Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to an Israeli study, an abrupt volcanic cooling event which started around 541AD, the outbreak of the Justinian Plague, led to wine growing regions in the Negev Desert being abandoned.
Grape Seeds Show How A Pandemic And Climate Change Contributed To Past Economic Crisis
The coronavirus pandemic and anthropogenic climate change are two pressing socio-economic issues of our times. Societies of the past had to deal with similar problems, and not always successful.
A research team from Israel discovered evidence suggesting that a combination of diseases and climate change, triggered by a volcanic eruption, contributed to a system-wide economic crisis in the Mediterranean region around 540 BC.
The research shows a continuous growth of wine export until the middle of the 6th century, followed by sudden collapse and abandonment of the settlements.
Geologists believe that two powerful volcanic eruptions, the largest in the last 2,000 years, are to blame for the cold snaps. If an eruption is powerful enough to send volcanic ash and gases high into Earth’s atmosphere, the resulting haze can shield the surface from the sunlight, causing a worldwide drop in temperatures. It remains uncertain to this day which volcanoes erupted in 536 and 540/541 CE. Some geologists argued that the volcano was located in Iceland, others argue that the volcanic eruption happened somewhere along the equator, based on traces of sulfur preserved in ice-layers recovered from the ice shield of Greenland and Antarctica. Possible candidates include the Tavurvur in Papa-Neuguinea, the Ilopango in El Salvador, the Krakatau in Indonesia and other volcanoes from Java to Sumatra.
…Read more: https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidbressan/2020/07/31/grape-seeds-show-how-a-pandemic-and-climate-change-contributed-to-past-economic-crisis/#2e72304042b4
The abstract of the study;
The rise and fall of viticulture in the Late Antique Negev Highlands reconstructed from archaeobotanical and ceramic data
Daniel Fuks, Guy Bar-Oz, Yotam Tepper, Tali Erickson-Gini, Dafna Langgut, Lior Weissbrod, and Ehud WeissPNAS first published July 27, 2020 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1922200117
Edited by Frank Hole, Yale University, New Haven, CT, and approved May 13, 2020 (received for review December 23, 2019)
The international scope of the Mediterranean wine trade in Late Antiquity raises important questions concerning sustainability in an ancient international economy and offers a valuable historical precedent to modern globalization. Such questions involve the role of intercontinental commerce in maintaining sustainable production within important supply regions and the vulnerability of peripheral regions believed to have been especially sensitive to environmental and political disturbances. We provide archaeobotanical evidence from trash mounds at three sites in the central Negev Desert, Israel, unraveling the rise and fall of viticulture over the second to eighth centuries of the common era (CE). Using quantitative ceramic data obtained in the same archaeological contexts, we further investigate connections between Negev viticulture and circum-Mediterranean trade. Our findings demonstrate interrelated growth in viticulture and involvement in Mediterranean trade reaching what appears to be a commercial scale in the fourth to mid-sixth centuries. Following a mid-sixth century peak, decline of this system is evident in the mid- to late sixth century, nearly a century before the Islamic conquest. These findings closely correspond with other archaeological evidence for social, economic, and urban growth in the fourth century and decline centered on the mid-sixth century. Contracting markets were a likely proximate cause for the decline; possible triggers include climate change, plague, and wider sociopolitical developments. In long-term historical perspective, the unprecedented commercial florescence of the Late Antique Negev appears to have been unsustainable, reverting to an age-old pattern of smaller-scale settlement and survival–subsistence strategies within a time frame of about two centuries.Read more: https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/07/21/1922200117
The wineries eventually returned, and are now a significant tourist attraction, along with the ancient ruins and other significant attractions dotted across the region.