Archaeology Roundup

I’ve had this sitting on my desktop for months, so here we go with the last archaeology roundup (and likely my final post).

The Roots of Ancient Greece?

I can’t believe I somehow missed this, but I only just recently heard about the excavations at Dhaskalio.

What’s so exciting about this is that this site appears to be the wellspring of many aspects of the cultural practices of Ancient Greece, including religion and urbanism. This site is even older than the Minoan civilization, and shows that the roots of ancient Greek culture go back much further than we previously believed.

The site itself is a pyramid-shaped island that was extensively terraced and landscaped with white stone brought to the island from the surrounding region; some of them quite heavy. There were a number of shrines on the island, and various votive offerings were found, but the exact nature of the religious cult is unknown. There is also metalworking on the site, and signs of trade with other islands in the region. They even constructed an advanced sewage system a millennium before the Minoans on Crete:

Around 4,500 years ago, ancient engineers and workers terraced the little island in the Cyclades archipelago in the Aegean Sea, creating a sort of step pyramid. They then imported hundreds of tons of gleaming white rock from the nearby island of Naxos, creating a bright outdoor shrine where early Greeks performed rituals…

Recent excavations at the pyramid have also revealed a sophisticated system of drainage pipes in the lower levels, showing that the builders carefully planned their monument. It also indicates they were dealing with runoff and sewage an estimated 1,000 years before the Minoans, who built Europe’s first drainage system and flush toilets at the Palace of Knossos on Crete. Recent excavations show that Dhaskalio was full of monumental constructions made from the same gleaming white stone from Naxos and that its inhabitants were as advanced as the shrine they constructed.

Researchers Uncover Ancient Greek Island’s Complex Plumbing System (Smithsonian)

Constructing the complex took enormous collective effort, similar to the efforts to build other grand monuments like Stonehenge or the earliest Egyptian pyramids, which were contemporary with Dhaskalio:

Archaeologists now believe that, in order to construct the complex, early Bronze Age Greeks embarked on at least 3,500 maritime voyages to transport between 7,000 and 10,000 tonnes of shining white marble from one Aegean island to another…The voyages – totalling around 45,000 miles – allowed the architects to construct what is thought to have been a huge religious sanctuary consisting of up to 60 marble buildings, which were constructed specifically to glisten in the sun…What’s more, the architects “terra-formed” the pyramid-shaped island “mini-mountain”, known in recent centuries as Dhaskalio (possibly just meaning “islet”), to create around 1,000m of artificial terracing, arranged in six “steps” on its steep slopes.

These roughly six-metre wide terraces appear to have been built specifically to accommodate all the buildings. The summit itself was not initially built on – but instead had a small, probably sacred, open area where votive offerings may have been deposited…

Dhaskalio shares a number of commonalities with other sacred sites in the Mediterranean region and beyond. All of these appear to have been created within roughly the same time frame. While most of focus has been on Mesopotamia to this point, similar developments were happening all across Eurasia, from the Mediterranean to India. All of them seem to have been sparked by cultural innovations like metalworking, writing, trade, and so on.

…the remarkable nature of the site does fit into a much more widely dispersed series of monumental construction traditions from western Europe and the Middle East.

Intriguingly, it was built within 100 years or so of the creation of Stonehenge, the first Egyptian pyramids, the great cities of the Indus Valley and the first known Mesopotamian kingdoms.

This broader context shows quite clearly that Dhaskalio was part of a much wider cultural and political phenomenon involving huge ultra-ambitious construction and political projects.

These Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Indus Valley and western European traditions were almost certainly not directly related to each other – but were probably the result of a common stimulus, namely the spread and intensification of early metal usage, and the mercantile, cultural and political changes that process triggered. Equally significantly, Dhaskalio shows that, contrary to previous belief, Greece was part and parcel of that much wider phenomenon.

Even the shape of the island seems to hint at some sort of religious connection with sacred structures in other ancient civilizations in the region. The archaeologists hypothesize that the pyramidal shape of the promontory might be why it was chosen as a sacred site as opposed to other nearby islands.

From the south, the island would have been visible from many miles away as a gleaming white pyramid-shaped mini-mountain rising out of the sea.

It is not known for sure whether the pyramidic shape was in any way significant. But the place had certainly been specifically selected as a religious site in preference to other much higher, more impressive and potentially more accessible mountains that did not have that shape.

What’s more, pyramidic shapes were, at precisely that time, coming to be regarded as sacred just 500 miles to the southeast in ancient Egypt (indeed it is also at that time that there are the first signs of Egyptian influence on nearby Crete).

In the ancient Egyptian context, pyramid shapes were associated with a god of creation, Atum. He was believed to inhabit a pyramid-shaped rock (a “pyramidion” or “Benben” stone) that was seen as symbolising the mythical “primordial mound” (representing the first dry land) which (much as in the book of Genesis) rose out of a “chaotic sea” at the time of creation.

What’s more, that pyramidic stone symbolised the sacred place where the first rays of the sun illuminated the primordial mound at the time of creation – and the pyramidic shape of the pyramidion (the idealised primordial mound) was seen as symbolising the slanting rays of the sun as they descended from the sky to earth.

Indeed, the ancient Egyptians used to cover their symbolic “pyramidions” in gold leaf so that they would shine and glisten in the sun (potentially for the same or similar reasons that the Dhaskalio architects went to so much trouble to ensure that their pyramid-shaped island sanctuary would also glisten in the rays of the sun).

The Mesopotamians and others had similar “primordial mound rising out of watery chaos” creation myths – and it is conceivable that Dhaskalio rising out of the sea symbolises some Cycladic version of those wider sacred cosmological concepts.

In the early Greek world, it is conceivable that the concept of the sacred mountain was exported from Dhaskalio to Crete and perhaps ultimately from there to mainland Greece.

Certainly the main concentration of sacred (sometimes distinctly pyramid-shaped) mountains in Crete are in an area directly associated with what appears to have been Early Bronze Age colonisers from the Cycladic islands.

Those Cretan sacred mountains and mountain-top religious sanctuaries appear to precede the eventual emergence on the Greek mainland of Mount Olympus as the principal home of the gods of ancient Greece. In religious and probably political terms, Dhaskalio seems to have had an unexpectedly important role in the early cultural development of the Greek world.

But what’s most intriguing to me is this fact: at Dhaskalio stone disks and pebbles appear to have been deposited at the site as sacred offerings to the gods.

