Study: Ancient Volcanic Cooling Caused Wine Producing Towns in the Negev Desert to be Abandoned

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

David Bressan Contributor Science
Jul 31, 2020,06:08am EDT
I deal with the rocky road to our modern understanding of earth

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.

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:

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

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.

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The wineries eventually returned, and are now a significant tourist attraction, along with the ancient ruins and other significant attractions dotted across the region.

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John Tillman
August 3, 2020 10:11 am

Should read “around AD 540” (or 540 CE), not “around 540 BC”.

Justinian neglected to give everybody $1200 and the winemakers $600 a month in unemployment payments.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 3, 2020 12:00 pm

Although the price of bread in Byzantium remained the same for 1000 years.

Reply to  John Tillman
August 3, 2020 12:44 pm

The value of money used to be in the material comprising the money itself, while the value of a $3 loaf of bread means far less to us today then it did to those living 1000’s of years ago.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  John Tillman
August 3, 2020 12:45 pm

humanity was pretty much on the gold standard for 5,000 years. The current era of fiat currencies likely is unsustainable.

Robert W. Turner
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
August 3, 2020 2:38 pm

So is a pure gold/silver standard.

Reply to  Robert W. Turner
August 3, 2020 3:52 pm

Yep +1

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  John Tillman
August 3, 2020 12:29 pm

that would be $600/week on top of the regular state unemployment benefits which might total $800-$1,000 month. So $2,400 + $800 = $3,200 month. (just using 4 weeks = 1 month, for ease of calc since State numbers are rough estimates anyways).

That’s enough to make many people stay unemployed as long as they can draw $3,000+ per month, which is far above most State’s minimum wage. Even $15/hr at 160 hours a month “only” grosses at $2,400/month.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
August 3, 2020 4:13 pm

And it feels really really good.

They get to see and feel the gross as if it the net.

When they have to pay taxes next year, and they can’t come up with the extra $3,000, there will be a lot whining and crying and blaming Trump.

There will also be the parasites (AOC, etc) suggesting that we need to have a retroactive tax break for the unemployment benefits.

And the media will sit there silent, having forget that Trump had argued for a payroll tax & that the Pelosi ilk shot it down.

August 3, 2020 10:32 am

What is the sensitivity of wine making in the desert compared to other ventures and venues? It could be the equivalent of mining ghost towns reborn with tourism and tech.

Reply to  ResourceGuy
August 3, 2020 12:30 pm

A desert implies little rain, not little availability of water. The central valley of California is technically a desert, especially during the growing seasons of most crops, yet owing to irrigation, is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, including for growing grapes of all kinds.

The sensitivity of agriculture to available water is what matters and this is quite high and as high as its sensitivity to available sunlight and available CO2. The sensitivity of civilization to the availability of water is even higher and when water systems collapse, civilization follows, so there goes the tourism and tech …

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  co2isnotevil
August 3, 2020 1:44 pm


Pat from kerbob
August 3, 2020 12:07 pm

Once again
Cooling climate = catastrophe

Very simple

Not to mention all of this allowed the rise of Islam

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Pat from kerbob
August 3, 2020 12:41 pm

Anarchy and political chaos is how despotic rulers come to power, offering security to a violence weary population unable to defend itself.
ANTIFA thugs and their anarchy anyone??

The Marxists at work under the flag of Democratic Party know what they are doing. The Marxists tried for decades to be separate party in the USA, and nver got any traction. But now by simply infiltrating and consuming the Democrats and moving that party far Left has gotten to to within sight of achieving their long-sought goals now with this November election of a senile, old white guy they can control and then kick aside when they are done using Dementia Joe and he’s no longer useful (which will be right after the Electoral College results of his win are accepted by Congress).

Too many people are not “woke” to the anarchy the Left is sowing for strategic advantage later. The uber rich like Bloomberg and Bill Gates are actively fomenting some of this violence with money contributions to certain groups intent of installing socialism. Those folks have enough money to buy politicians (Mike Bloomberg even said that at the debate in February) and to hire a private Army to protect them and their families and their rich lifestyles.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
August 3, 2020 2:01 pm

In the election of 2000, the Democrats almost managed to throw the nomination to the House and Senate, by nearly preventing Florida from sending it’s delegates to the Electoral College. (You need an absolute majority of votes, to win in the Electoral College.)

