ARCHAEOLOGY: Did Climate Rock the Cradle?

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Science  26 May 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5777, pp. 1109a
DOI: 10.1126/science.312.5777.1109a

The earliest cities and centralized state-level societies arose in Mesopotamia between 8000 and 5000 years ago. Anthropological archaeologists have long sought to uncover the factors underlying the Mesopotamian region's singular place in history as the cradle of civilization. In general, studies have focused on such contributing influences as technological and agricultural innovation, the rise of bureaucracy and political hierarchies, increased trade, and religious or military pressures. Fewer studies have examined the significance of environmental influences, such as climate patterns and shoreline movements due to shifting sea level.

Kennett and Kennett compare local climatic and geographical changes with concurrent societal developments in specific regions of the Persian Gulf between 15,000 and 6000 years ago. They suggest that early development was shaped by the formation of productive estuaries, the availability of ample fresh water, and the ability to transport goods over water. They also discuss the potential role of climate—particularly the increase in aridity between 6000 and 5000 years ago—in fostering the consolidation of settlements. Thus, they argue that the emergence of highly organized urban society was at least in part a consequence of the glacial-interglacial cycle and related climate changes. — HJS

J. Island Coastal Archaeol. 1, 67 (2006).

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