It’s pretty easy to see how this applies to the history of money. Coinage appears to be a creation of ancient Greek society. It’s generally accepted that this use of coins grew out of a religious context. The first coins were issued by the temples. Could this be the root of the practice?

If the stone disks were gradually transformed into bits of metal like electrum, then that would explain the origins of coinage. It’s interesting in this context that the island seems to have been a center of metalworking for the region. is this where the custom of coinage began and was later introduced to cities on the Aegean coast like Lydia where the first ever coins in the Western World were minted? From there the custom may have spread in a sacred context to the rest of the Greek city-states. Just like silver in the Near East, because these bits of metal were temple offerings they acquired value in exchange more generally, becoming a form of portable, anonymous wealth that could be easily exchanged.

The finds from Dhaskalio are currently being investigated in great detail. Of particular interest are 1,500 imported stone disks (each between eight and 50cm in diameter) – and 700 imported white pebbles. The latter objects appear to have been used as religious offerings, presumably for the spirit or deity associated with the island mini-mountain.

The disks came from various Cycladic islands, while the pebbles were imported solely from the neighbouring island of Upper Koufonisi, three miles northwest of Dhaskalio.

Very significantly, this practice of using stone disks and depositing pebbles seems to have ultimately been exported to Crete by Cycladic colonisers for use on Cretan sacred mountain sites.

Giant marble pyramid-shaped island complex rising from sea uncovered, revealing secrets of ancient Greece’s origins (The Independent)

Archaeology World supplies some additional context:

The islet had a settlement with metal-working shops, buildings, and even indoor plumbing, and all of this a millennium before the Minoans, who are often thought of as the first European civilization. According to the Keep Talking Greece website, the team of archaeologists has uncovered ‘a complex, stratified and technically expert society’.

Daskalio has a distinctive pyramid shape which is due to the extensive engineering activities of the ancient people of the Aegean islands. They deliberately exaggerated the pyramidal shape of the rocky outcrop by creating a number of huge terraces on Daskalio, that measured in total about 1,000 feet (300 m).

There were 6 terraces and upon them were built a number of buildings, mostly in marble. Some of the buildings were two floors and had staircases and were built using marble. The cultural landscape was built within a four-decade period and based on a single design.

The complex has been dated to about 4,600 years ago. It is believed that the pyramid-island was a religious site that attracted pilgrims from far and wide, who buried small statues here as sacrifices to unknown deities. The summit of the pyramid-islet was an open-area possibly used for sacrifices or votive offerings. The identity of the gods that were worshipped here is unknown.

There is no arable land on the rocky outcrop and little on Keros. Therefore, the inhabitants of ancient Daskalio may have been dependent on religious pilgrims and also engaged in trade.

Keep Talking Greece reports that archaeological finds indicate that the settlers’ “trade extended over a wide network reaching beyond the Cyclades.” There is evidence that the inhabitants specialized in metallurgy and they may have traded their metal products for food and other goods. Such a huge complex required a great deal of labor and organization, especially to bring the marble from the quarries on Naxos that was used in its construction.

The origin of Greek Civilization on a Pyramid Island (Archaeology World)

The island may have also served as a place of exchange. Signs of many different types of food were found, even though growing food in the rocky soil of the island was not possible:

Joint director of the excavation Michael Boyd, of the University of Cambridge, said metalworking expertise was evidently concentrated at Dhaskalio at a time when access to both skills and raw materials was very limited.

“What we are seeing here with the metalworking and in other ways is the beginnings of urbanisation,” he said. Far-flung communities were drawn into networks centred on the site, craft and agricultural production was intensified, and the architecture became grander, gradually overshadowing the original importance of the sanctuary.

Excavated soil reveals food traces including pulses, grapes, olives, figs and almonds, and cereals, including wheat and barley. Evi Margaritis of the Cyprus Institute said: “Much of this food was imported: in the light of this evidence we need to reconsider what we know about existing networks to include food exchange.”

Complex engineering and metal-work discovered beneath ancient Greek ‘pyramid’ (Guardian)

Project co-director Michael Boyd (Colin Renfrew is the other director) speculates that metalworking itself may have been part of the rituals that took place there:

Project co-director Michael Boyd of Cambridge University told The Associated Press that Dhaskalio appears to have been more than just an ordinary settlement. “It seems to us that it is a central place to which people are drawn, to which expertise and resources are being brought and where activities like the metalworking … are being centralized and controlled,” he said.

Keros and Dhaskalio were inhabited between 2750-2300 B.C. The Cyclades were then home to a remarkable civilization of farmers, metalworkers and seafaring traders, best known for the stylized, flat-headed figurines made of white marble that inspired 20th-century artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore.

Oddly, more than half the surviving Cycladic figurines have been found on desolate Keros. Excavators think they were brought from across the archipelago and ritually smashed on the islet, home at the time to about half a dozen tiny settlements, at a sanctuary just opposite Dhaskalio. That would make Keros the Aegean’s earliest regional religious center, a precursor to nearby Delos that was later revered as the birthplace of Apollo, ancient Greek god of music and light.

Boyd said that while there’s no answer to why Keros was initially chosen, the rituals were the first draw that brought everything else.
“All these other activities that we’re talking about now (came) to be as important or eventually more important than the ritual activities,” he said, adding that in early societies where only a few controlled the knowledge of metalworking, to others it would seem an almost supernatural skill.

“It involves fire, extreme heat, danger, and toxic fumes,” he said. “It would have been quite a spectacle for people to watch so it does probably make sense that some of the smelting processes that we see on Keros were part of the … public events that took place there.”

Excavations show remote Greek islet was early industrial hub (Phys.org)

Keros: Unexpected archaeological finds in the heart of the Aegean (Archaeology)

Cycladic culture (Wikipedia)

Witnessing the dawn of urbanisation in Europe? (World Archaeology)

Here’s a good video of the site from National Geographic:

https://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/news/00000161-0b63-d70d-a7fd-8b7314360000

The Roots of Ancient China?

Not only are new and intriguing discoveries being made about the deep roots of Ancient Greek civilization, but on the other side of Eurasia, exciting new discoveries are being made about the deep roots of Ancient Chinese civilization as well. The site of Shimao appears to be one of the earliest sites where Chinese culture was developed.

Interestingly, it appears to be on the steppe frontier between settled farmers and pastoral nomads, adding support to the Steppe Frontier Hypothesis of the development of the earliest advanced civilizations.

