Climate History Network

A network of interdisciplinary scholars studying past climate change

Late Bronze Age Drought and Collapse

23ISRAEL-popupA new study identifying a major drought during the Late Bronze Age crisis (ca.1250-1100BCE) in the Eastern Mediterranean has received considerable media attention, including a write-up in the New York Times.  The theory that a drought had set off the century of famines, migration, and political instability at the end of the Bronze Age has been proposed by various historians and archaeologists for almost 50 years.  Recent advances allowing for higher-resolution dating of certain proxy data have finally established that the drought was real, prolonged, and severe, and it overlapped very closely with the period of crisis (see Kaniewsky et al. 2013).  The authors of the new study have added high-resolution analysis of a pollen core from the Sea of Galilee to provide the clearest indication of the drought yet.  The study compares this evidence with the sparse written records indicating drought and famine in Egypt and the Levant at the time; and they argue for a climate-led “collapse” similar to the one Ronnie Ellenblum has proposed for the region in the 11th-12th centuries AD.  Unfortunately, there are only the vaguest indications how such a catastrophe scenario might have unfolded or what other circumstances might have contributed.

Dafna Langgut, Israel Finkelstein, and Thomas Litt, “Climate and the Late Bronze Age Collapse: New Evidence from the Southern Levant,” Tel Aviv 40 (2013): 149–75, doi:10.1179/033443513X13753505864205.

Update 5/9/2014: The wider context for a climate-driven Late Bronze Age crisis has now been explained in Eric Cline’s excellent new monograph: 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Princeton University Press, 2014).


About Sam White

Assistant Professor of History at the Ohio State University

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This entry was posted on October 23, 2013 by in In the News.
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