Climate change led to the collapse of the world’s first Empire 4,000 years ago
The Empire of Akkad was founded in Mesopotamia about 4,300 years ago. A century later, she suddenly collapsed, causing mass migration and conflict. Changes in stalagmites attributed the collapse with climate change.
Cave of Gol-e-ZARD lies in the shadow of mount Damavand, which is at an altitude of over 5000 meters dominates the landscape of Northern Iran. In this cave, the stalagmites and stalactites grow slowly over thousands of years and retain clues about past climate events.
Changes in the chemistry of stalagmites in this cave now link the collapse of the Akkadian Empire with climate change more than 4,000 years ago.
Akkad was the first Empire in the world. It was founded in Mesopotamia about 4,300 years ago after its ruler, Sargon the Akkadian brought together a number of independent city-States.
Akkadian influence spread along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers from what is now South Iraq, to Syria and Turkey. The length of the Empire from North to South meant that it covers regions with different climates, from fertile lands to the North, which are heavily dependent on rain (one of the “Asian” bread basket”), and ending fed irrigation alluvial plains in the South.
It seems that the Empire became increasingly dependent on the productivity of the Northern lands and used the grain from this region to feed the army and to redistribute the food supply for key supporters.
Then, about a century after its formation, the Akkadian Empire suddenly collapsed.
The agony of the era is perfectly reflected in the ancient text of the “Curse of Akkad”, which describes the period of the riots with a lack of food and water:
“… a large arable land did not give grain, flooded fields gave no fish, the irrigated orchards gave no syrup or wine, the thick clouds did not rain.”
The cause of this collapse are still the subject of historians, archaeologists and scientists.
One of the most notable points of view defended by Yale University archaeologist Harvey Weiss (which was based on earlier ideas of Ellsworth Huntington), is that it was caused by the sudden onset of a drought which seriously affected the productive Northern areas of the Empire.
Weiss and his colleagues discovered in Northern Syria is evidence that this once prosperous region was suddenly abandoned around 4,200 years ago, as evidenced by the absence of ceramics and other archaeological remains.
Rich soil of earlier periods was replaced by a larger number of windy dust and sand, which indicates the occurrence of drought.
Subsequently, marine cores from the Gulf of Oman and the red sea, which linked the dust in the sea with distant sources in Mesopotamia provided additional evidence of regional drought at the time.
However, many other researchers have embraced the interpretation of Weiss with skepticism.
Some have argued, for example, that archaeological and naval testimony was not sufficiently accurate to demonstrate a reliable correlation between drought and social change in Mesopotamia.
Cave dust from Iran can tell us about climate history. Cave of Gol-e-ZARD is a few hundred kilometers to the East of the former Akkadian Empire, but it is directly downwind. As a result, about 90% of the dust in the region comes from the deserts of Syria and Iraq.
This desert dust has a higher concentration of magnesium than the local limestone, which forms most of the stalagmites Gol-e-ZARD (those that grow up from the cave floor).
The amount of magnesium in the stalagmites Gol-e-Zard can be used as an indicator of dust on the surface, and higher concentrations of magnesium indicate more arid periods. Stalagmites can be dated very precisely through uranium-thorium chronology.
A new study presents a detailed history of dust in the area and identifies two major periods of drought that began and 4510 4260 years ago and lasted for respectively 110 and 290 years
The last event occurs during the collapse of the Akkadian Empire and gives a convincing argument in favor of what climate change is, at least, is partly responsible.
The collapse followed a mass migration from North to South, which was met with resistance by the local population. Between the Tigris and the Euphrates was even built 180-kilometre-long wall, the “Repeller of the Amorites” in an attempt to control immigration.