Just like the western Eurasia and the Americas, pyramids and metalworking were hallmarks of this civilization, which existed in the same time frame:

To protect themselves from violent rivals, the Shimao elites molded their oblong 20-tiered pyramid on the highest of those hills. The structure, visible from every point of the city, is about half the height of Egypt’s Great Pyramid at Giza, which was built around the same time (2250 B.C.). But its base is four times larger, and the Shimao elites protected themselves further by inhabiting the top tier of the platform, which included a 20-acre palatial complex with its own water reservoir, craft workshops, and, most likely, ritual temples.

Radiating out from Shimao’s central pyramid were miles of inner and outer perimeter walls, an embryonic urban design that has been echoed in Chinese cities through the ages. The walls alone required 125,000 cubic meters of stone, equal in volume to 50 Olympic swimming pools—a huge undertaking in a Neolithic society whose population likely ranged between 10,000 and 20,000. The sheer size of the project leads archaeologists to believe that Shimao commanded the loyalty—and labor—of smaller satellite towns that have recently been discovered in its orbit.

Mysterious carvings and evidence of human sacrifice uncovered in ancient city (National Geographic)

This Twitter thread gives more detail:

Massive Pyramid, Lost City and Ancient Human Sacrifices Unearthed in China (Live Science)

It’s not a pyramid in the traditional sense. Its sides are not straight or equal. And it was moulded out of a hill, given its shape with rammed-earth and given strength by stone retaining walls. But it is an enormous stepped mound covering some 24 hectares at its base, and 70 metres high. In comparison, the Great Pyramid of Giza covers some 5.5ha, but reaches some 139m into the sky.

The Shimao structure’s stone buttresses form 11 steps. And these appear to have been heavily decorated. Part-animal, part-human faces have been found etched into its stones along with distinctive eye-like symbols. These “may have endowed the stepped pyramid with special religious power and further strengthened the general visual impression on its large audience,” the researchers wrote. The topmost ‘step’ of the pyramid was a large plaza, upon which structures were built.

Among the 4300-year-old city remains are a water cistern, pillars, tiles and fine-quality domestic items, such as pottery. “(These were) extensive palaces built of rammed earth, with wooden pillars and roofing tiles, a gigantic water reservoir, and domestic remains related to daily life,” the study reads. Archaeologists have also found a mural at the site, which they think could be among the oldest in China.

The pyramid was visible from every aspect of the city, providing a “constant and overwhelming reminder to the Shimao population of the power of the ruling elites residing atop it”…“Analysis and comparison of new archaeological data … have revealed a highly complex society, the political and economic heartland, and possibly the most powerful (civilisation), of the territory of what is today China,” the Antiquity article reads. “Not only (was Shimao) the largest walled settlement of its time in ancient China, but was also among the largest centres in the world.”

‘Pyramid of eyes’ discovered at heart of 4300-year-old city in northern China (News.com.au)

Chinese civilisation has long been assumed to have developed in the Central Plains in the mid to late second millennium BC. Recent archaeological discoveries at the Bronze Age site of Shimao, however, fundamentally challenge traditional understanding of ‘peripheries’ and ‘centres’, and the emergence of Chinese civilisation. This research reveals that by 2000 BC, the loess highland was home to a complex society representing the political and economic heartland of China. Significantly, it was found that Later Bronze Age core symbols associated with Central Plains civilisations were, in fact, created much earlier at Shimao. This study provides important new perspectives on narratives of state formation and the emergence of civilisation worldwide.

When peripheries were centres: a preliminary study of the Shimao-centred polity in the loess highland, China (Cambridge Core)

The Roots of Mesoamerican Civilization?

Speaking of pyramids, a series of ancient underwater pyramids have been discovered under the Gulf of Mexico. What role did these play in the origins of Mesoamerican civilizations?

The remains of what may be a 6000-year-old city immersed in deep waters off the west coast of Cuba was discovered by a team of Canadian and Cuban researchers.

Offshore engineer Paulina Zelitsky and her husband, Paul Weinzweig and her son Ernesto Tapanes used sophisticated sonar and video videotape devices to find “some kind of megaliths you ‘d find on Stonehenge or Easter Island,” Weinzweig said in an interview.

“Some structures within the complex may be as long as 400 meters wide and as high as 40 meters,” he said. “Some are sitting on top of each other. They show very distinct shapes and symmetrical designs of a non-natural kind. We’ve shown them to scientists in Cuba, the U.S., and elsewhere, and nobody has suggested they are natural.”

Moreover, an anthropologist affiliated with the Cuban Academy of Sciences has said that still photos were taken from the videotape clearly show “symbols and inscriptions,” Mr. Weinzweig said. It is not yet known in what language the inscriptions are written.

The sonar images, he added, bear a remarkable resemblance to the pyramidal design of Mayan and Aztec temples in Mexico…

If that dating estimate proves accurate, it would mean that an ancient civilization had designed and erected these vast stone structures in the Americas only 500 years after human settlements first became organized in cities and states.

They would also have been built long before the wheel was invented in Sumeria (3500 BC), or the sundial in Egypt (3000 BC). The three pyramids on Egypt’s Giza plateau are thought to have been constructed between 2900 and 2200 BC.

Pyramids Discovered Under Water Off Coast of Cuba, Might be Atlantis (Archaeology World)

The Roots of Civilization?

More incredible discoveries are coming out of Turkey. Göbekli Tepe made a sensation when it hit the word’s press. Now archaeologists are finding all sorts of settlements that appear to be just as old—perhaps even older—in various locations throughout Anatolia.

Archaeologists at the Kahin Tepe site in Turkey have discovered an ancient temple dating back to the Stone Age, between 7,000 and 12,000 years ago. This could have especially important implications for understanding the prehistory of Anatolia. Moreover, it appears that there may be links between Kahin Tepe and the famed Göbekli Tepe , which has changed our understanding of the evolution of human civilization.

Kahin Tepe Excavation Uncovers Neolithic Temple in Turkey (Ancient Origins)

The latest archeologic [sic] excavations in southeastern Turkey discovered an ancient site older than Gobeklitepe, known as the oldest temple in the world, according to a Turkish university rector…

Ergul Kodas, an archaeologist at Artuklu University and advisor to the excavation area, told Anadolu Agency that the history of the Boncuklu Tarla is estimated to be around 12,000-years old.

“Several special structures which we can call temples and special buildings were unearthed in the settlement, in addition to many houses and dwellings,” Kodas said. “This is a new key point to inform us on many topics such as how the [people] in northern Mesopotamia and the upper Tigris began to settle, how the transition from hunter-gatherer life to food production happened and how cultural and religious structures changed,” he added.

