In 1177, the Year Civilization Collapsed, Eric H. Cline has established in chapters about the 15th, 14th and 13th centuries of the pre-Christian era that there was an international order of empires and civilizations in the eastern Mediterranean.
There was a city state and port at Ugarit. It was Hittite vassal state. This map shows where it was in relation to modern states.
Archives from there give us some of our most important information of what happened in the 12th century. Tablets show extensive trade and contacts with Egypt, Cyprus, the Aegean states, Hatti, Sidon and Assyria in the closing decades of the 13th century and the early years of the 12th century. They show international trade continuing right up until1192 and 1185.
But then Ugarit was suddenly destroyed and lay unoccupied for 650 years. Excavators have discovered ashes and collapsed walls throughout the city. There is evidence of street fighting. It was not an earthquake. There are lots of arrowheads in the rubble. It looks like about eight thousand people fled in haste and never came back.
That the Sea Peoples did this is what many historians think, although the evidence is circumstantial. The best evidence seems to show that one wave of an invasion. came in about 1190 and that another wave came later in about 1177. We are not sure the two waves were the same people. There is some evidence that settlers from the first wave were displaced by the second.
We should keep in mind that Pharaoh Merneptah beat off an earlier Sea People’s invasion of Egypt in about 2007. So maybe we should be talking about three waves.
But it is an open question whether the Sea People’s caused many of the 12th century destructions. Cline tries to sketch the evidence for Canaan, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, the Greek Mainland, and Cyprus. A number of uncertainties call into question the assumption that all these destructions were caused by the Sea Peoples.
More relevant, it seems to me, is the settlement of the Philistines in Gaza. The Philistines were one of the Sea People tribes. The earlier Canaanite cultures at Ekron and Ashdod were suddenly replaced by a new material culture with completely different pottery and architecture. The latest excavations may show that something like that also happened at Ashkelon. So it looks like the destructions in Gaza, at least, had a branch of the Sea Peoples as their catalyst.
The point Cline is making, I think, is not that the Sea Peoples had nothing to do with the Bronze Age collapse, but that their may have been a lot of other factors–and really, we don’t even have a good understanding of who the Sea Peoples were.