Anthropology Grad Student Wins Grant to Study Bronze Age Collapse

Over a span of 40 years, many of the Bronze Age kingdoms throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East disappeared or changed dramatically. And anthropology grad student William Nutt is eager to know why.

His desire to solve this mystery was rewarded this summer with a graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation. The highly competitive fellowship, which covers tuition, travel expenses and a $30,000 annual stipend, will run for three years and is a significant endorsement for the budding archaeologist.

William Nutt

“I’m going to look at the Bronze Age collapse, which happened around 1200 B.C.,” Nutt said. “It was a large collapse from Iraq on through Anatolia, which is in Turkey, and Greece. It affected other countries like Egypt. … There are a lot of explanations for why this might have occurred, [but] it’s very hard to find one reason that is supported across the entire region.”

Nutt became intrigued with the subject and time period during Dr. Karl Petruso’s archaeology class in Spring 2009. As he entered his senior year, Nutt pulled together an outline of his research and applied for the NSF grant.

“There are a lot of theories as to why” the sudden changes in Bronze Age civilizations, he said. “It’s been debated for decades; there’s been a lot of ink spilled on the issue.”

Nutt will begin his research looking at the Hittite Empire in Anatolia, which is more commonly known as Turkey. He plans to study human and animal remains, look at climate changes and the effects of regional wars. He said artifacts like pottery and mechanical items will also help answer the basic question of why the region changed so suddenly. Once he’s settled on an answer, he’ll apply that reason to another kingdom like Iraq or Syria and compare. The goal, he said, is to chronicle a single effect or list the many reasons why the civilizations in that region were impacted.

“Over the past century archaeologists have been inclined to think of single causes,” said Petruso, who is Dean of the Honors College as well as Professor of Anthropology. “They want to see one overarching reason to explain [the Bronze Age collapse]. But as archaeologists began to think more carefully about the sequences of these events … it became clear it would be too neat or easy to come up with one reason.”

One of Nutt’s biggest challenges is distance, and a research ground half a world away. While he’s planning a trip to Turkey next summer – including a stop at a museum in Ankara and several local colleges – Nutt said he’ll get access to the bulk of the artifacts of that time period and region from the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.

Hannah Nutt

Nutt, who has been blind since birth, said he’ll likely make several trips north to view the Institute’s collection as well as sift through the volumes of research data already collected. His wife, Hannah, who is also a graduate student in the anthropology program at UT Arlington, said she’ll aid her husband by taking photographs of artifacts and describing their physical elements for inclusion in his research.

“William is going to make a terrific researcher,” Petruso said. “He’s very focused and ambitious and eager.

“I’m delighted he won [the NSF grant]. This is an indication of what our students are capable of and …  reflects very well on anthropology and the department. We have excellent students and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be competing for the very best grants around the country.”

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