According to Kodas, there are buildings in the area similar to those in Gobeklitepe. Boncuklu Tarla is almost 300 kilometers east of Gobeklitepe.

“We have identified examples of buildings which we call public area, temples, religious places in Boncuklu Tarla that are older compared to discoveries in Gobeklitepe,” he added.

Ancient site older than Gobeklitepe unearthed in Turkey (Anadolu Agency)

The Hyksos

This came out a while ago—there is evidence that the Hyksos were not foreign invaders, but might have a domestic population that immigrated into Ancient Egypt over period of time who eventually rose up and overthrew the native ruling class.

As teeth form in childhood, tiny quantities of strontium metal in food are incorporated into the enamel. By comparing the balance of strontium isotopes in enamel with those in the region’s soil, researchers can judge where an individual grew up.

When Stantis and her colleagues examined teeth from 36 skeletons buried at Avaris during the 350 years before the Hyksos seized power, they discovered that 24 of the individuals—both male and female—were foreign-born. They couldn’t tell where the foreigners hailed from, but the researchers say their findings show Egypt had welcomed immigrants for hundreds of years before the Hyksos rose to power. Data from the teeth of a further 35 people buried at Avaris during the Hyksos period show a similar pattern of immigration continued after they rose to power.

As such, Stantis suggests the Hyksos rulers were not necessarily foreign-born invaders, but might instead have emerged from a centuries-old immigrant community living in Avaris, her team reports today in PLOS ONE.

Historian and archaeologist Anna-Latifa Mourad at Macquarie University thinks this conclusion makes sense. Archaeologists have found little evidence for the fighting and destruction that should have occurred at Avaris if the city had been captured by foreign invaders.

‘Invasion’ of ancient Egypt may have actually been immigrant uprising (Science)

Hyksos, 15th Dynasty rulers of Ancient Egypt, were an internal takeover (Science Daily)

Yet more evidence that climate played a role in the rise and fall of the Roman Empire:

The Mediterranean Sea was 3.6°F (2°C) hotter during the Roman Empire than other average temperatures at the time, a new study claims.

The Empire coincided with a 500-year period, from AD 1 to AD 500, that was the warmest period of the last 2,000 years in the almost completely land-locked sea.

The climate later progressed towards colder and arid conditions that coincided with the historical fall of the Empire, scientists claim

Mediterranean Sea was 3.6°F hotter during the time of the Roman Empire – the warmest it has been for the past 2,000 years, study shows. (Daily Mail)

Speaking of Ancient Rome, is there a direct link between garum, a fermented fish sauce widely used to flavor foods in the Roman Empire and the fermented fish sauces widely used in Southeast Asian cuisine today?

Did fish sauce in Vietnam come from Ancient Rome via the Silk Road? The similarities between nuoc mam and Roman garum (South China Morning Post)

Previous studies found that the “bluestones” used to build Stonehenge were brought to the site from Wales 140 miles away. But most of the stones were quarried locally:

Stonehenge core sample shows monument was largely quarried only 15 miles from site (BoingBoing)

And archaeologists have discovered even more structures built near the site, meaning that it was the largest prehistoric site anywhere in the British Isles:

A ring of large shafts discovered near Stonehenge form the largest prehistoric monument ever discovered in Britain, archaeologists believe.

Tests carried out on the pits suggest they were excavated by Neolithic people more than 4,500 years ago. Experts believe the 20 or more shafts may have served as a boundary to a sacred area connected to the henge.

“The size of the shafts and circuit is without precedent in the UK,” said Prof Vince Gaffney, a lead researcher.

The 1.2 mile-wide (2km) circle of large shafts measuring more than 10m (30ft) in diameter and 5m (15ft) in depth are significantly larger than any comparable prehistoric monument in Britain.

Stonehenge: Neolithic monument found near sacred site (BBC)

Massive prehistoric circle near Stonehenge (Science Daily)

Police are a recent invention. For most of history there was no official police force—communities organized themselves to maintain law and order.

In a world where the police are an omnipresent and oppressive fact of life, a society without them can seem a dangerous prospect. This is a condition which we in the business refer to as “capitalist realism“, or the inability to imagine a world other than the capitalist one that we live in as viable. The good news is that this is absolute nonsense, because historically in the global north an established police force, let alone one with such expansive responsibilities is an extremely new development.

In medieval Europe, for example, the concept of a standing professional police force was virtually unknown. Instead, communities were organized so that they were all responsible for keeping the peace. Communities, for example could be required in case of a crime to “raise a hue and cry”, or shouting a lot and pursuing someone seen committing a crime so that they could be brought to justice. Elsewhere, adult men were organized into groups of ten called “tithings” where each man in the group was tasked with bringing the others to justice if they committed a crime. In order to help with this, many cities and towns also had watchmen (and sometimes women) who would keep a look out for criminal activity and raise an alarm.

On a world without police (Going Medieval)

A Brief History of Hallucinogenic Beers (October)

The Wolves of Paris (John Knifton)

How did ancient cities weather crises? A review of a new book called The Life and Death of Ancient Cities.

The Life and Death of Ancient Cities spans from the Bronze Age, starting in the fourth millennium bc, to the early part of the Middle Ages, in the first millennium ad. It focuses on the hundreds of ancient Mediterranean cities that sprang up during this time, including Alexandria, Antioch, Athens, Byzantium and Carthage, as well as Rome. Woolf synthesizes intriguing insights from the humanities, social sciences, climatology, geology and biology. He explains that the neoclassical buildings of modern cities, such as London’s British Museum, give a false impression. The famous centres of antiquity were “far less grandiose” — Athenian assemblies, for example, debated in the open air. He wryly notes that rats and humans thrive in cities, because both can survive on diverse food sources and cope with prolonged periods of hunger.

When did cities first appear? The answer depends on definitions. In today’s Nicaragua, notes Woolf, any settlement with street lights and electricity counts as a city. In Japan, a population greater than 50,000 is required. A prime candidate for the world’s first city is perhaps Jericho in what is now the Palestinian territories. It was founded before 9000 bc and about a millennium later had a wall — the earliest such barrier discovered. But Jericho’s population at the time is uncertain. Estimates range from a few hundred to 2,000 or 3,000. As Woolf observes, it is tricky to determine population size in early societies without written records. One option is to analyse the water supply to work out how many people it could have served, but this reveals maximum carrying capacity rather than use, and struggles to take into account public baths and fountains.

