Climate Change Made Classic Civilisations to Collapse

Aug 18th, 2014 | By | Category: Development and Climate Change, News, Research

Mesopotamia-trade-capital-MariIn barely six months since a group of scientists and archaeologists found that the Indus Valley Civilization had collapsed due to monsoon hiatus that resulted in prolonged drought, a new study came out with evidences confirming that the ancient civilisation of Mesopotamia too had collapsed due to years of drought resulted by climate change.

A study made by team of German researchers observed that “influence of climate on agriculture is believed to be a key factor in the rise and fall of societies in the Ancient Near East.”

Headed by Dr. Simone Riehl of Tübingen University’s Institute for Archaeological Science and the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, the objective of the German Research Foundation-backed project was to find out the influence climate had on agriculture in early farming societies.

As part of the study, the team analysed 1037 samples of ancient grains of barley, between 12,000 and 2500 years old, from 33 locations across the Fertile Crescent to ascertain if they had had enough water while growing and ripening.

By comparing the ancient grain samples with modern samples from 13 locations in the former Fertile Crescent, Riehl and her team measured the grains’ content of two stable carbon isotopes – 12C and 13C – to collect information on the availability of water while the plants were growing.

As the principle goes, when barley grass gets insufficient water while growing, the proportion of heavier carbon isotopes deposited in its cells should be higher than normal.

The lab results established correlation between extreme drought condition and the growth of barley and its relationship with fall of civilisations.

The researchers found that many settlements were affected by drought linked to major climate fluctuations. “Geographic factors and technologies introduced by humans played a big role and influenced societies’ options for development as well as their particular ways of dealing with drought,” said the team leader Riehl.

The findings of the study indicated that agriculture flourished and urban civilisation thrived in normal conditions with proper rain and availability of water for irrigation. But with rainfall became sporadic and irrigation became unreliable, agriculture collapsed and cities were abandoned and, thus, some of the great civilisations faced their end.

Earlier studies also hinted that long term draught, began in 2000 BC, led to decline of many ancient civilizations in the Persian Gulf and the Indus River Valley.

Based on isotope data from the sediment of an ancient lake, a research carried out by the University of Cambridge and India’s Banaras Hindu University suggested that a series of droughts lasting over a period of 200 years was probably responsible for the decline of the great Bronze Age urban civilization of Indus valley.

In present Pakistan and northwest India, Indus Valley was home to the dead Harappan Civilization characterized by large, well-planned cities with advanced municipal sanitation systems.

Research conducted by Yama Dixit, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Cambridge, UK, and her colleagues suggested a link between the gradual decline and change in climate basing upon isotopic data and evidences obtained from the dried up bed of Kotla Dahar, an ancient lake 40 miles east of the north-eastern edge of the Indus Valley area in Haryana, India.

These findings can give environmental scientists and archaeologists some clues about how early agrarian societies dealt with climate fluctuations and varying local environments. “They can also help evaluate current conditions in regions with a high risk of crop failures,” Riehl adds.

The findings are like warning calls to every one of the present society and to the leaders across the globe in particular because the earth is undergoing climatic threats which, probably, are similar to those existed in the prologue of collapse of some of the classic civilisations.

More than our predecessors, we are adding power to the threats by prioritising comfort against the nature and emitting more heat and Green House Gases by undertaking projects for large industries and urbanisation.

It’s now up to us if we should be judicious while listing the menu for our comfort and sincerely work to save the earth for the future generations or make history repeat.



Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>

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