Photo courtesy of Ione Mylonas-Shear

Falling rock crushed the skull of this middle-aged woman, whose skeleton was found in a Late Bronze Age Mycenaean home. Smashed vessels and a chimney pot covered the body, leading excavator George Mylonas to conclude that this death was caused by a sudden and severe earthquake that struck the city of Mycenae toward the end of the 13th century B.C. (In the photo, Mylonas’s wife, Ione Mylonas-Shear, inspects the damage.)

Similar catastrophic damage occurring between 1225 and 1175 B.C. has been found at more than 50 sites in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean, leading some archaeologists to speculate that a massive earthquake led to the end of the Bronze Age. Others have denied that a quake could be responsible for such widespread damage over a 50-year period; the blame, they suggest, must fall on invaders, drought, economic disaster or social strife.

Now geological findings indicate that sequences of earthquakes, or earthquake storms, may have been responsible for the far-reaching damage. During these storms, a series of earthquakes travels slowly along a fault line, each quake creating the tension that causes the next. Earthquake storms can last for tens of years and cover hundreds of miles.