Like most specialists, Woolf prefers to give the title of first city to Uruk, in Mesopotamia. This settlement had an estimated 10,000–20,000 inhabitants in 4000 bc, rising to between 60,000 and 140,000 after a massive protective wall, ascribed to King Gilgamesh, was built around 2900 bc. Here, in the late fourth millennium bc, writing probably originated in the form of cuneiform script on clay tablets, used to record bureaucratic information such as economic transactions. One such tablet displays the world’s oldest known mathematical calculation, of the surface area of a roughly rectangular field. Yet the factors that drove the creative outburst that built the city remain mysterious. As Woolf admits: “For all the attention that has been devoted to the Uruk phenomenon, there is still no consensus about why it happened.”

How did ancient cities weather crises (Nature)

A New Theory of Western Civilization (Atlantic) A review of Joseph Henrich’s latest on the Catholic Church’s contribution to the West European Marriage Pattern and how it led to the rise of the W.E.I.R.D. societies. of course, it’s not really new at all—this theory goes back decades.

Good summary of the Bronze Age Collapse. No mention of the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind as either cause or effect:

The most remarkable thing about this event was not the rise and fall of civilizations, that had happened before and would happen again. It was how violent this collapse was in comparison to other events in human history. A scholar by the name of Robert Drews presented a list of forty-seven major cities that were destroyed during this period. Not just the subject of battle or hardship but outright vanquished, never to be inhabited again.

Drews claims that every major settlement between Pylos in Greece and Gaza in the Levant was destroyed and abandoned. Forty-seven were credibly identified as having been destroyed during this period, and the number is probably much higher in actuality.

That is a fantastically high number. For context, if the forty-seven largest cities in the United States were destroyed you would start with New York City and go all the way down to Tulsa. Cities in between would include major population centers such as Boston, Memphis, Columbus, and Las Vegas.

That is akin to what happened during this period. By the end, every major civilization in the region would fall including the mythical Mycenaeans, Egypt, and the Hittite Empire, leaving weakened rump states in their wake.

What destroyed all of the major Bronze Age cities? (Medium)

Cooking secrets of the Neolithic era revealed in groundbreaking scientific tests (The Siberian Time)

Templars

The Templar town with a hidden underground ‘twin’ (BBC)

Was this tiny church the ‘Vatican’ of the Templars? (BBC)

The mysterious ‘inverted tower’ steeped in Templar myth (BBC)

That’s a lot of Templar links, BBC. Are you trying to tell us something?

Ancient megadrought may explain civilization’s ‘missing millennia’ in Southeast Asia (Science)

Egypt reveals 59 ancient coffins found near Saqqara pyramids (Phys.org)

6 UNESCO Cultural Sites Virtually Rebuilt in Gifs (Arch Daily)

Europe’s earliest bone tools found in Britain (BBC)

The Cheddar Gorge devices are thought to be about 15,000 years old, younger than the instruments found at Hohle Fels cave. However, their existence – in one of the most north-westerly outposts in Europe to have been inhabited by Homo sapiens in the early stone age – indicates rope-making had already become a vitally important human activity.

“Mysterious objects made of reindeer antler and drilled with grooved holes had been found in Gough’s cave which, we now know, was used by prehistoric people,” said Stringer. “These devices were called batons and were originally thought to have been carried by chiefs as badges of rank. However, they had holes with spirals round them and we now realise they must have been used to make or manipulate ropes.”

Similar devices have been found at many other sites once occupied by ancient humans in Europe, suggesting making and using rope had become widespread in the upper palaeolithic or late old stone age…

Take a tusk, drill holes, weave a rope – and change the course of history (Guardian)

What did Ancient Rome look like (animation):

Archaeology/Anthropology Roundup


I want to get back to some of the topics I’ve left hanging, but first I’d like to mention a few other topics that have been sadly neglected during the whole—er, pandemic thing—but that we frequently discuss here on the blog. Specifically archaeology and architecture. This one will be about archaeology.

I want to highlight something that came out about a month ago that you’re probably aware of. If not, here it is: the Amazon rain forest has been found to be one of the cradles of agriculture.

The original cradles of agriculture described in history textbooks were the great river valley of Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, along with the Nile valley. As archaeology expanded from its European origins, the Indus river valley in India/Pakistan and the Yellow river valley in China were included as cradles of agriculture. Then came New World sources of maize and potatoes in Central and South America. In recent years, archaeologists have included a few other places, notably Papua New Guinea. Now, it seems we can add the Amazon rain forest to the list:

There’s a small and exclusive list of places where crop cultivation first got started in the ancient world – and it looks as though that list might have another entry, according to new research of curious ‘islands’ in the Amazon basin.

The savannah of the Llanos de Moxos in northern Bolivia is littered with thousands of patches of forest, rising a few feet above the surrounding wetlands. Many of these forest islands, as researchers call them, are thought to be the remnants of human habitation from the early and mid-Holocene.

Now, thanks to new analysis of the sediment found in some of these islands, researchers have unearthed signs that these spots were used to grow cassava (manioc) and squash a little over 10,000 years ago.

That’s impressive, as this timing places them some 8,000 years earlier than scientists had previously found evidence for, indicating that the people who lived in this part of the world – the southwestern corner of the Amazon basin – got a head start on farming practices.

In fact, the findings suggest that southwestern Amazonia can now join China, the Middle East, Mesoamerica, and the Andes as one of the areas where organised plant growing first got going – in the words of the research team, “one of the most important cultural transitions in human history”.

Strange Forest Patches Littering The Amazon Point to Agriculture 10,000 Years Ago (Science Alert)

The researchers were able to identify evidence of manioc (cassava, yuca) that were grown 10,350 years ago. Squash appears 10,250 years ago, and maize more recently – just 6,850 years ago.

“This is quite surprising,” said Dr [Umberto] Lombardo. “This is Amazonia, this is one of these places that a few years ago we thought to be like a virgin forest, an untouched environment. Now we’re finding this evidence that people were living there 10,500 years ago, and they started practising cultivation.”

The people who lived at this time probably also survived on sweet potato and peanuts, as well as fish and large herbivores. The researchers say it’s likely that the humans who lived here may have brought their plants with them.They believe their study is another example of the global impact of the environmental changes being felt as the world warmed up at the end of the last ice age.

“It’s interesting in that it confirms again that domestication begins at the start of the Holocene period, when we have this climate change that we see as we exit from the ice age,” said Dr Lombardo. “We entered this warm period, when all over the world at the same time, people start cultivating.”

