Guest drive-by by David Middleton
Megadrought Helped Topple the Assyrian Empire
Paleoclimate records shed light on the ancient civilization’s meteoric rise and catastrophic collapse.
By Mary Caperton Morton 15 January 2020
Around 2,700 years ago in what is now northern Iraq, the Assyrian Empire was at its zenith, dominating the cultural and political landscape of the Fertile Crescent. But within a few years, the empire collapsed, leaving the once thriving capital of Nineveh abandoned for nearly 200 years. The cause of this catastrophe is an enduring mystery, but a climate record preserved in a cave formation now is revealing that the timing of the empire’s rise and fall coincided with a wet period followed by a 125-year-long megadrought.
The new study relies on a limestone stalagmite called a speleothem recovered from the Kuna Ba cave in northeastern Iraq, about 300 kilometers southeast of the modern city of Mosul, just across the Tigris River from the ruins of Nineveh. By tracking the ratios of oxygen and uranium isotopes, which are sensitive to variations in precipitation and temperature, the team was able to reconstruct a high-resolution record of nearly 4,000 years of paleoclimate history for the region.
Researchers then aligned the precipitation records with archaeological and written cuneiform records and found a remarkable correlation: The rise and zenith of the Assyrian Empire, from 920 to 730 BCE, occurred during a period of higher-than-average rainfall, deemed the Assyrian megapluvial, that lasted from 925 to 725 BCE. And the fall of the empire, between 660 and 600 BCE, falls within the peak drought period that lasted from 675 to 550 BCE. This 125-year megadrought helps explain why Nineveh was not resettled for over a century after its abandonment, Weiss said.
Relevance to Modern Drought Cycles
The severity of the Assyrian megadrought also helps add some perspective on modern drought cycles in the Middle and Near East, Kelley said. “This study is really valuable for putting what’s happening today in this region in proper context. The past shows us what’s possible: How dry can it get [and] for how long?”
Over the past 100 years, the Middle East has experienced at least four severe multiyear droughts. “These seem to be happening with greater frequency and severity, which is in line with what we expect with climate change: Dry places are getting drier,” Kelley said. “How this contributes to political unrest in this region is very complicated, but it’s clear that climate change and drought are major factors that should not be underestimated, in the past or in the future.”
The new study was published in Science Advances in November 2019.
Citation: Morton, M. C. (2020), Megadrought helped topple the Assyrian Empire, Eos, 101, https://doi.org/10.1029/2020EO138560. Published on 15 January 2020.Eos
Is anyone else bugged by the phrase “meteoric rise”? Meteors don’t rise. Meteoric water falls from the sky.
Clearly the droughts of today in the desert are much worse than the 125 year civilization destroying megadrought… Because climate change.
“These seem to be happening with greater frequency and severity, which is in line with what we expect with climate change: Dry places are getting drier,” Kelley said. “How this contributes to political unrest in this region is very complicated, but it’s clear that climate change and drought are major factors that should not be underestimated, in the past or in the future.”
Easy fix… Send them U-Hauls…