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20,000 years of societal vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in southwest Asia

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The Fertile Crescent, its hilly flanks and surrounding drylands has been a critical region for studying how climate has influenced societal change, and this review focuses on the region over the last 20,000 years. The complex social, economic, and environmental landscapes in the region today are not new phenomena and understanding their interactions requires a nuanced, multidisciplinary understanding of the past. This review builds on a history of collaboration between the social and natural palaeoscience disciplines. We provide a multidisciplinary, multiscalar perspective on the relevance of past climate, environmental, and archaeological research in assessing present day vulnerabilities and risks for the populations of southwest Asia. We discuss the complexity of palaeoclimatic data interpretation, particularly in relation to hydrology, and provide an overview of key time periods of palaeoclimatic interest. We discuss the critical role that vegetation plays in the human–climate–environment nexus and discuss the implications of the available palaeoclimate and archaeological data, and their interpretation, for palaeonarratives of the region, both climatically and socially. We also provide an overview of how modelling can improve our understanding of past climate impacts and associated change in risk to societies. We conclude by looking to future work, and identify themes of “scale” and “seasonality” as still requiring further focus. We suggest that by appreciating a given locale's place in the regional hydroscape, be it an archaeological site or palaeoenvironmental archive, more robust links to climate can be made where appropriate and interpretations drawn will demand the resolution of factors acting across multiple scales. This article is categorized under: Human Water > Water as Imagined and Represented Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change Water and Life > Nature of Freshwater Ecosystems
Map of the region showing key palaeoenvironmental archives (Table ; tree rings from Touchan et al., ), archaeological sites, and climate seasonality across the region (data from KNMI Climate Explorer). Climate plots show mean monthly (January–December) precipitation (mm; left hand axis) and average air temperature (°C; right hand axis). Archaeological sites shown are A1: Hattusas, A2: Çatal Hoyuk, A3: Tell Leilan, A4: Tell Brak, A5: Abu Hureyra, A6: Ebla, A7: Assur, A8: Godin Tepe, A9: Ohalo II, A10: Babylon, A11: Susa, A12: Azraq, A13: Uruk, A14: Shahr‐I Sokta, A15: Tall‐e Malyan and A16: Konar Sandal
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Summary of reginal archaeological chronologies. Derived from, for Anatolia (Allcock & Roberts, ), for the Levant (Finkelstein & Piasetzky, ; Maher et al., ; Regev, Finkelstein, Adams, & Boaretto, ), for Mesopotamia (Matthews, ; Nishiaki & Le Miere, ), for the Arabian Peninsula (Magee, ), and for the Iranian Plateau (Potts, ). The dating of some of these periods is complicated and debated, and varies within some of the regions defined here. Some periods were too short‐lived to appear on this summary figure. More details can be found in the references provided
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Spatial patterns in the Old World Drought Atlas (Cook et al., ) of mean Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) values and correlation with the southwest Asia zone (red box) through the last 600 years (Figure )
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High resolution records of the last 2000 years. From the top: European temperature anomalies from the PAGES2k consortium (Ahmed et al., ), European summer temperature anomalies (Büntgen et al., ), Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) reconstruction for southwest Asia (Cook et al., ) and oxygen isotope records from Lake Nar (Jones et al., ), and Gejker Cave (Flohr et al., ). Grey shading picks out the Late Antiquity Little Ice Age (LALIA), Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA), and Little Ice Age (LIA) as presented in Büntgen et al. ()
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Summary of regional palaeoenvironmental change for the last 20 ka. Key time periods (LG, late glacial; LGM, last glacial maximum) and climatic events discussed in the text are highlighted (late glacial stadial, grey shading; 8.2 and 4.2 ka, dashed lines). Note that each record is plotted based on its own chronology. Insolation data are from A. Berger and Loutre (), see Table for site references
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Typical Southwest Asia hydroscape, highlighting key parts of the hydrological cycle and location of key terrestrial archives within this system
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Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change
Water and Life > Nature of Freshwater Ecosystems
Human Water > Water as Imagined and Represented

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