Crops were cultivated in regions of the Amazon ‘10,000 years ago’ (BBC)

Note that what is grown appears to be vegetable plants like cassava, yucca and squash, and not cereal grains. Recall James Scott’s point that annual cereal grains were a starting point for civilizations, as they were preservable and ripened at the same rate at the same time, making them confiscatable and by central authorities. Cultures that subsisted on perishable garden plants, however, could escape the trap of civilization.

Here’s a major study that ties into the feasting theory: the first beer was brewed a part of funerary rites for the dead:

The first beer was for the dead. That’s according to a 2018 study of stone vessels from Raqefet Cave in Israel, a 13,000-year-old graveyard containing roughly 30 burials of the Natufian culture. On three limestone mortars, archaeologists found wear and tear and plant molecules, interpreted as evidence of alcohol production. Given the cemetery setting, researchers propose grog was made during funerary rituals in the cave, as an offering to the dearly departed and refreshment for the living. Raqefet’s beer would predate farming in the Near East by as much as 2,000 years — and booze production, globally, by some 4,000 years.

The beer hypothesis, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, comes from Raqefet excavators, based at Israel’s University of Haifa, and Stanford University scientists, who conducted microscopic analyses. In previous research, they made experimental brews the ancient way, to see how the process altered artifacts. Some telltale signs were then identified on Raqefet stones: A roughly 10-inch diameter mortar, carved directly into the cave floor, had micro-scratches — probably from a wooden pestle — and starch with damage indicative of mashing, heating and fermenting, all steps in alcohol production. Two funnel-shaped stones had traces of cereals, legumes and flax, interpreted as evidence that they were once lined with woven baskets and used to store grains and other beer ingredients. Lead author Li Liu thinks Natufians also made bread, but that these three vessels were for beer — the earliest yet discovered.

Was the First Beer Brewed for the Dead? (Discover)

The counterpoint is that they were baking bead instead, leading back to the old question: what were grains first cultivated for, beer or bread? My suspicion is the former, with the latter being an effective use of “surplus” resources, or a backup strategy in the case of food shortages.

The connection between beer-brewing and funerary rites is significant, however. The feasting theory of inequality’s origins doesn’t go into much detail about why such feasts were held. But if such rituals feasts were held as a means of commemorating the dead—most likely tied to ancestor worship—then the existence of such events takes on additional importance.

When I talked about the history of cities and the feasting theory, I noted that these seem to have taken place in ritual areas that were marked off (sacred versus profane) for the purposes of feasting and trade, and where multiple different cultures would coalesce and mingle. At such locations, both feasting and trading were carried out. These locations appear to have played a crucial role in human social development, and they’ve been found all over the world. Archaeologists have been studying one in Florida:

More than a thousand years ago, people from across the Southeast regularly traveled to a small island on Florida’s Gulf Coast to bond over oysters, likely as a means of coping with climate change and social upheaval.

Archaeologists’ analysis of present-day Roberts Island, about 50 miles north of Tampa Bay, showed that ancient people continued their centuries-long tradition of meeting to socialize and feast, even after an unknown crisis around A.D. 650 triggered the abandonment of most other such ceremonial sites in the region. For the next 400 years, out-of-towners made trips to the island, where shell mounds and a stepped pyramid were maintained by a small group of locals. But unlike the lavish spreads of the past, the menu primarily consisted of oysters, possibly a reflection of lower sea levels and cool, dry conditions.

During tough times, ancient ‘tourists’ sought solace in Florida oyster feasts (Phys.org)

So I guess Florida has always been a magnet for tourists.

And although Stonehenge is well-known, much less known is Pömmelte, “Germany’s Stonehenge”.

Starting in April, an about-4,000-year-old settlement will be excavated to provide insights into Early Bronze Age life. Settlements of this size have not yet been found at the related henges in the British Isles.

Pömmelte is a ring-shaped sanctuary with earth walls, ditches and wooden piles that is located in the northeastern part of Germany, south of Magdeburg. The site is very much reminiscent of the world-famous monument Stonehenge, and it is likely that the people there performed very similar rituals to those of their counterparts in what is now Britain 4,300 years ago.

Who lived near Pömmelte, the ‘German Stonehenge’? (DW)

This place reminds me a lot of Woodhenge at the Cahokia complex (Wikipedia), which I was able to visit a few years ago. The presence of such similar structures separated across vast times and places (precluding any chance of cultural contact) is something that we need to think deeply about.

From the article above, I also learned about the Nebra Sky Disc (Wikipedia). Recall that the first cities were trying to replicate a “cosmic order” here on earth.

Related: Hunter-gatherer networks accelerated human evolution (Science Daily)

Humans began developing a complex culture as early as the Stone Age. This development was brought about by social interactions between various groups of hunters and gatherers, a UZH study has now confirmed…

The researchers equipped 53 adult Agta living in woodland in seven interconnected residential camps with tracking devices and recorded every social interaction between members of the different camps over a period of one month. The researchers also did the same for a different group, who lived on the coast….The team of researchers then developed a computer model of this social structure and simulated the complex cultural creation of a plant-based medicinal product.

In this fictitious scenario, the people shared their knowledge of medicinal plants with every encounter and combined this knowledge to develop better remedies. This process gradually leads to the development of a highly effective new medicinal product. According to the researchers’ simulation, an average of 250 (woodland camps) to 500 (coastal camps) rounds of social interactions were required for the medicinal product to emerge.

And see: Social Networks and Cooperation in Hunter-Gatherers (NCBI)

A lesser-known megalithic necropolis: the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum (Wikpedia) 5,000 years ago. Do these look like they were built by people who were filthy and starving?

Related: I only recently heard about this site, but apparently there was a significant industrial complex devoted to the manufacture of flint tools that functioned during the stone age, and well into the Bronze and Iron ages: Grimes Graves (Wikipedia). This gives great insight into the fact that complex specialization of labor and regional comparative advantage have always been with us; they weren’t invented at the time of Smith or Ricardo. We just didn’t fetishize them the way we do now.

And the salt mines of Hallstatt in modern-day Germany have been used for thousands of years since the Bronze Age as well. Apparently, mining required child labor:

Mining there began at least 7,000 years ago and continues modestly today. That makes the UNESCO World Heritage site “the oldest industrial landscape in the world [that’s] still producing,” says [archaeologist Hans] Reschreiter, who has led excavations at Hallstatt for nearly two decades.

But the mine’s peak was during the Bronze and Iron ages, when salt’s sky-high value made Hallstatt one of Europe’s wealthiest communities. Archaeologists understand a great deal about operations then, thanks to an extraordinary hoard of artifacts including leather sacks, food scraps, human feces and millions of used torches.

