300-year drought frames Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age transition in the Near East: new palaeoecological data from Cyprus and Syria

Abstract

In Eastern Mediterranean history, 1200 BCE is a symbolic date. Its significance is tied to the important upheavals that destabilised regional-scale economic systems, leading to the dislocation of mighty Empires and, finally, to the “demise” of a societal model (termed “the Crisis Years”). Recent studies have suggested that a centuries-long drought, of regional scale, termed the 3.2 ka BP event, could be one of the motors behind this spiral of decline. Here, we focus on this pivotal period, coupling new palaeoenvironmental data and radiocarbon dates from Syria (the site of Tell Tweini) and Cyprus (the site of Pyla-Kokkinokremnos), to probe whether climate change accelerated changes in the Eastern Mediterranean’s Old World, by inducing crop failures/low harvests, possibly engendering severe food shortages and even famine. We show that the Late Bronze Age crisis and the following Dark Ages were framed by an ~ 300-year drought episode that significantly impacted crop yields and may have led to famine. Our data underline the agro-productive sensitivity of ancient Mediterranean societies to environmental changes, as well as the potential link between adverse climate pressures and harvest/famine.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

References

  1. Al-Maqdissi M, Van Lerberghe K, Bretschneider J, Badawi M (2011) Tell Tweini: onze campagnes de fouilles syro-belges (1999–2010). Documents d’Archéologie Syrienne, Damas

  2. Alpert P, Neuman J (1989) An ancient correlation between streamflow and distant rainfall in the Near East. J Near East Stud 48:313–314

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Artzy M (1987) On boats and Sea Peoples. Bull Am Sch Orient Res 266:75–84

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bernhardt C, Horton BP, Stanley JD (2012) Nile Delta vegetation response to Holocene climate variability. Geology 40:615–618. https://doi.org/10.1130/G33012.1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bretschneider J, Van Lerberghe K (2008) Tell Tweini, ancient Gibala, between 2600 BCE and 333 BCE. In: Bretschneider J, Van Lerberghe K (eds) In search of Gibala, an archaeological and historical study based on eight seasons of excavations at Tell Tweini (1999–2007) in the A and C fields. Aula Orientalis, Barcelona, pp 12–66 http://journals.openedition.org/abstractairanica/41442. Mar 2018

  6. Bretschneider J, Van Lerberghe K, Vansteenhuyse K, Al-Maqdissi M (2008) The Late Bronze Age and Iron Age in the Jebleh region: a view from Tell Tweini. In: Kühne H, Czichon RM, Kreppner FJ (eds) Proceedings of the 4th International Congress of the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East. Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, pp 33–46

    Google Scholar 

  7. Bretschneider J, Jans G, Van Vyve AS (2010) Les Fouilles du chantier A en 2009 et 2010. In: Al-Maqdissi M, Van Lerberghe K, Bretschneider J, Badawi M (eds) Tell Tweini: onze campagnes de fouilles syro-belges (1999–2010). Documents d’Archéologie Syrienne, Damas, pp 131–146

    Google Scholar 

  8. Bretschneider J, Kanta A, Driessen J (2015) Pyla-Kokkinokremos: preliminary report on the 2014 excavations. Ugarit-Forschungen 46:1–37

    Google Scholar 

  9. Bretschneider J, Kanta A, Driessen J (2017) Pyla-Kokkinokremos (Cyprus): preliminary report on the 2015-2016 campaigns. Ugarit-Forschungen 48:36–120

    Google Scholar 

  10. Bretschneider J, Jans G (2019) About Tell Tweini (Syria): artefacts, ecofacts and landscape. Research results of the Belgian mission. OLA Peeters, Leuven

    Google Scholar 

  11. Brinkman JA (1968) A political history of post-Kassite Babylonia, 1158–722 BC. Analecta Orientalia, Ville

  12. Bryce T (2005) The kingdom of the Hittites. Oxford University Press, Oxford. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199281329.001.0001

