Holocene climate variability of Mesopotamia and its impact on the history of civilisation

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Max Engel , Helmut Brückner


Mesopotamia, known as the cradle of civilisation, gave rise to the first state-based urban societies with sophistic political hierarchies. Its rich history full of important cultural achievements was accompanied by fundamental environmental changes over the Holocene. While geo-bio-archives from the broader region reflect slightly varying climate histories, there is a clear consensus on a more humid climate regime during the Early Holocene, triggering early rain-fed agricultural practices in Northern Mesopotamia representing the foundation of initial urbanisation. In the southern basin, declining rainfall and higher competition for natural resources at a somewhat later stage in combination with the development of irrigation techniques and the transgression of the Arabian Gulf seem to have contributed to the formation of complex state-based urban societies at sites such as Eridu, Ur, and Uruk, where landscape dynamics are well-preserved in the stratigraphic record. Against the background of long-term climate trends, it seems that also Rapid Climate Change events—short-term climatic anomalies such as identified around 8,200, 5,200, or 4,200 BP—have taken their toll on Mesopotamian people.
Many links between changes in climate and landscape, and socio-technical adaptation based on interdisciplinary research seem straightforward, especially where confirmation exists by cuneiform texts or archaeological evidence. The gap in chronological resolution between rather precise information on historical state development on the one hand, and on climatic changes with a much higher uncertainty on the other hand, may generate an elusive fit between records and requires caution in any attempt of environmental determinism when trying to explain cultural history.




Earth Sciences, Other Earth Sciences, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


geoarchaeology, Persian Gulf, Arabian Gulf, Coastal changes, Fluvial history, Middle East archaeology, Palaeoenvironments, Quaternary sciences


Published: 2018-10-18 07:26

Last Updated: 2022-02-19 06:39

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