Ancient society adapted & flourished in face of climate change, archaeologists discover

Cornell University, 30 October 2020

An examination of two documented periods of climate change in the greater Middle East, between approximately 4,500 and 3,000 years ago, reveals local evidence of resilience and even of a flourishing ancient society despite the changes in climate seen in the larger region.

A new study – led by archaeologists from Cornell and from the University of Toronto, working at Tell Tayinat in southeastern Turkey – demonstrates that human responses to climate change are variable and must be examined using extensive and precise data gathered at the local level.

“The absolute dating of these periods has been a subject of considerable debate for many years, and this study contributes a significant new dataset that helps address many of the questions,” said Sturt Manning, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Classical Archaeology in the College of Arts and Sciences, and lead author of the study, which published Oct. 29 in PLoS ONE.

The report highlights how challenge and collapse in some areas were matched by resilience and opportunities elsewhere. The findings are welcome contributions to discussions about human responses to climate change that broaden an otherwise sparse chronological framework for the northern part of the region known historically as the Levant, which stretches the length of the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea.

“The study shows the end of the Early Bronze Age occupation at Tayinat was a long and drawn out affair that, while it appears to coincide with the onset of a megadrought 4,200 years ago, was actually the culmination of processes that began much earlier,” said Tim Harrison, professor and chair of the Department of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto. Harrison directs the Tayinat Archaeological Project.

“The archaeological evidence does not point towards significant local effects of the climate episode,” he said, “as there is no evidence of drought stress in crops. Instead, these changes were more likely the result of local political and spatial reconfiguration.”

Read full story