    Google Scholar 

  13. Butzer KW (1976) Early hydraulic civilization in Egypt. University of Chicago Press, Chicago

    Google Scholar 

  14. Camenisch C, Keller KM, Salvisberg M, Amann B, Bauch M, Blumer S, Brázdil R, Brönnimann S, Büntgen U, Campbell BMS, Fernández-Donado L, Fleitmann D, Glaser R, González-Rouco F, Grosjean M, Hoffmann RC, Huhtamaa H, Joos F, Kiss A, Kotyza O, Lehner F, Luterbacher J, Maughan N, Neukom R, Novy T, Pribyl K, Raible CC, Riemann D, Schuh M, Slavin P, Werner JP, Wetter O (2016) The 1430s: a cold period of extraordinary internal climate variability during the early Spörer minimum with social and economic impacts in north-western and Central Europe. Clim Past 12:2107–2126. https://doi.org/10.5194/cp-12-2107-2016

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Cheng H, Sinha A, Verheyden S, Nader FH, Li XL, Zhang PZ, Yin JJ, Yi L, Peng YB, Rao ZG, Ning YF, Edwards RL (2015) The climate variability in northern Levant over the past 20,000 years. Geophys Res Lett 42:8641–8650. https://doi.org/10.1002/2015GL065397

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Cline EH (2014) 1177 BC: the year civilization collapsed. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Google Scholar 

  17. Cohen Y, Singer I (2006) Late synchronism between Ugarit and Emar. In: Amit Y, Zvi EB, Finkelstein I, Lipschits O (eds) Essays on Ancient Israel in its Near Eastern context. A tribute to Nadav Na’ama. Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, pp 123–139

    Google Scholar 

  18. Coltelli M, Del Carlo P, Vezzoli L (2000) Stratigraphic constraints for explosive activity in the past 100 ka at Etna volcano, Italy. Int J Earth Sci 89:665–677. https://doi.org/10.1007/s005310000117

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Cullen HM, deMenocal PB (2000) North Atlantic influence on Tigris-Euphrates streamflow. Int J Climatol 20:853–863. https://doi.org/10.1002/1097-0088(20000630)20:8%3C853::AID-JOC497%3E3.0.CO;2-M

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Drews R (1993) The end of the Bronze Age: changes in warfare and the catastrophe ca. 1200 BC. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Google Scholar 

  21. Driessen J (2018) The archaeology of forced migration. Crisis-induced mobility and the collapse of the 13th c. BCE Eastern Mediterranean (Aegis 15). Presses Universitaires de Louvain, Louvain

    Google Scholar 

  22. Eastwood WJ, Leng MJ, Roberts N, Davis B (2007) Holocene climate change in the eastern Mediterranean region: a comparison of stable isotope and pollen data from Lake Gölhisar, Southwest Turkey. J Quat Sci 22:327–341. https://doi.org/10.1002/jqs.1062

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Faegri K, Iversen I (1989) Textbook of pollen analysis, fourth edn. Wiley, London

    Google Scholar 

  24. Finné M, Holmgren K, Shen CC, Hu HM, Boyd M, Stocker S (2017) Late bronze age climate change and the destruction of the Mycenaean palace of Nestor at Pylos. PLoS One 12:e0189447. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0189447

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Gilboa A (2006-2007) Fragmenting the Sea Peoples, with an emphasis on Cyprus, Syria and Egypt: a Tel Dor perspective. Scripta Mediterranea 27-28: 209–244

  26. Glaser R, Himmelsbach I, Bösmeier A (2017) Climate of migration? How climate triggered migration from Southwest Germany to North America during the 19th century. Clim Past 13:1573–1592. https://doi.org/10.5194/cp-13-1573-2017

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Göktürk OM, Fleitmann D, Badertscher S, Cheng H, Edwards RL, Leuenberger M, Fankhauser A, Tüysüz O, Kramers J (2011) Climate on the southern Black Sea coast during the Holocene: implications from the Sofular cave record. Quat Sci Rev 30:2433–2445. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2011.05.007

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Hassan FA (1997) The dynamics of a riverine civilization: a geoarchaeological perspective on the Nile Valley, Egypt. World Archaeol 29:51–74 .https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.1997.9980363

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Jung R (2018a) Push and pull factors of the Sea Peoples between Italy and the Levant. In: Driessen J (ed) The Archaeology of forced migration. Crisis-induced mobility and the collapse of the 13th c. BCE Eastern Mediterranean (Aegis 15). Presses Universitaires de Louvain, Louvain, pp 279–312

