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Durham University

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Publication details

Lawrence, Dan, Palmisano, Alessio & de Gruchy, Michelle W (2021). Collapse and continuity: A multi-proxy reconstruction of settlement organization and population trajectories in the Northern Fertile Crescent during the 4.2kya Rapid Climate Change event. PLOS One 16(1): e0244871.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

The rise and fall of ancient societies have been attributed to rapid climate change events. One of the most discussed of these is the 4.2kya event, a period of increased aridity and cooling posited as the cause of societal changes across the globe, including the collapse of the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia. Studies seeking to correlate social and climatic changes around the 4.2kya event have tended to focus either on highly localized analyses of specific sites or surveys or more synthetic overviews at pan-continental scales, and temporally on the event and its aftermath. Here we take an empirical approach at a large spatial scale to investigate trends in population and settlement organization across the entirety of Northern Fertile Crescent (Northern Mesopotamia and the Northern Levant) from 6,000 to 3,000 cal BP. We use Summed Probability Distributions of radiocarbon dates and data from eighteen archaeological surveys as proxies for population, and a dataset of all settlements over ten hectares in size as a proxy for the degree of urbanization. The goal is to examine the spatial and temporal impact of the 4.2kya event and to contextualize it within longer term patterns of settlement. We find that negative trends are visible during the event horizon in all three proxies. However, these occur against a long-term trend of increased population and urbanization supported through unsustainable overshoot and the exploitation of a drier zone with increased risk of crop failure. We argue that the 4.2kya event occurred during a period of unprecedented urban and rural growth which may have been unsustainable even without an exogenous climate forcing.