoking.
Graham Butcher
21 Beaver Road
Beverley East Yorkshire HU17 0QN

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