Changing climate may have driven collapse of civilizations in Late Bronze Age

August 14, 2013, Public Library of Science
This is the region where the study was performed (Salt Lake and the Hala Sultan Tekke in the background). Credit: Geological Survey of Belgium/ David Kaniewski

Climate change may have driven the collapse of once-flourishing Eastern Mediterranean civilizations towards the end of the 13th century BC, according to research published August 14 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by David Kaniewski from the University of Paul Sabatier, Toulouse, France and colleagues from other institutions.

Ancient civilizations flourished in regions of the Eastern Mediterranean such as Greece, Syria and neighboring areas, but suffered severe crises that led to their collapse during the late Bronze Age. Here, researchers studied pollen grains derived from sediments of an ancient lake in the region to uncover a history of environmental changes that likely drove this crisis. Shifts in in the Eastern Mediterranean and in local plant species suggest that this lake was once a flourishing harbor that gradually dried into a land-locked salt lake. As a result, crop failures led to famines, repeated invasions by migrants from neighboring regions and eventually, the political and economic collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean civilizations at the end of the late Bronze Age.

Combining this data with archeological evidence from cuneiform tablets and correspondence between kings, the researchers suggest that the late Bronze Age crisis was a complex, single event comprised of climate change-induced drought, famines, sea-borne invasions and political struggles, rather than a series of unrelated events. They conclude that this event underlines the sensitivity of these agriculture-based societies to climate, and demystifies the crisis that led to their end.

Explore further: A sea of challenges for the Mediterranean Sea

More information: Kaniewski D, Van Campo E, Guiot J, Le Burel S, Otto T, et al. (2013) Environmental Roots of the Late Bronze Age Crisis. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71004.DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071004

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2.5 / 5 (12) Aug 15, 2013
Use resources to prepare for climate change. Climate change can't be stopped. It's been happening for 4.4 billion years.
1.8 / 5 (9) Aug 15, 2013
It's not climate change we should worry about - it's drastic and sudden climate change. Life on earth has a capacity for adjustment to new circumstances based on population turnover, mutation, and so-on. Some life more so than others. The faster the rate of change, the more creatures and plants end up not able to keep pace, and the system as a whole collapses. You end up with a few survivor species and the rest as casualties.

Civilization is much the same; a kind of construct that has some capacity for adjustment and change but not infinite or completely plastic. We can see the result of breakdown of our system in situations like New Orleans after Katrina (very drastic, very sudden). A bronze age society had slower communication, no ability to forecast (unless you count reading entrails, high rate of error on that), and not as much flexibility in mobility and infrastructure. It makes sense that sudden change would lead to collapse.
2.4 / 5 (11) Aug 19, 2013
The last time the world warmed, civilizations prospered and it was much warmer than it is today
4 / 5 (2) Aug 20, 2013
Umm, I'm not sure that is correct, antigoracle. Changes from warm to cold or vice-versa are change, and ancient civilizations, large ones, tended to collapse when the climate changed. Witness the settling of the Nile valley after the Sahara started to turn into a desert, Catal Huyuk, which collapsed about the same time as the settlement of the Nile valley started - the climate changed.

The list of "lost" civilizations is littered with advanced, stable civilizations that simply failed, and it is becoming more apparent that what can happen is rapid change in circumstance. One source is climactic change. And large, stable civilizations are more vulnerable to rapid changes.
3.3 / 5 (3) Aug 20, 2013
I also have to say, it's turned many strategies, but this latest is unfathomable to me.

First, the climate isn't warming.
Then, it might be warming, but we don't know why.
Then, it seems to be warming, but it's not due to us.
Then, it seems to be warming, but it's not our carbon dioxide.
Then, it seems to be warming, it might be our carbon dioxide, but it's good for trees.
Then, it seems to be warming, it's our carbon dioxide, but it's good for trees, and heat is good.

Where is this going, I have to ask.

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