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WIREs Clim Change
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Drought and societal collapse 3200 years ago in the Eastern Mediterranean: a review

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One of the goals of climate scientists is to understand how climate shifts may have changed the course of history and influenced culture at millennial timescales. Repeatedly, environmental degradation has upset the balance between people, their habitat, and the socioeconomic frameworks in which they live. Among these imbalances, drought, firmly rooted in people's minds as a catalyst of harvest failures and famines, remains a permanent threat because it may trigger or amplify social crises, leading to massive exoduses, conflicts, and political turmoil. The spiral of decline in which the flourishing Eastern Mediterranean civilizations were plunged 3200 years ago, and the ensuing chaos, remains a persistent riddle in Near Eastern history. Scholars tend to believe that this socioeconomic collapse was violent and culturally disruptive. Most of the coastal cities between Pylos and Gaza were destroyed, burned, and often left unoccupied, thereafter, putting an end to the elaborate network of international trade that ensured prosperity in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. The rural settlements that emerged have mainly persisted through adapted agropastoral activities and limited long‐distance trade. At the dusk of this event, regional cultures began to be poorly documented, leading historians to allude to a dark age that lasted for 300 years. Among the roots, tectonic instability and earthquakes, demographic imbalance between social groups, internal collapses, and technological innovations are commonly evoked. However, recent studies have mainly hypothesized about an impact of a centuries‐long drought behind the decline. Drought may have hastened the fall of the Old World by sparking famine, invasions, and conflicts, leading to the political, economic, and cultural chaos termed ‘Late Bronze Age collapse’. WIREs Clim Change 2015, 6:369–382. doi: 10.1002/wcc.345 This article is categorized under: Climate, History, Society, Culture > Major Historical Eras Paleoclimates and Current Trends > Paleoclimate
Map of the sea–land invasions in the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Late Bronze Age. Some of the main cities destroyed during the raids of the Sea Peoples are displayed with a fire logo. The battle of the Nile Delta is adapted from Nelson Ref .
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Ecological‐climate influence on societal shifts suggested by the statistical correlation between the radiocarbon dates obtained for the collapse of the port city and the one that characterizes the onset of the drought event.
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The climate event at the end of the Late Bronze Age identified in GISP2, Eastern Mediterranean, Syria, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt (see text for the references).
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Radiocarbon ages for the Late Bronze Age collapse expressed as weighted average value, calibrated to 1 and 2σ. Data come from the coastal town Gibala‐Tell Tweini, Ugarit kingdom.
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