A network of interdisciplinary scholars studying past climate change
Towards understanding the impact of climate on complex societies of the pre-industrial era, 1-3 May 2015
Building on the 2013 meeting Climate in Byzantine Anatolia, Prof. John Haldon of Princeton University convened a group of some two dozen researchers in history, archaeology, environmental modeling, and climate science for a second three-day workshop. The meeting emphasized the sharing of information and perspectives from diverse fields in order to produce more effective multi-disciplinary research. In particular, participants tried to work out how climatology and environmental sciences could best present their findings to make them useful for historians and archaeologists, and vice versa. While focused on climate in Anatolia, the workshop also brought in perspectives from recent archaeological work on climate and land use early imperial China (Arlene Rosen) and an ongoing project examining precipitation changes, vegetation history, and the rise of the Mongol Empire (Nicola Di Cosmo, Hanqin Tian, Shufen Pan). Additional presentations examined the relationship among climate and livestock diseases in medieval Europe (Tim Newfield) and the history of earthquakes in the Byzantine Empire (Lee Mordechai).
Presenters examined climate and human history in Anatolia from a range of perspectives. In the first session, Deniz Bozkurt explained regional climate processes and large-scale forcing drawing on instrumental weather data and climate models; and Sam White discussed the findings of his previous book, The Climate of Rebellion in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire (Cambridge, 2011), as well as more recent studies in Ottoman climate history and what implications they might have for the study of climate in the Byzantine Empire.
Several presentations drew on recent and ongoing studies of Anatolian lake sediments. Samantha Allcock examined the long-term vegetation and climate history around Nar Lake, concluding that climate could have been one of several drivers of regional land use and population change particularly during the 7th-8th centuries AD. Neil Roberts demonstrated evidence from oxygen isotope ratios in annually varved lake sediments for major droughts during the last several centuries in Anatolia, including the late 16th-century drought described in Climate of Rebellion. Warren Eastwood and Çetin Şenkul presented ongoing research comparing Ottoman cadastral surveys to cereal pollen counts in annually varved lake sediments, providing a way to test the reliability of those records and to fill in gaps in written evidence of land use. Sena Akçer-Ön discussed two studies analyzing the isotopic record and geomorphology of Küçükçekmece Lagoon in Istanbul and Lake Bafa in southwestern Turkey. One presetation, by Sturt Manning, discussed tree-ring studies in different regions of Anatolia, emphasizing the value of dendro data for precise high-resolution climate reconstructions.
Another group of presenters discussed recent and ongoing archaeological work that could shed light on land use and climate change impacts in Late Antique and Byzantine Anatolia. These included findings from an archaeological investigation of Pontus during the 1st-8th centuries AD (Owen Doonan), the excavation of mid-late Byzantine Çadır Höyük (Marica Cassis), and a recent dissertation on the architecture of Late Antique and Byzantine urban water supplies systems (Jordan Pickett). Tying together many of the themes of the workshop, Adam Izdebski, Elena Xoplaki, and Dominik Fleitmann presented on their recent work leading an multidisciplinary team of historians and climate scientists to reconstruct and model climatic changes and impacts in Anatolia during the Medieval Climate Anomaly. To close the meeting, Prof. Izdebski discussed the lessons learned from this project in forging successful interdisciplinary research collaborations and publications.