Climate Change Caused Mysterious Collapse Of Bronze Age Mediterranean Cities, New Research Claims [REPORT]

By Philip Ross on August 14, 2013 5:14 PM EDT

bronze age collapse
Climate change caused the enigmatic collapse of Bronze Age Mediterranean cities, new research claims. This 17th-century painter Kerstiaen De Keuninck’s depiction of the fall of Trey, an event at the end of the Bronze Age told in Greek mythology. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Climate change may be responsible for the swift and violent collapse of late Bronze Age civilizations up and down the eastern Mediterranean coast. Historians know the fall of these thriving cities 3,200 years ago was marked by war and famine, but the reason why these cities destroyed each other in the first place has long been a mystery.  

Before the collapse, the Eastern Mediterranean was home to some of the world's most advanced civilizations, including the Aegean, Egyptian, Syro-Palestinian, and Hittite civilizations. But, as ancient hieroglyphics and cuneiform texts show, conflict and food shortages eventually led to the ruinous collapse of these flourishing communities.

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Scholars point to the Sea Peoples raids, in which seafaring raiders invaded eastern Mediterranean cities towards the end of the Bronze Age, as the most notable of these conflicts.

Now, we may have an idea why these skirmishes occurred in the first place. New research from David Kaniewski of the University of Paul Sabatier in France, along with his colleagues from other institutions, links climate change in the Ancient Mediterranean region with prompting the late Bronze Age collapse.

Researchers studied pollen grains taken from sediments of an ancient lake in the region. What they found was a history of climate change consistent with the Bronze Age crisis.

Shifts in carbon isotopes in plant species suggest that the ancient lake region was once a booming harbor that dried up over time until it was just a land-locked salt lake. This led to severe droughts in the region, which caused crop failure and widespread famine. Neighboring regions repeatedly invaded the struggling eastern Mediterranean cities, eventually leading to a political and economic collapse.

"The ... event underlines the agro-productive sensitivity of ancient Mediterranean societies to climate and demystifies the crisis at the Late Bronze Age-Iron Age transition," the study notes.

Their study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, finds a link between the Bronze Age collapse and the onset of a 300-year drought 3,200 years ago. Here's an excerpt from the researchers' conclusions:

This climate shift caused crop failures, dearth and famine, which precipitated or hastened socio-economic crises and forced regional human migrations at the end of the [Late Bronze Age] in the Eastern Mediterranean and southwest Asia. The integration of environmental and archaeological data along the Cypriot and Syrian coasts offers a first comprehensive insight into how and why things may have happened during this chaotic period.

To see the study on climate change and ancient Mediterranean civilizations, visit PLOS ONE.

Read more from iScience Times:

Climate Change Conflict: Warmer Temperatures Lead To Increased Violence, Study Says

Rhone Glacier Covered In Blankets: Will Strange Rescue Technique Save Swiss Alps' Oldest Glacier From Climate Change? [REPORT]

Mayan 2012: Report Concludes Climate Change To Blame For End Of Civilization

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