Humans in ancient Turkey adapted to climate change, thrived

Humans in ancient Turkey adapted to climate change, thrived
Using radiocarbon dating, researchers created a fine-scale archaeological timeline of societal activity across a northern stretch of the Levant during the early and late Bronze Age. Photo by Tayinat Archaeological Project

Oct. 30 (UPI) -- Climate change can trigger societal collapse and force populations to move, but not always.

New archaeological research suggests populations in ancient Turkey were able to adapt and flourish in the face of two periods of climate change, occurring between 4,500 and 3,000 years ago.


The findings -- published this week in the journal PLOS One -- suggest human responses to climate change are surprisingly variable. The challenges presented by climate change can stress societies beyond the breaking point, but also provide opportunities for resiliency and ingenuity.

For the study, researchers collected and analyzed local, fine-scale archeological data across a northern portion of the Levant known as Tell Tayinat. The Levant is a historical region of human occupation that stretches across the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea.

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"The study shows the end of the Early Bronze Age occupation at Tayinat was a long and drawn out affair that, while it appears to coincide with the onset of a mega-drought 4,200 years ago, was actually the culmination of processes that began much earlier," Tim Harrison said in a news release.


"The archaeological evidence does not point towards significant local effects of the climate episode, as there is no evidence of drought stress in crops," said Harrison, a professor of archaeology at the University of Toronto and director of the Tayinat Archaeological Project.

Instead, researchers found archaeological evidence of local political and spatial reconfiguration.

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Some of the earliest cities and state-level societies were established in the Levant and surrounding Middle East, during the mid-to late Early Bronze Age, between 3000 and 2000 B.C., and the Late Bronze Age, between 1600 and 1200 B.C.

These novel systems of social and political organization proved unstable, with both periods culminating in collapse.

Without precise, fine-scale archaeological evidence, researchers were unable to tease out detailed changes in societal activity. As a result, archaeologists turned to shifts in climate to explain the societal collapses that marked the ends of the early and late Bronze Age.

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Using radiocarbon dating, researchers created a more fine-scale timeline of societal activity at Tayinat during two periods of climate change.

"The absolute dating of these periods has been a subject of considerable debate for many years, and this study contributes a significant new dataset that helps address many of the questions," said lead study author Sturt Manning.


"The detailed chronological resolution achieved in this study allows for a more substantive interpretation of the archaeological evidence in terms of local and regional responses to proposed climate change, shedding light on how humans respond to environmental stress and variability," said Manning, a professor of classical archaeology at Cornell University.

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The more robust archaeological timelines produced by Manning and company revealed a period of resettlement and heightened societal activity some 3,200 years ago, despite a period of heightened aridity. Amidst the threat of climate change, the settlement thrived.

The settlement's restructuring wasn't a sign of collapse, the new data showed, but evidence of resilience and adaptation.

"The settlement of Tayinat may have been undertaken to maximize access to arable land, and crop evidence reveals the continued cultivation of numerous water-demanding crops, revealing a response that counters the picture of a drought-stricken region," said Harrison. "The Iron Age at Tayinat represents a significant degree of societal resilience during a period of climatic stress."

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