Friday, October 3, 2008

Did climate change killed ancient civilization?

Did climate change killed ancient civilization?

Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi
Devastating Kosi floods in India, floods in China, floods in Mexico, droughts in some parts of the world, extremes of climates and lots more. Effects are dying people and displacement. Is these phenomenon is recent or earlier too our ancient civilization was affected with climate change?

We assume that we are first to deal with such severe environmental issues, when that’s just not the case. Earlier too our oldest civilization passed through environmental disaster and climate change which gradually ended the ancient civilization. Even the most developed civilization like Indus Valley civilization, Maya civilization and Sumerians were affected with environmental changes like floods, droughts etc. Lots of theories and causes have been put forward regarding decline of these developed civilizations. But after going through the different research reports, it can be said that climate change ended the ancient civilizations in different phases.
Native global flood stories are documented as history or legend in almost every region on earth. Old world missionaries reported their amazement at finding remote tribes already possessing legends with tremendous similarities to the Bible's accounts of the worldwide flood. H.S. Bellamy in Moons, Myths and Men estimates that altogether there are over 500 Flood legends worldwide. Ancient civilizations such as (China, Babylonia, Wales, Russia, India, America, Hawaii, Scandinavia, Sumatra, Peru, and Polynesia) all have their own versions of a giant flood.
This article attempts to bring to light some of the environmental problems which occurred through out our history from one civilization to other.

Indus valley civilization
The Indus or the Harappan culture is older than the chalcolithic cultures. It arose in the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent. It is called Harappan because this civilization was discovered first in 1921 at the modern site of Harappa situated in the province of West Punjab in Pakistan.
Comparatively rainless, the Indus region is not so fertile these days. Its prosperous villages and towns show that it was fertile in ancient times. At present it has only rainfall of about 15 cm. in the fourth century B.C. one of the historians of the Alexander informs us that Sindh was a fertile part of the country. In earlier times the Indus possessed more natural vegetation which attracted more rainfall. It supplied timber fuel for baking bricks on a large scale, and also for construction. In course of time, natural vegetation was destroyed by the extension of agriculture, large scale grazing, and supply of fuel.
A possible natural reason for the Indus Valley civilization decline is connected with climate change that is also signaled for the neighboring areas of the Middle East: The Indus valley climate grew significantly cooler and drier from about 1800 BCE, linked to a general weakening of the monsoon at that time. Alternatively, a crucial factor may have been the disappearance of substantial portions of the Ghaggar Hakra river system. A tectonic event may have diverted the system's sources toward the Ganges Plain, though there is complete uncertainty about the date of this event as most settlements inside Ghaggar-Hakra river beds have not yet been dated.
The Harappan culture declined suddenly between 1800-1700 BC and its end is as puzzling as its beginning. How and why did this first great empire of South Asia decay into oblivion? One cannot say with certainty whether massacres by marauders or the inbuilt decay that had set in caused the decline of this powerful civilization. Another school of thought relates the demise of the Indus valley civilization to have been brought about by a major tectonic shift that caused continuous floods of this area.
Research has proved that the decline of the glorious Harappan culture was due to a variety of factors, both manmade and natural. In the beginning of the second millennium BC, there were great changes in the environmental conditions-the climate changed and large parts of the plains were flooded when tectonic changes threw up a dam in the lower Indus Valley.
Sumerian civilization:
Sumer, located in southern Mesopotamia, is one of the earliest known civilizations in the world. The Sumerians were the first group that everyone can agree is worthy of being called a “civilization”. They arose in what is today Iraq some time around the 6th millennium BC, and were conquered by about 2400 BC. The Sumerians arose in the area known as the “Fertile Crescent”. This area of land, also called Mesopotamia, was an oasis of fertile land sandwiched between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Soil salinity in this region had been long recognized as a major problem. Poorly drained irrigated soils, in an arid climate with high levels of evaporation, led to the buildup of dissolved salts in the soil, eventually reducing agricultural yields severely. During the Akkadian and Ur III phases, there was a shift from the cultivation of wheat to the more salt-tolerant barley, but this was insufficient, and during the period from 2100 BC to 1700 BC, it is estimated that the population in this area declined by nearly 3/5ths.
Most farms had to be irrigated with ditches fed by the rivers. This was wildly successful. For the first time in history, there was a food surplus. This in turn led to a population surplus, with people in cities abandoning agricultural labor and eating the surplus produced by farmers.
Like all good things, it couldn’t last. There was an inherent flaw in the system. The hot sun evaporated most of water, leaving behind salt. Where the water didn’t quickly evaporate, the water table rose, also bringing salt to the surface.
After years and years of salt slowly accumulating, a tipping point was reached. The land had become too salty for the wheat production. The only way to reclaim the land was to let it lie fallow for several years.

There is a wealth of evidence pointing to severe environmental issues in the Sumerian civilization. One of the most important pieces of information from that time is the Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient poem about the mythological hero-king Gilgamesh and his search for immortality. Even in this work there are mentions of environmental problems. After thousands of years of existence, a lack of food brought on by the unproductive soil crippled the Sumerians.
Maya Civilization:
Originating in the Yucatan Peninsula, the ancient Maya civilization occupied a vast area of Mesoamerica between the time period of 2600 BC and 1200 AD. Constructing thousands of architectural structures and developing sophisticated concepts surrounding the disciplines of astronomy and mathematics, the Maya civilization rose to a cultural florescence between the years of 600 to 800 AD. Although this prosperity reigned for nearly two centuries, the Maya civilization met with misfortune between the years of 800 and 900 AD.
During this time period, known by archaeologists as the Classic Collapse of the Maya civilization, many southern cities were abandoned and most cultural activities ceased. The Maya, never able to regain their cultural or geographical prominence, were assimilated into other Mesoamerican civilizations until the time of the Spanish Conquest in 1530 AD.
The cause of the collapse of the Classic Maya civilization represents one of the great archaeological mysteries of our time, and has been debated by scholars for nearly a century. Some scientists theorize that the paleoclimate of the region was not only different than the present day climate, but the natural climate variability of the past could have included a period of intense drought that occurred in conjunction with the Classic Maya Collapse.

The sudden demise is one of the greatest archeological mysteries of our time. What caused the collapse of the great Maya civilization?

The answer, say researchers, is climate change. According to a new study published in the issue of Science journal , a long period of dry climate, punctuated by three intense droughts, led to the end of the Maya society. "Climate change is to blame for one of the most catastrophic collapses in human history," said Gerald Haug, a professor of geology at the University of Potsdam, Germany, and one of the study's authors.
The drought hypothesis is not new. Sediments taken by scientists in 2001 from a lake on the Yucatan peninsula showed that a series of extended droughts coincided with major cultural upheavals among the Maya people.

Experts say the Maya were particularly susceptible to long droughts because about 95 percent of their population centers depended solely on lakes, ponds, and rivers containing on average an 18-month supply of water for drinking and agriculture.


Ancient India by Ram Sharan Sharma, NCERT, New Delhi.

· Stefan Lovgren for National Geographic News, March 13, 2003. Climate Change Killed off Maya Civilization.
Hodell, D. A., J. H. Curtis and M. Brenner. 1995. Possible role of climate in the collapse of Classic Maya civilization. Nature 375:391-394.

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