An Ancient and Inconvenient Truth

Ok, so this is worse than my February neglect…it has now been more than two months since my last post and I’ve been feeling pretty guilty about it. But for this grad student, the past two months have been filled with exams and studying and packing and real-life decision-making… So while that is no excuse and I apologize for the delay, I am happy to report that I survived the end-of-year craziness and should now have a bit more time for the summertime things I love: digging in the dirt, travelling, reading, and, of course, blogging.

Speaking of summer, the gloriously warm weather which has accompanied the start of July got me thinking about weather patterns in the ancient world, and reminded me of a great article that appeared in The New York Times back in May of this year: http://nyti.ms/1hbxkjq. Eric Cline, professor at George Washington University and a wonderful archaeologist, used a recent publication by the Center for Naval Analyses’ Military Advisory Board on the real threat posed by climate change to national security, in order to launch an important discussion on environmental factors and their effects on humans, no matter the century. While the report, which warned that projected impacts of environmental threats “will serve as catalysts for instability and conflict” on a global scale, was dismissed by some climate change-deniers as a “hoax,” Cline urged readers to take heed from the ancients and recognize in the CNA’s report an all-too-familiar situation: the large scale collapse suffered all over the Mediterranean world in the 12th century BCE. Although climate change was probably one of a number of factors which led to the decentralization of political powers, the fall of the Hittite and Mycenaean empires, and the destruction of many urban sites from Greece to Israel, droughts and environmental changes do appear to have played significant roles in the dismantling of what had been flourishing Late Bronze Age societies. As changes in global weather patterns affected agriculture, societal stresses emerged, along with internal strife and disruptions, setting the scene for a total-systems collapse in which a domino effect led to a societal breakdown.

As bleak as all this sounds, there is hope. The civilizations of the Late Bronze Age faced an unrelenting opponent in Mother Nature, but modern climate change is driven by our own species. We humans can control what happens to our Mother, and ensure that our environmental neglect does not lead to dangerous consequences. We must act fast and work hard, but if we learn from the past and recognize the warning signs, we can ensure that history does not repeat itself.

Climate Change

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