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Sandstorms contributed to the Akkadian Empire fall.             Source: mdesigner125 / Adobe Stock

A Dusty Demise for the Akkadian Empire (New Study)


The Akkadian Empire was the first empire in Mesopotamia and arguably the first true empire that existed, being around during the third millennium BC. As has been a recurring empirical theme ever since, the Akkadian Empire didn’t last, and debate runs on as to the reason or reasons for its fall.

As is explained in this earlier Ancient Origins article , modern scholars have put forward a number of other hypotheses in their attempt to make sense of the Akkadian collapse. Culpability is laid at the feet of administrative incompetence, poor harvest, provincial revolt, and a giant meteor. Of course, the more earthly problem of climate change has also been thrown into the mix and evidence of long drought, and changing winds and ocean currents have been provided.

In a latest study , fossil coral records from Oman provide new evidence that frequent winter shamals, or dust storms, and a prolonged cold winter season also contributed to the collapse of the ancient empire .

A First United Empire

The Akkadian Empire (24th to 22nd century BC) was the first united empire in Mesopotamia and thrived with the development of irrigation. Yet, settlements appear to have been suddenly abandoned ca. 4,200 years ago, causing its collapse. The area would also not experience resettlement until about 300 years later.

Past studies have shown that the Akkadian Empire likely collapsed due to abrupt drought and civil turmoil . However, the climatic dynamics which caused widespread agricultural failures and the end of an era have yet to be sufficiently explored.

Drought has already been found to be a contributing factor to the demise of Akkadian Empire. (Bas Meelker / Adobe Stock)

Drought has already been found to be a contributing factor to the demise of Akkadian Empire. ( Bas Meelker / Adobe Stock)

Fossil Samples Spell Intense Drought

Researchers from Hokkaido University, the KIKAI Institute for Coral Reef Sciences, Kyushu University, and Kiel University made paleoclimatic reconstructions of the temperature and hydrological changes of the areas around the archaeological site of Tell Leilan, the center of the Akkadian Empire . They sampled six 4,100-year-old fossil Porites corals from the Gulf of Oman , just directly downwind. The samples were aged by radiocarbon dating and geochemically analyzed to confirm they have not been significantly altered from their present state.

The coral data was then compared to modern coral samples and meteorological information. Although it is normal for the survey area to receive a significant amount of rainfall in the winter, the coral data suggests that, during the time of the empire's collapse, the area suffered from significant dry spells. The data before and since the collapse are furthermore comparable to modern coral data, showing the dry spells would have been sudden and intense.

Example of fossil Porites coral, found in Las Negras, Almeria, Spain. ( Geological Image Bank)

The fossil evidence shows that there was a prolonged winter shamal season accompanied by frequent shamal days which dry winds blowing across the region causing sandstorms. The impact of the dust storms and the lack of rainfall would have caused major agricultural problems possibly leading to social instability and famine, both factors which have been previously associated with the collapse of the empire.

"Although the official mark of the collapse of the Akkadian Empire is the invasion of Mesopotamia by other populations, our fossil samples are windows in time showing that variations in climate significantly contributed to the empire's decline," said Tsuyoshi Watanabe of Hokkaido University's Department of Natural History Sciences. "Further interdisciplinary research will help improve our understanding of connections between climate changes and human societies in the past."

Top image: Sandstorms contributed to the Akkadian Empire fall.             Source: mdesigner125 / Adobe Stock

The article, originally titled ‘ Strong winter dust storms may have caused the collapse of the Akkadian Empire was first published on Science Daily.

Source: Hokkaido University. "Strong winter dust storms may have caused the collapse of the Akkadian Empire." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 October 2019. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191024093606.htm


Takaaki K. Watanabe, Tsuyoshi Watanabe, Atsuko Yamazaki, Miriam Pfeiffer. Oman corals suggest that a stronger winter shamal season caused the Akkadian Empire (Mesopotamia) collapse . Geology, 2019; DOI: 10.1130/G46604.1

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