Sunday, January 28 2001 @ 04:22 PM EST Contributed by: Porfiry Contrary to common beliefs, societal collapses of the past have been caused by sudden climate change, not only by social, political and economic factors, Yale anthropologist Harvey Weiss reports in a new study published in this week's Science. "Our conclusions are both surprising and challenging because in the past, archaeologists and anthropologists have commonly explained collapsed societies as the result of social, economic and political forces combined," said Weiss, professor of Near Eastern archaeology at Yale.
For their study, Weiss and his colleague, Raymond S. Bradley of University of
Massachusetts, Amherst, summarized and synthesized recent archaeological and
paleoclimatological research. This allowed them to understand that repeated incidents of
societal collapse in the archaeological and historical past have been the product of
abrupt, natural climate changes.
"These data force a change in some general social science understandings," said Weiss.
"The data are also important because they underscore the difference between past
climate changes and present-future climate change. Past climate changes were
unrelated to human activities. In contrast, present and future climate change will
involve both natural and anthropogenic forces and will be increasingly dominated by the
The climatic events Weiss describes in the study were abrupt, involved new conditions
that were unfamiliar to the inhabitants of the time, and persisted for decades or
centuries. They were therefore highly disruptive, Weiss said, leading to societal
collapse-an adaptive response to otherwise insurmountable stresses.
The study describes well-documented examples of societal collapse dating back to
about 12,500 to 11,500 years ago with the Natufian communities in southwest Asia. This
community suddenly abandoned seasonally nomadic hunting and gathering activities that
required relatively low inputs of labor to sustain low population densities and replaced
these with new labor-intensive subsistence strategies of plant cultivation and animal
Weiss said a major difference from the past is that we are now able to foresee the
results of these climate changes and are able to understand the technological and social
innovations which could allow us to address them.
"We also know where the population growth will be greatest," Weiss adds. "We must use
this information to design strategies that minimize the impact of climate change on
societies that are at greater risk. This will require substantial international cooperation,
without which the 21st century will likely witness unprecedented social disruptions."
The Natufian Culture
Unique in the evolution of human societies in the Near East,
the Natufian culture was a threshold to the Early Neolithic.
Although probably still hunter-gatherers between 12,400 and
10,200 B.P., their steps toward a sedentary way of life has
led researchers to postulate early villages.
Die ersten Häuser in Palästina wurden vor etwa 11000 Jahren
(9000 v. Chr.) von Menschen der Natuf-Kultur errichtet. Der
Begriff Natuf-Kultur oder Natufien bezieht sich auf die Funde aus
der Schubka-Höhle im Wadi an Natuf am Westhang des
Judäischen Gebirges. Die Häuser der Natuf-Kultur waren
Rundbauten, die auf Steinmauern standen.