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inherited the weather god along with Jewish monotheism: 'And the
Lord will cause his majestic voice to be heard .. . with a cloudburst
and tempest and hailstones' (Isaiah 30:30). The Old Testament is shot
through with such images. 78
The aridity of the Sub-Boreal affected Europe, North Africa and
West Asia, but also other parts of the world. Thus, dendrochronological studies tell us that around 1200 BC the annual growth of
Ca lifornian brisdecone pines began a sharp decline that lasted several
centuries, which might point to a shift in heavy rainfall patterns.
South Asia was also once more affected by drier conditions: monsoon
crop yields must have fallen by 70 per cent in Rajasthan between
1300 and 900 BC, and pollen analysis allows us to detect the end of
the ancient Indian civilization. It was during this period that the Great
Indian Desert, the Thar, came into being.79 In China the last decades
of the Shang dynasty (c. 1766-1122 BC) witnessed climatic turbulence, a darkening of the sun by 'dry fog', the appearance of a triple
sun, unnatural cold spells, frost in July, nighttime ice in the Yellow
River valley (where it was normally much too hot), harvest failures
and famines, heavy rainfall and flooding followed by a seven-year
drought. These disturbances led to the fall of the dynasty and continued into the early years of the Chu dynasty (c. 1122-249 BC). 80
The great upheavals around 1200 BC signified a far-reaching cultural shift. The rise of iron in the Middle East was perhaps due less
to bronze shortages than to an increase in military conflicts. Unlike
copper and tin, iron ore deposits were quite widely distributed.
Anyone who had mastered the new technology could equip armies
and win wars, and also produce cheap durable tools for craftsmen
and farmers. The Iron Age ushered in the rise of new empires, which
over the subsequent period absorbed many of the old commercial
centres. Cities by no means lost their importance. However, the
greater urbanization within the new empires was no longer geared to
long-distance trade and local agricu lture, but rather to extensive
systems of tribute. The transition from Bronze Age to Iron Age is
sometimes considered to be as significant as the N eolithic Revolution
around 3000 BC. 8 1 And for some years it has been suggested, with
good reason, that this cultural shift was associated with climatic
change. 82
The 'climate plunge' and political unrest around BOO BC

In rainy Europe the drier climate did not pose an insuperable

problem; rather it was the temperature drop at the end of the Bronze



Age that caused major conflicts. Appropriately, Europe entered Iron

Age culture at the same time. The long warm and dry period of
the Bronze Age gave way around 800 BC- roughly 2,800 years ago
- to the cooler climate of the ('post-warming') Subatlantic Age.
The period is very roughly divided intO two phases: Subatlantic I
(the early 'post-warming' period, c. 800 BC to AD 1000), during
which, apart from a mini-optimum phase in antiquity, it was
rather cooler and wetter than today; and - after the medieval warm
period - Subatlantic II ('later post-warming period', from c. AD
1300 to the twentieth century), in which we were living until recently.
This phase of the Late H olocene coincided with the histOrical age
of human civilization and will be considered more closely in the
next chapters.
The 'climate plunge' around 800 BC was first discovered in archaeological excavations, then confirmed by palaeobiologists . Archaeologists found it especially interesting that different cultures prevailed in
Central Europe before and after the climate plunge: the Bronze Age
urnfield culture before (whose name comes from its burial rites,
involving cremation and the keeping of ashes in urns); the Iron Age
Hallstatt culture after. The link between climatic and cultural change
is so striking that the question is often raised in the literature as to
whether the transition to iron use was causally related to the less
favourable climate. For the improved till ing of the soil with iron
ploughs was able to offset declining agricultural yields, while iron
weapons increased the chances of survival in an age when military
conflicts were on the rise. This would seem to be an example of how
technological and economic innovations ('progress') may be triggered
by a worsening of the dim ate. 83
The urnfield culture ended in a time of cooling and heavier rainfall.
In many parts of Europe finds from the urnfield period lay beneath
thick layers of mud; the H allstatt finds are always higher, though
only rarely in the same places. This means not only that the metal
deposits and burial sites varied, but also that settlement patterns and
ways of life changed. Palaeobiologists now ascribe different plant
pollens to the archaeological strata and consider that nature too
changed radically within a short space of time. 84 With the onset of
the Subatlantic, average temperatures fell by 1 to 2 degrees Celsius,
and rainfall increased quite appreciably. 85 Snow remained longer and
over larger areas, glaciers grew, and tree lines moved lower (some
300 to 4 00 metres lower in the Alps, to the height at which they were
at the beginning of the twentieth century). The h igh mountain pastures of the Bronze Age had to be abandoned, and Alpine settlements



importance of livestock breeding vis-a-vis agriculture increased as a

result of unreliable harvests.
The advance of salt-mining has also been associated with the
climate change, since it was no longer possible to preserve food
through wind-drying. If meat was to be kept, it had to be pickled in
brine. T his was all the more necessary because the Iron Age, with its
farming improvements based on more durable ploughs, hoes and
axes, had again brought about an increase in popu lation. Salt mines
such as the ones at Hallein-Diirrnberg and Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut experienced a boom that turned them into centres of culture.
The earlier period of the Iron Age in Central Europe (up tO the fifth
century BC) is named, after them, the Hallstatt period. 86
After what has been said so far, it is clear that the climate change
around 800 BC - which in the literature has also been termed the
'Hallstatt disaster' 87 - resulted in large-scale migratory movements
and other adjustments to the new ecological conditions. Even in times
of lower settlement density, the occupation of new land cannot have
taken place without frictional losses. Furthermore, the growing
importance of iron ore and salt mining, as well as the displacement
of transport routes, led to the choice of different areas for
In other parts of the world, too, the 'climate plunge' around 800
BC resulted in migratory movements and warfare. In Egypt, after the
reign of Pharaoh Takeloth II (860-835 BC), there was a political
decline that led to collapse of the kingdom and persistent civil war.
It was not previously thought that this anarchy was related tO climate
change. But, in the economic upturn that began in the seventh century
BC, epigraphs plead for the beneficial effects of the Nile flood- which
perhaps shows where the problems had lain until then. 88

From Roman Optimum to Medieval Warm Period

The wet and cool climate of the Subatlantic period, with its cool
summers and mild, rainy winters, lasted roughly until the time of
Christ's birth - that is, through the whole age of the Roman kings
and the Republic. The water table was probably higher than it is
today, and in North Africa too the oases offered an ample basis for
life. This explains why North Africa could become the 'granary' of
the Roman empire. 89 The civilizations of the Greek and Etruscan
city-states and of the Roman Republic developed in this favourable
climate. 90