Now think about all the riots in the street, plus the chaos being caused by many states going full mail-in for the upcoming election.

Add to this the fact that the new congress selects president and vice president, and every close election in both the Senate and House becomes worth fighting in the courts over.

Think of a dozen states being contested in court, plus lord knows how many Senate and House races. This has the potential to completely completely clog up the courts, both state and federal.

The Electoral College votes on the first Wednesday after the 2nd Tuesday of December. This is just 5 weeks after the election.

We may never know who actually wins.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  MarkW
August 3, 2020 5:10 pm

I’ve got arather cool scenario on how this could play out.
Democrats are always trying to rig or re-write the rules of the system politically to achieve pre-determine an outcome. It is simply their nature.

One example is when Harry Reid tossed out the Senate filibuster rules on judges and appointments for expediency in December 2013 to get some Obama appointees through before they lost the Senate then 12 months later to Republicans and Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader. The Democrats were warned at the time by Republicans and many media pundits they would regret doing that (getting rid of filibuster). They did it because they thought there would never again be another Republican President. Hubris in other words. Oppps. Along came Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Senate and Dems dearly wish they had the filibuster back they got rid of.That is jJust one of many examples of Democrats not taking unintended consequences serious.

– Now to my point about the coming Presidential election and the Electoral College process to follow in December.

The Democrats are about to nominate a man clearly suffering from Dementia as their nominee. As an aside: I had predicted several months ago they would replace him by now with someone at least mentally competent. I was wrong. In what is the most cynical political move probably of all time, Democrats are going to nominate Dementia Joe Biden, hiding in his basement away from live cameras and interviews, as their Presidential candidate. And according to the polls (assuming they are reasonably accurate) they might pull it off with a Dementia ridden candidate and a black woman as his Vice-President. What is absolutely crystal clear now is the DNC leadership plans to push Senile Joe across the finish line to victory and then replace him with the Vice-President. And in this age of BLM and all the bent knees, the VicePresident-come-President as a black woman would be all but Impeachment Proof. So if you thought Obama was Impeachment-resistant as the first black US President, imagine how a black woman could stomp all over the US Constitution without fear of Impeachment and removal, all the while claiming her Executive Fiats Orders were all to help makes us all safe.

Now here’s the part where unintended consequences could bite the Democrats.

The 25th Amendment, Section 4. describes how the President and the Vice President are decided if the Electoral College (EC) votes are exactly, evenly split between candidates and neither has the majority of EC votes when the tally is recorded.

The House of Representative gets to select the President from the list of candidates. They of course would have to select Joe Biden.

BUT, in the 50:50 split EC vote, the Senate gets to pick the Vice-President. The GOP-run Senate would of course choose Mike Pence. So we’d have a Democrat senile President elect Biden, and his Vice President would be Republican Mike Pence in a split decision along party lines.

So now when President-elect Joe Biden’s dementia state becomes unbearably obvious… who becomes President when his Vice-President is the Senate chosen Mike Pence?

That is too funny to even imagine how the Dimwits’ little scheme to elect a Senile old White guy undoes them and their machinations.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
August 3, 2020 7:27 pm

Remember, it’s not this congress that picks the President and Vice President. It’s the next one, the one that will be elected in November. The Dems will pull every dirty trick in the book and few they invented for the occasion to make sure they control the Senate as well.

Another oddity is that in the House, when voting for President, each state’s delegation get’s one vote, regardless of the size of the delegation. In the current congress, Republicans control 26 state delegations, the Democrats control 23, and there is one (Pennsylvania) that is evenly split. No telling what next year’s congress will look like.

That’s why I say that the Democrats will be desperate to steal every seat they can.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
August 3, 2020 8:24 pm

The funny thing though if there is a even split 50:50 tie in the Senate, the VP will still be Mike Pence on 6 January, 2021. So the Vice President would cast the tie-breaking vote to make himself the Vice President again. Which of course means with Dementia Joe’s almost certain babbling senile-state by then would make Pence the de facto President under the 20th and 25th Amendments.

