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Ear to the Ground

How Climate Change Doomed the Ancients

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Posted on May 29, 2014

Photo by MarieBrizard (CC BY 2.0)

“Climate change has been leading to global conflict—and even the collapse of civilizations—for more than 3,000 years,” George Washington University anthropologist Eric H. Cline wrote in The New York Times on Wednesday. “Drought and famine led to internal rebellions in some societies and the sacking of others, as people fleeing hardship at home became conquerors abroad.”

Cline continued:

One of the most vivid examples comes from around 1200 B.C. A centuries-long drought in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean regions, contributed to — if not caused — widespread famine, unrest and ultimately the destruction of many once prosperous cities, according to four recent studies.

The scientists determined the length and severity of the drought by examining ancient pollen as well as oxygen and carbon isotope data drawn from alluvial and mineral deposits. All of their conclusions are corroborated by correspondence, inscribed and fired on clay tablets, dating from that time.

Ancient letters from the Hittite kingdom, in what is now modern-day Turkey, beseech neighboring powers for shipments of grain to stave off famine caused by the drought. (The drought is thought to have affected much of what is now Greece, Israel, Lebanon and Syria for up to 300 years.) One letter, sent from a Hittite king, pleads for help: “It is a matter of life or death!”

Read more here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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