Many of the finds are made of perishable materials that are usually quick to decay. They survived in the mine’s tunnels because salt is a preservative — the very reason it was in such high demand during Hallstatt’s heyday.

Among the artifacts, the small shoes and caps showed children were in the mine. But researchers needed more evidence to determine whether the young ones were merely tagging along with working parents or actually mining.

To understand the children’s roles, Austrian Academy of Sciences anthropologist Doris Pany-Kucera turned to their graves. In a study of 99 adults from Hallstatt’s cemetery, she found skeletal markers of muscle strain and injury, suggesting many villagers performed hard labor — some from an early age.

Then, in 2019, she reported her analysis of the remains of 15 children and teenagers, finding signs of repetitive work. Children as young as 6 suffered arthritis of the elbow, knee and spine. Several had fractured skulls or were missing bits of bone, snapped from a joint under severe strain. Vertebrae were worn or compressed on all individuals.

Combining clues from the Hallstatt bones and artifacts, researchers traced the children’s possible contributions to the salt industry. They believe the youngest children — 3- to 4-year-olds — may have held the torches necessary for light. By age 8, kids likely assumed hauling and crawling duties, carrying supplies atop their heads or shimmying through crevices too narrow for grown-ups…

The Ancient Practice of Child Labor Is Coming to Light (Discover)

Add this point is important:

It’s no surprise that the young labored at Hallstatt. Children are, and always have been, essential contributors to community and family work. A childhood of play and formal education is a relatively modern concept that even today exists mostly in wealthy societies.

There are those who say that, despite all our technological advancements, we haven’t really reduced the need for human labor. But that’s clearly untrue! We’ve already effectively eliminated the labor of everyone under 18, and from a practical standpoint, nearly everyone over 21. We just forget it because it’s been normalized, but people younger than 18 have labored all throughout human history, even into the early twentieth century. Now they are no longer needed or wanted. And with ever more schooling required for jobs, we’re just increasing the age requirement to enter the workforce. Note that “retirement”—to the extent that it continues to exist—is also a modern phenomenon, eliminating people over 55/60 from the workforce. Labor has most certainly been eliminated, and will continue to be.

Neanderthals and humans co-existed in Europe much longer than we previously thought. (Guardian)

A reminder that many of the earliest human habitats are under the water: Early humans thrived in this drowned South African landscape (Phys.org)

Archaeologists analyzed an ancient cemetery in Hungary, with the distinctly unique elongated skulls the Huns were known for:

They found that Mözs-Icsei dűlő was a remarkably diverse community and were able to identify three distinct groups across two or three generations (96 burials total) until the abandonment of Mözs cemetery around 470 AD: a small local founder group, with graves built in a brick-lined Roman style; a foreign group of twelve individuals of similar isotopic and cultural background, who appear to have arrived around a decade after the founders and may have helped establish the traditions of grave goods and skull deformation seen in later burials; and a group of later burials featuring mingled Roman and various foreign traditions.

51 individuals total, including adult males, females, and children, had artificially deformed skulls with depressions shaped by bandage wrappings, making Mözs-Icsei dűlő one of the largest concentrations of this cultural phenomenon in the region. The strontium isotope ratios at Mözs-Icsei dűlő were also significantly more variable than those of animal remains and prehistoric burials uncovered in the same geographic region of the Carpathian Basin, and indicate that most of Mözs’ adult population lived elsewhere during their childhood. Moreover, carbon and nitrogen isotope data attest to remarkable contributions of millet to the human diet.

Deformed skulls in an ancient cemetery reveal a multicultural community in transition (Phys.org)

See also: Strange, elongated skulls reveal medieval Bulgarian brides were traded for politics (Science)

Speaking of burials: Researchers found 1,000 year old burials in Siberia wearing copper masks: Mummified by accident in copper masks almost 1,000 years ago: but who were they? (Siberian Times) I thought this was fascinating, due to the fact that copper has been shown to kill Coronaviruses, and we have been told to wear masks to prevent transmission. Copper-infused masks are becoming popular (a Google search turned up the above article). Coincidence? Probably.

Religion in South America:

An ancient group of people made ritual offerings to supernatural deities near the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, about 500 years earlier than the Incas, according to an international team of researchers. The team’s findings suggest that organized religion emerged much earlier in the region than previously thought.

Rise of religion pre-dates Incas at Lake Titicaca (phys.org)

This is possibly the coolest scientific study ever conducted: a group of scientists have reconstructed Bronze Age fighting techniques by looking at the wear marks on Bronze Age weapons and armor. Wow! Time to redo that famous fight scene from Troy?

While a graduate student at Newcastle University, [University of Göttingen archaeologist Raphael Hermann] recruited members of a local club devoted to recreating and teaching medieval European combat styles, and asked them to duel with the replicas, using motions found in combat manuals written in the Middle Ages. After recording the combat sequences using high-speed cameras, the researchers noted the type and location of dents and notches left after each clash.

The team assigned characteristic wear patterns to specific sword moves and combinations. If the motions left the same distinctive marks found on Bronze Age swords, Hermann says, it was highly likely that Bronze Age warriors had also used those moves. For example, marks on the replica swords made by a technique known to medieval German duelists as versetzen, or “displacement”—locking blades in an effort to control and dominate an opponent’s weapon—were identical to distinct bulges found on swords from Bronze Age Italy and Great Britain.

Next, Hermann and colleagues put 110 Bronze Age swords from Italy and Great Britain under a microscope and cataloged more than 2500 wear marks. Wear patterns were linked to geography and time, suggesting distinct fighting styles developed over centuries… Displacement, for example, didn’t show up until 1300 B.C.E. and appeared in Italy several centuries before it did in Great Britain.

“In order to fight the way the marks show, there has to be a lot of training involved,” Hermann says. Because the marks are so consistent from sword to sword, they suggest different warriors weren’t swinging at random, but were using well-practiced techniques. Christian Horn, an archaeologist at the University of Gothenburg who was not involved in the research, agrees, and says the experiments offer quantitative evidence of things archaeologists had only been able to speculate about.

Sword-wielding scientists show how ancient fighting techniques spread across Bronze Age Europe (Science Magazine)

This is also important from a historical standpoint: it indicates that the Bronze Age likely saw the rise of a class of professional fighters, as opposed to the all-hands-on-deck mêlée fighting style of all adult males that probably characterized Stone Age warfare. Because fighting became “professionalized” due to the existence of these bronze weapons–which required extensive training to use effectively—the use of force passed into the hands of a specialist warrior caste who were able to impose their will on lesser-armed populations.