This is another reason the Dems are so desperate to take the Senate. Their Senile Joe for President gambit depends on being able to install their Democrat Vice-President.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
August 4, 2020 6:12 am

Speaking of election chaos, New York once again steps up to be the poster child for the country. 6 weeks after the election, they still cannot name all the winners from this years primaries. All due to problems with mail-in ballots.

August 3, 2020 12:20 pm

Plagues tend to happen to already weakened populations. link It seems reasonable that a volcano or two caused crop failures and widespread privation among the population. That allowed a plague to come along as the icing on the cake.

Mike Dubrasich
Reply to  commieBob
August 3, 2020 1:11 pm

Icing on the cake?

The Black Death, aka Plague of Justinian (541-544 AD), is estimated to have k*11ed as much as one-half of Europe’s population at the time of the first outbreak.

That must have affected the market, as well as the producers. Many economic and agricultural endeavors must have gone belly up.

There is is no need to invoke “climate change”. When half the pop kicks the bucket all of a sudden, and the cause is known (the bacterium Yersinia pestis), then pulling magic new causes out of dark holes is not rational.

Next they’ll be blaming a concurrence of comets and Bigfoot.

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  Mike Dubrasich
August 3, 2020 1:47 pm

The plague, crop collapse and the Byzantines and Persians depleting each other with constant fighting.

Some people still wonder how the Arabs under Mohammad conquered everything but it’s quite simple.
He would have been squashed at the start otherwise

Reply to  Mike Dubrasich
August 3, 2020 1:57 pm

But there has actually long been a suspicion of some climate event in the 535 – 540 period. A Byzantine chronicler wrote of a summer where the sun only shone dimly, as though it were in eclipse. Chinese reports mention a dense, dark fog that covered the land in those years and prevented crops from growing. Some believe that the Norse legend of “fimblewinter”, a 3 year period with no sunlight, originated at this time. And in conjunction with the Justinian’s Plague, the mid 6th Century is referred to as the time of “The Death of the Nations”, as peoples and nations which had existed in some form or another for nearly 1500 years around the world collapsed into chaos. It is the recognized hard break between what we call the Ancient World and the early Medieval Dark Ages.

Reply to  Mike Dubrasich
August 3, 2020 2:29 pm

to Mike Dubrasich
August 3, 2020 at 1:11 pm

Icing on the cake?

Actually that phrase is perfect for the analogy–Icing on the cake for a diabetic…

Mike Dubrasich
Reply to  Shelly
August 3, 2020 4:56 pm

Bubonic Plague (caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis) struck again from 1346-1353. The Second Plague resulted in the deaths of up to 75–200 million people in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. An estimated 30-60% of Europeans died.

Was there a volcano that did it that time, too? Which one? Was the Second Plague “icing on the cake” from dreaded Extreme Climate Change™?

If not, then the theory pretty much sucks.

August 3, 2020 12:45 pm

Kenneth Richard at Notrickszone posted about this event (the Late Antique Ice Age) just a few days ago:
referrng to a paper that pointed out the sudden and dramatic cooling , and equally rapid rewarming in the NH
536 – 560AD and the social changes that it appears to have brought about in Europe and Central Asia .