    Google Scholar 

  30. Jung R (2018b) Mycenaen pottery in coastal Syria. In: Badre L, Capet E, Vitale B (eds) Tell Kazel au Bronze Récent. Études Céramiques, Beyrouth, pp 47–51

    Google Scholar 

  31. Kaniewski D, Paulissen E, Van Campo E, Al-Maqdissi M, Bretschneider J, Van Lerberghe K (2008) Middle East coastal ecosystem response to middle-to-late Holocene abrupt climate changes. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 105:13941–13946. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0803533105

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Kaniewski D, Paulissen E, Van Campo E, Bakker J, Van Lerberghe K, Waelkens M (2009) Wild or cultivated Olea europaea L. in the eastern Mediterranean during the middle-late Holocene? A pollen-numerical approach. The Holocene 19:1039–1047. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959683609341000

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Kaniewski D, Paulissen E, Van Campo E, Weiss H, Otto T, Bretschneider J, Van Lerberghe K (2010) Late second-Early first millennium BC abrupt climate changes in coastal Syria and their possible significance for the history of the eastern Mediterranean. Quat Res 74:207–215. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yqres.2010.07.010

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Kaniewski D, Van Campo E, Van Lerberghe K, Boiy T, Vaansteenhuyse K, Jans G, Nys K, Weiss H, Morhange C, Otto T, Bretschneider J (2011) The Sea Peoples, from cuneiform tablets to carbon dating. PLoS One 6:e20232. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0020232

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Kaniewski D, Van Campo E, Guiot J, LeBurel S, Otto T, Baeteman C (2013a) Environmental roots of the Late Bronze Age crisis. PLoS One e71004:8. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0071004

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Kaniewski D, Van Campo E, Morhange C, Guiot J, Zviely D, Shaked I, Otto T, Artzy M (2013b) Early urban impact on Mediterranean coastal environments. Sci Rep 3:354. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep03540,2013b

  37. Kaniewski D, Guiot J, Van Campo E (2015) Drought and societal collapse 3200 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean: a review. WIREs Clim Change 6:369–382. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcc.345

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Kaniewski D, Van Campo E (2017) The 3.2 kyr BP event and the Late Bronze Age crisis, a climate-induced spiral of decline. In: Weiss H (ed) Megadrought and collapse. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 161–182. https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780199329199.001.0001

    Google Scholar 

  39. Kaniewski D, Marriner N, Ilan D, Morhange C, Thareani Y, Van Campo E (2017) Climate change and water management in the biblical city of Dan. Sci Adv 3:e1700954. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.1700954

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Karageorghis V, Demas M (1984) Pyla-Kokkinokremnos, a late 13th-century B.C. fortified settlement in Cyprus. Chr. Nicolaou & Sons LTD, Nicosia

    Google Scholar 

  41. Karageorghis V, Kanta A (2014) Pyla-Kokkinokremnos, a late 13th-century B.C. fortified settlement in Cyprus, excavatioons 2010–2011. Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology vol. CXLI - Aströms Förlag, Uppsala

    Google Scholar 

  42. Kay PA, Johnson DL (1981) Estimation of the Tigris-Euphrates streamflow from regional palaeoenvironmental proxy data. Clim Chang 3:251–263. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00136671

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Killebrew AE (2005) Biblical peoples and ethnicity: an archaeological study of Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, and early Israel, 1300-1100 BC. SBLABS, Atlanta. 33:59. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-0922.2007.001498.x

  44. Killebrew AE, Lehmann G (2013) The Philistines and other Sea Peoples in text and archaeology. SBLABS, Atlanta. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt46n483

  45. Krom MD, Stanley JD, Cliff RA, Woodward JC (2002) Nile River sediment fluctuations over the past 7000 yr and their key role in sapropel development. Geology 30:71–74. https://doi.org/10.1130/0091-7613(2002)030<0071:NRSFOT>2.0.CO;2

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Langgut D, Finkelstein I, Litt T (2013) Climate and the Late Bronze Collapse: new evidence from the southern Levant. Tel Aviv 40:149–175. https://doi.org/10.1179/033443513X13753505864205