This probably explains at least some of the origins of inequality, as those who specialized in the use of violence (as opposed to farming or trading) could then perforce become a ruling class. Inequality always rises when the means of force become confined to a specific class of people. Note also that money in coined form was first invented to pay specialist mercenaries in the Greek states of Asia Minor. These mercenaries were likely the ones who were training in the intensive combat techniques described by the study above.

Related: Medieval battles weren’t as chaotic as people think nor as movies portray! (Reddit) Given how humans react to violence psychologically, how would medieval battles really look, as opposed to the battle scenes depicted in movies? (Hint: not like a mosh pit)

Possibly related: : Modern men are wimps, according to new book (Phys.org). Controversial, but likely correct; our ancestors had much more physical lives and the less fit would not have reproduced as well. My unprovable notion is that we became so effective at warfare that the most violent people would have died off in these types of conflicts, leading to more placid people having a reproductive advantage. Thus, we become less violent over time.

Definitely related: What Compelled the Roman Way of Warfare? Killing for the Republic (Real Clear Defense)

Any polity can field an army through compulsion or other violent means. What matters more is what makes your average person choose to stay on the battlefield. [Steele] Brand argues the Roman Republic motivated its soldiers by publicly honoring at all times the initiative, strength, discipline, perseverance, courage, and loyalty of individual citizens. Moreover, it was this combination of public and private values, flexible political institutions, and a tailored upbringing that gradually culminated in the superiority of the Roman legion against the arguably technically superior Macedonian phalanx at Pydna. Brand calls the entirety of this system “civic militarism,” defined as “self defense writ large for the state.”

Paging Dr. Julian Jaynes: Majority of authors ‘hear’ their characters speak, finds study (Guardian). See also The Origin of Consciousness Reading Companion Part 1 (Put a Number On It)

Collaspe files:

…a new movement called “collapsology”—which warns of the possible collapse of our societies as we know them—is gaining ground.

With climate change exposing how unsustainable the economic and social model based on fossil fuels is, they fear orthodox thinking may be speeding us to our doom.

The theory first emerged from France’s Momentum Institute, and was popularised by a 2015 book, “How Everything Can Collapse”. Some of its supporters, like former French environment minister Yves Cochet, believe the coronavirus crisis is another sign of impending catastrophe.

While the mathematician, who founded France’s Green party, “still hesitates” about saying whether the virus will be the catalyst for a domino effect, he quoted the quip that “it’s too early to say if it’s too late”.

Yet Cochet—whose book “Before the Collapse” predicts a meltdown in the next decade—is convinced that the virus will lead to “a global economic crisis of greater severity than has been imagined”.

The 74-year-old, who retired to France’s rural Brittany region so he could live more sustainably, is also worried about an impending “global disaster with lots of victims, both economic and otherwise”.

“What is happening now is a symptom of a whole series of weaknesses,” warned Professor Yves Citton of Paris VIII University.

“It isn’t the end of the world but a warning about something that has already been set in motion,” he told AFP, “a whole series of collapses that have begun”.

The slide may be slow, said Jean-Marc Jancovici, who heads the Shift Project think-tank which aims to “free economics from carbon”.

But “a little step has been taken (with the virus) that there is no going back”, he argued.

Others have a more chilling take.

“The big lesson of history… and of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse is that pestilence, war and famine tend to follow in each others’ wake,” said Pablo Servigne, an ecologist and agricultural engineer who co-wrote “How Everything Can Collapse”.

“We have a pandemic which could lead to another shock—wars, conflicts and famines,” he added.

“And famines will make us more vulnerable to other pandemics.”

‘Collapsology’: Is this the end of civilisation as we know it? (Phys.org)

The last ice age (or Last Glacial Maximum) peaked around 26,000 years ago. The earth warmed over the coming millennia, driven by an increase in radiation from the sun due to changes in the earth’s orbit (the Milankovic cycles) amplified by CO₂ released from warming water, which further warmed the atmosphere.

But even as the earth warmed it was interrupted by cooler periods known as “stadials”. These were caused by melt water from melting ice sheets which cool large regions of the ocean.

Marked climate variability and extreme weather events during the early Holocene retarded development of sustainable agriculture.

Sparse human settlements existed about 12,000 – 11,000 years ago. The flourishing of human civilisation from about 10,000 years ago, and in particular from 7,000 years ago, critically depended on stabilisation of climate conditions which allowed planting and harvesting of seed and growing of crops, facilitating growth of villages and towns and thereby of civilisation.

Peak warming periods early in the Holocene were associated with prevalence of heavy monsoons and heavy floods, likely reflected by Noah’s ark story.

The climate stabilised about 7,000 – 5,000 years ago. This allowed the flourishing of civilisations along the Nile, Tigris, Euphrates, Indus and the Yellow River.

The ancient river valley civilisations cultivation depended on flow and ebb cycles, in turn dependent on seasonal rains and melting snows in the mountain sources of the rivers. These formed the conditions for production of excess food.

When such conditions declined due to droughts or floods, civilisations collapsed. Examples include the decline of the Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Indus civilisations about 4,200 years ago due to severe drought.

Throughout the Holocene relatively warm periods, such as the Medieval Warm Period (900-1200 AD), and cold periods, such as the Little Ice Age (around 1600 – 1700 AD), led to agricultural crises with consequent hunger, epidemics and wars. A classic account of the consequences of these events is presented in the book Collapse by Jared Diamond.

It’s not just Middle Eastern civilisations. Across the globe and throughout history the rise and fall of civilisations such as the Maya in Central America, the Tiwanaku in Peru, and the Khmer Empire in Cambodia, have been determined by the ebb and flow of droughts and floods.

Greenhouse gas levels were stable or declined between 8,000-6,000 years ago, but then began to rise slowly after 6,000 years ago. According to William Ruddiman at the University of Virginia, this rise in greenhouse gases was due to deforestation, burning and land clearing by people. This stopped the decline in greenhouse gases and ultimately prevented the next ice age. If so, human-caused climate change began much earlier than we usually think.

Rise and fall in solar radiation continued to shift the climate. The Medieval Warm Period was driven by an increase in solar radiation, while the Little Ice Age was caused at least in part by a decrease.

Now we’ve changed the game again by releasing over 600 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, raising CO₂ concentrations from around 270 parts per million to about 400 parts per million…

Climate and the rise and fall of civilizations: a lesson from the past (The Conversation)