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Climate Change may have Caused Collapse of Civilizations in Late Bronze Age

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New research published in the journal Plos One has shown that climate change occurring towards the end of the 13 th century BC may have caused the collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean civilizations .

Ancient civilizations flourished in regions of the Eastern Mediterranean such as Greece, Syria and neighbouring areas, but suffered severe crises that led to their collapse during the late Bronze Age. Researchers have described the collapse as violent, sudden and culturally disruptive. The palace economy of the Aegean Region and Anatolia which characterised the Late Bronze Age was replaced, after a hiatus, by the isolated village cultures of the Greek Dark Ages.

Between 1206 and 1150 BCE, the cultural collapse of the Mycenaean kingdoms, the Hittite Empire in Anatolia and Syria, and the New Kingdom of Egypt in Syria and Canaan interrupted trade routes and severely reduced literacy.

Researcher David Kaniewski from the University of Paul Sabatier, France and colleagues from other institutions studied pollen grains derived from sediments of Larnaca Salt Lake, an ancient lake in Cyprus, to uncover a history of environmental changes that likely drove this crisis. Shifts in carbon isotopes in the Eastern Mediterranean and in local plant species suggest that this lake was once a flourishing harbour that gradually dried into a land-locked salt lake. As a result, crop failures led to famines, repeated invasions by migrants from neighbouring regions and eventually, the political and economic collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean civilizations at the end of the late Bronze Age.

According to Kaniewski, the collapse of the Mediterranean civilizations was a single complex event involving climate change-induced drought, famines, sea-borne invasions and political struggles, rather than a series of unrelated events.  The triggers for climate change are still debated, but ancient peoples could not have predicted nor coped with substantial climate changes.

By April Holloway

Featured image: Larnaca Salt Lake, Cyprus, the region where the study was performed. 

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