Another link is to a possible cause , a series of volcanic eruptions and the aerosol induced hazing of sunlight .
An article for the general reader from History magazine says:
-Ancient historical records show that the year 536 A.D. was marked by the sudden appearance of a “dust veil” or “dry fog” that dimmed the sun and thrust the Northern Hemisphere into a period of bitter cold. “And it came about during this year that a most dread portent took place,” wrote the Byzantine chronicler Procopius. “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during this whole year, and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams that it shed were not clear nor such as it is accustomed to shed.” Other sources mention crop failures, summertime snowfalls, and fruits withering “at an unseasonable time.”
-“The mysterious dust cloud is now believed to have been the beginning of a cold spell triggered by a trio of catastrophic volcanic eruptions that took place in 536, 540 and 547 A.D. The eruptions would have spewed a massive amount of ash and aerosols into the atmosphere, blocking the sun’s rays and causing a substantial drop in temperatures. Scientists previously thought that the chill lasted only a few years, but a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience has suggested that the volcanic activity ushered in an unprecedented “Late Antique Little Ice Age” (LALIA) that extended for over a century and contributed to widespread famines, plagues, political upheaval and even the fall of empires.”-
“…. volcanic eruptions would have been the main factor, but the authors say the drop in temperatures was probably sustained by increases in sea ice and the effects of a solar minimum—a long interval of diminished sunspot activity. “This was the most dramatic cooling in the Northern Hemisphere in the past 2,000 years,” Meanwhile, just five years after the 536 A.D. volcanic eruption, the Byzantine kingdom of Justinian was rocked by a virulent plague that claimed some 50 million lives and weakened the last vestiges of the Roman Empire. The origins of the pandemic are still unclear, but the authors suggest that it may have entered Europe after bacteria-carrying wildlife wandered there in search of grazing lands.
The plunging temperatures also coincided with a period of mass migration across Eurasia. The researchers argue that the cold may have led the proto-Slavic peoples to first move from the greater Carpathian region to more hospitable climes in Eastern Europe. Farther east, ice age-induced food shortages may have caused nomadic steppe peoples to migrate toward China, sparking infighting and political strife. Some of these steppe groups would later ally themselves with the Eastern Romans and help topple the mighty Sasanian Empire in Persia.
Interestingly, the Late Antique Little Ice Age might have been a boon to a few cultures. An increase in precipitation could have watered the arid landscape of the Arabian Peninsula, bolstering the growth of scrub vegetation and contributing to the rise of the early Arab-Islamic empire. “Larger camel herds may have facilitated transportation of the Arab armies and their supplies during the substantial conquests in the seventh century,” the authors write.”-

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  mikewaite
August 3, 2020 12:57 pm

for WUWT’ers reading pleasure:

“Eruption of El Salvador’s Ilopango explains A.D. 536 cooling.”

“Why 536 was ‘the worst year to be alive’”

August 3, 2020 12:55 pm

There have been lots of coincident plagues and climate changes. The Greenies are pushing the current one to try to get us to panic – although panic is a useless and dangerous reaction. My poor 83 Y/O neighbour started to panic when my daughter-in-law-elect got pink-eye and had to go into isolation pending results from a WuFlu test. I got yesterday’s stats for covid in this region – <5 cases/100,000 population – and she relaxed. Scaring old ladies is not nice.

Bruce Cobb
August 3, 2020 12:58 pm

Pseudoscience. No way did a couple volcanoes “cause” a 300-year cold period, known as the Dark Ages. And, notice the trick of referring to it as “climate change”, as if it’s the same thing as today’s slight, beneficial warmup. So what then caused the ensuing 400-year MWP? Oh wait, they got rid of the MWP. My bad.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
August 3, 2020 6:01 pm

Just few years of bad harvest could collapse societies until recent times when Global transfer of grains and food crops now can prevent those famines and resulting instabilities.

Reply to  Bruce Cobb
August 4, 2020 6:15 am

Bruce Cobb:

“What then caused the 400-year MWP”

A period of very few volcanic eruptions.

For the period 950-1250, only 31 eruptions. 13, 7, 11 per century..

Of these, there were only 9 VEI5’s 3, 5 1 per century

August 3, 2020 1:17 pm

Why blame it on CC caused by volcanoes (that we can’t even identify) when from historical records we know that the Justinian Bubonic plague almost stopped trade due to up to the death of up to half the citizens in cities along supply routes. Wine, a highly traded agricultural commodity prior to that, also was suddenly highly taxed by Justinian.
From arstecnica….
“Persia’s Sassanid Dynasty began harrying Justinian’s borders in 540, sacking Antioch and other Byzantine cities. Those incursions marked the start of 20 years of conflict—skirmishes with the Persians to the east and expensive wars with the Goths in Italy, where Justinian sought to retake Rome. The Byzantine historian Procopius writes that Justinian taxed agricultural products heavily to fund his wars of reconquest. “

Walter Sobchak
August 3, 2020 1:18 pm

The Subject of the end of the Roman Warm Period and the collapse of the Empire is told by:

The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire (The Princeton History of the Ancient World Book 2) by Kyle Harper (2017)

“How devastating viruses, pandemics, and other natural catastrophes swept through the far-flung Roman Empire and helped to bring down one of the mightiest civilizations of the ancient world

“Here is the monumental retelling of one of the most consequential chapters of human history: the fall of the Roman Empire. The Fate of Rome is the first book to examine the catastrophic role that climate change and infectious diseases played in the collapse of Rome’s power—a story of nature’s triumph over human ambition.

