Dust to Dust

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Science  21 Apr 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5465, pp. 401
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5465.401e

The Akkadian Empire in the Fertile Crescent collapsed suddenly about 4100 years ago. Recently, it was suggested that this event is also the first example of the demise of an empire as a consequence of climate change. Wind-blown silt characteristic of arid conditions directly overlies the archeological horizons, and it is thought that the empire depended on agricultural production as the basis for its trade network.

Cullen et al. have examined a deep-sea sediment core in the Gulf of Oman to search for broader evidence for such a connection. The data reveal that a 300-year period of marked aridity began abruptly and was coincident with the radiocarbon age for the end of the empire. They also correlated a volcanic horizon that marked the empire's collapse with one marking the onset of the aridity seen in the deep-sea core. The core record implies that the aridity was perhaps almost as severe as that during the Younger Dryas (a return to near glacial conditions just before the Holocene) and well beyond any other event in the Holocene. Thus, despite the implementation of grain storage and water management, a short-lived but drastic change in climate may have devastated an early empire.—BH

Geology28, 379 (2000).

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