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Langgut D, Neumann FH, Stein M, Wagner A, Kagan EJ, Boaretto E, Finkelstein I (2014) Dead Sea pollen record and history of human activity in the Judean highlands (Israel) from the Intermediate Bronze into the Iron Ages (∼ 2500–500 BCE). Palynology 38:280–302. https://doi.org/10.1080/01916122.2014.906001

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Langgut D, Finkelstein I, Litt T, Neumann FH, Stein M (2015) Vegetation and climate changes during the bronze and iron ages (~3600–600 BCE) in the southern Levant based on palynological records. Radiocarbon 57:217–235. https://doi.org/10.2458/azurc.57.18555

  49. Litt T, Ohlwein C, Neumann FH, Hense A, Stein M (2012) Holocene climate variability in the Levant from the Dead Sea pollen record. Quat Sci Rev 49:95–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2012.06.012

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Manning J (2018) The open sea: the economic life of the ancient Mediterranean world from the Iron Age to the rise of Rome. Princeton University Press, Princeton. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444338386.wbeah06321/full

    Google Scholar 

  51. Neumann J, Parpola S (1987) Climatic change and the eleventh-tenth-century eclipse of Assyria and Babylonia. J Near East Stud 46:161–182. https://doi.org/10.1086/373244

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Nougayrol J, Laroche E, Virolleaud C, Schaeffer C (1968) Ugaritica V, Nouveaux textes accadiens, hourrites et ugaritiques des archives et bibliothèques privées d'Ugarit. Mission de Ras Shamra, 16. Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, Paris

  53. Pribyl K (2017) Farming, famine and plague, the impact of climate in Late Medieval England. Springer, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-55953-7

    Google Scholar 

  54. Regattieri E, Zanchetta G, Drysdale RN, Isola I, Hellstrom JC, Dallai L (2014) Lateglacial to Holocene trace element record (Ba, mg, Sr) from Corchia Cave (Apuan Alps, Central Italy): paleoenvironmental implications. J Quat Sci 29:381–392. https://doi.org/10.1002/jqs.2712

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Reuveny R (2007) Climate change-induced migration and violent conflict. Polit Geogr 26:656–673. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2007.05.001

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Roberts N, Reed JM, Leng MJ, Kuzucuoglu C, Fontugne M, Bertaux J, woldring H, Bottema S, Black S, Hunt E, Karabiyikoglu M (2001) The tempo of Holocene climate change in the eastern Mediterranean region: new high-resolution crater-lake sediments data from Central Turkey. The Holocene 11:721–736. https://doi.org/10.1191/09596830195744

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Roberts N, Eastwood WJ, Kuzucuoglu C, Fiorentino G, Caracuta V (2011) Climatic, vegetation and cultural change in the eastern Mediterranean during the mid-Holocene environmental transition. The Holocene 21:147–162. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959683610386819

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Sadori L, Narcisi B (2001) The postglacial record of environmental history from Lago di Pergusa, Sicily. The Holocene 11:655–670. https://doi.org/10.1191/09596830195681

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Schiebel V, Litt T (2018) Holocene vegetation history of the southern Levant based on a pollen record from Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), Israel Vegetation. Hist Archaeobotany 27:577–590. https://doi.org/10.1594/PANGAEA.884740

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Sharifi A, Pourmand A, Canuel EA, Ferer-Tyler E, Peterson LC, Aichner B, Feakins SJ, Daryaee T, Djamali M, Naderi A, Lahijani HAK, Swart PK (2015) Abrupt climate variability since the last deglaciation based on a high-resolution, multi-proxy peat record from NW Iran: the hand that rocked the cradle of civilization? Quat Sci Rev 123:215–230. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2015.07.006

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Singer I (1999) A political history of Ugarit. In: Watson WGE, Wyatt N (eds) Handbook of Ugaritic Studies, vol 120. Handbuch der Orientalistik, Erste Abteilung, Leiden, pp 603–733. https://doi.org/10.2307/606647

    Google Scholar 

  62. Singer I (2000) New evidence on the end of the Hittite empire. In: Oren ED (ed) The Sea Peoples and their world: a reassessment. University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, pp 21–33