“Interweaving a grand historical narrative with cutting-edge climate science and genetic discoveries, Kyle Harper traces how the fate of Rome was decided not just by emperors, soldiers, and barbarians but also by volcanic eruptions, solar cycles, climate instability, and devastating viruses and bacteria. He takes readers from Rome’s pinnacle in the second century, when the empire seemed an invincible superpower, to its unraveling by the seventh century, when Rome was politically fragmented and materially depleted. Harper describes how the Romans were resilient in the face of enormous environmental stress, until the besieged empire could no longer withstand the combined challenges of a “little ice age” and recurrent outbreaks of bubonic plague.

“A poignant reflection on humanity’s intimate relationship with the environment, The Fate of Rome provides a sweeping account of how one of history’s greatest civilizations encountered and endured, yet ultimately succumbed to the cumulative burden of nature’s violence. The example of Rome is a timely reminder that climate change and germ evolution have shaped the world we inhabit—in ways that are surprising and profound.”

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  Walter Sobchak
August 3, 2020 9:12 pm

For a second I saw “Climate Disease” and not Climate, Disease, …

Ref: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation is a non-fiction book written by Lynne Truss

August 3, 2020 1:23 pm

The JG/U 2K tree ring study clearly shows what appears to be a gsm right around that time, …comment image

August 3, 2020 1:51 pm

Cooling caused by a volcano caused problems.
Therefore we have proven that warming caused by CO2 is going to destroy everything.
Or something like that.

Smart Rock
August 3, 2020 2:38 pm

In more recent times, we’ve had the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 which apparently led to cooling for a year or so, 1816 being “the year without a summer”, although I recall that even this has been contested here at WUWT. The Tambora eruption was a really major event of which Wiki says “The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora was the most powerful Volcanic eruption in human history, with a Volcanic Explosivity Index of 7. It is the most recently known VEI-7 event and the only unambiguously confirmed VEI-7 eruption since the Lake Taupo eruption in about 180 AD

Then there was Krakatau in 1883 and Bandai in 1888, both really big volcanic events with not much effect on global climate.

So if “the most powerful Volcanic eruption in human history” caused a year or two of cooling, what kind of volcanic eruption would lead to a century or more of cold weather?

I submit that there is a lot about climate that we don’t understand.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  Smart Rock
August 3, 2020 9:46 pm

I recall that even this has been contested here at WUWT.

Willis E. wrote:

J Savage
August 4, 2020 5:55 am

It’s remarkable to contemplate such a long lived empire, which survived so many external threats. Constantinople, which was the capital of the late Roman Empire, finally fell in the 1490’s. The Hagia Sophia was only converted to a mosque last month, an event many chose to ignore, but which is perhaps the most significant historical cultural event so far this century.

August 4, 2020 7:24 am

From the Abstract, highlight formatting are mine:

“We present empirical evidence for local viticulture of scale and its connection to Mediterranean trade. Offering unprecedented testimony to the globalization of an ancient production economy in a marginal environment, our archaeobotanical and ceramic dataset illuminates the rise and fall of local viticulture in the fourth to sixth centuries of the common era (CE). Decline likely resulted from market contraction triggered by plague and climate change rather than Islamic conquest, exposing systemic vulnerabilities of Negev agricultural commercialization.

• “Empirical” evidence.
• “Local viticulture” scale and trade
• “Rise and fall” from 4th to 6th centuries.
• “Decline likely caused by market contraction
• Speculative causes include “plague and climate change”
• “Exposing systemic vulnerabilities of Negev agricultural commercialization

Estimated volumes of wine trade show a rather common if limited samples bell chart.
comment image?width=800&height=600&carousel=1

Rather than a sudden collapse, the graph shows a decline in demand, reasons unknown.

This study does not confirm any viticulture decline cause. The authors speculate about grand causes for the decline but do not prove any cause.

Another example of rough correlations plus Confirmation Biases are presented as grand conclusions.

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