    Google Scholar 

  63. Soto-Berelov M, Fall PL, Falconer SE, Ridder E (2015) Modeling vegetation dynamics in the southern Levant through the Bronze Age. J Archaeol Sci 53:94–109. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2014.09.015

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Stevens LR, Ito E, Schwalb A, Wright HE Jr (2006) Timing of atmospheric precipitation in the Zagros Mountains inferred from a multi-proxy record from Lake Mirabad, Iran. Quat Res 66:494–500. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yqres.2006.06.008

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Sun Q, Liu Y, Salem A, Marks L, Welc F, Ma F, Zhang W, Chen J, Jiang J, Chen Z (2019) Climate-induced discharge variations of the Nile during the Holocene: evidence from the sediment provenance of Faiyum Basin, North Egypt. Glob Planet Chang 172:200–210. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2018.10.005

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Tarasov PE, Cheddadi R, Guiot J, Bottema S, Peyron O, Belmonte J, Ruiz-Sanchez V, Saadi F, Brewer S (1998) A method to determine warm and cool steppe biomes from pollen data; application to the Mediterranean and Kazakhstan regions. J Quat Sci 13:335–344. https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1099-1417(199807/08)13:4<335::AID-JQS375>3.0.CO;2-A

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Warburton D (2003) Love and war in the Later Bronze Age: Egypt and Hatti. In: Matthews R, Roemer C (eds) Ancient perspectives on Egypt. University College of London Press, London, pp 75–100

    Google Scholar 

  68. Weiss B (1982) The decline of Late Bronze Age civilization as a possible response to climatic change. Clim Chang 4:173–198. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02423389

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Wetter O, Pfister C, Werner JP, Zorita E, Wagner S, Seneviratne SI, Herget J, Grünewald U, Luterbacher J, Alcoforado MJ, Barriendos M, Bieber U, Brázdil R, Burmeister KH, Camenisch C, Contino A, Dobrovolný P, Glaser R, Himmelsbach I, Kiss A, Kotyza O, Labbé T, Limanówka D, Litzenburger L, Nordl Ø, Pribyl K, Retsö D, Riemann D, Rohr C, Siegfried W, Söderberg J, Spring JL (2014) The year-long unprecedented European heat and drought of 1540 - a worst case. Clim Chang 125:349–363. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-014-1184-2

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Wick L, Lemcke G, Sturm M (2003) Evidence of Lateglacial and Holocene climatic change and human impact in eastern Anatolia: high-resolution pollen, charcoal, isotopic and geochemical records from the laminated sediments of Lake Van, Turkey. The Holocene 13:665–675. https://doi.org/10.1191/0959683603hl653rp

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Zanchetta G, Van Welden A, Baneschi I, Drysdale RN, Sadori L, Roberts N, Giardini M, Beck C, Pascucci V, Sulpizio R (2012) Multiproxy record for the last 4500 years from Lake Shkodra (Albania/Montenegro). J Quat Sci 27:780–789. https://doi.org/10.1002/jqs.2563

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Zanchetta G, Bini M, Di Vito MA, Sulpizio R, Sadori L (2018) Tephrostratigraphy of paleoclimatic archives in Central Mediterranean during the Bronze Age. Quat Int. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2018.06.012

Download references

Funding

Support was provided by the Institut Universitaire de France, CLIMSORIENT program, the University of Ghent—Department of Archaeology and the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO, G010218 N). This work is a contribution to Labex OT-Med (n° ANR-11-LABX-0061) and has received funding from the Excellence Initiative of Aix-Marseille University—A*MIDEX, a French “Investissements d’Avenir” project.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David Kaniewski.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

This article is part of the Topical Collection on Societal Impacts of Historical Droughts

Electronic supplementary material

ESM 1

(XLSX 67 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Kaniewski, D., Marriner, N., Bretschneider, J. et al. 300-year drought frames Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age transition in the Near East: new palaeoecological data from Cyprus and Syria. Reg Environ Change 19, 2287–2297 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-018-01460-w

Download citation

Keywords

  • Late Bronze Age crisis
  • Climate change
  • Drought
  • 3.2 ka BP event
  • Food shortages
  • Famine
  • Eastern Mediterranean