In the last post, I presented a 12,000-year table of events in Southern Mesopotamia from the last Ice Age 18 kya (kiloyears ago) through the rise of the Ubaid in the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley now beneath the Persian Gulf, then settling in Southern Mesopotamia when the Persian Gulf stabilized, until the Ubaid collapse during the 5.9 kya drought. There was also a second small table expanding the area to include the western Fertile Crescent from that 5.9 kya drought until 500 BC. In those tables, there are six major climatic events marked in red, each of which changed history. I have consolidated and updated the table with more data, and will continue to do. The present version is inserted below my signature at the bottom of this post.
The massive drought 4.2 kiloyears ago (2200-2000 BC) is especially daunting and well-recorded (although the records were hidden until recent advances in science) because it brought down the Egyptian Old Kingdom and the Akkadian empire, and crippled the resurgent Sumerian civilization that had been struggling with the Akkadians and Gutians during the 3rd millennium BC. The 3rd dynasty of Ur received the opportunity when Akkad fell earlier in the drought. But, unsurprisingly, Ur was also fatally weakened by that horrific drought and unable to defend itself from Elam (based in western Iran), similar to Akkad’s earlier fall to the Gutians.
After Ur’s fall, Abraham (the faith-filled patriarch of the world’s three monotheistic religions) emigrated from the city with his paternal and filial family groups in the early 2nd millennium BC—a likely moment for surviving residents of Ur to be seeking new homelands.
I want to focus on that 4.2 kya drought because we have a good first video of how modern archaeology in the past 20 years has connected the dots identified by two archaeologists, a paleoclimatologist, and a team of paleoclimate researchers from a number of different countries:
- Challenged by the bitter story of starvation told by then-controversial wall paintings in an Egyptian Old Kingdom tomb, a tenacious archaeologist, Dr. Fekri Hassan, studied the deserts bordering the Nile Valley and the river’s flood history, then drilled sediment cores from a lake fed by the Nile and found the lake had completely dried up at the time of the Old Kingdom collapse.
- Archaeologist Dr. Donald B. Redford found in an excavation in the Egyptian Delta hundreds of skeletons lying helter-skelter, with evidence of widespread violence and starvation, and a generalized abandonment of the bodies where they fell. Dated the skeletons to the fall of the Old Kingdom showed the collapse was not a political event but a long-term massive drought.
- Paleoclimatologist Dr. Miryam Bar-Matthews found evidence in Soreq Cave (Israel) speleothems of a massive drought which dated to the Old Kingdom’s fall.
- These findings were confirmed by paleoclimate researchers studying ice cores from Iceland glaciers who found and dated a huge global drought coincident with the fall of the Old Kingdom.
Here is that first video showing the above four investigations and how they fit together.
In our second video, a well-produced Oriental Institute lecture, cutting-edge calibrated radiocarbon dating by Felix Höflmayer precisely dates the collapse of Egypt’s Old Kingdom and the Akkad Empire in Mesopotamia to the 4.2 kya Drought event. Höflmayer also demonstrates that the collapse of Levantine cities in Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria were not coincident with the 4.2 kya event, but happened 300 years earlier, around 4.5 kya—which correlates with other evidence that exports to Egypt (dated by pottery analysis) from those Levantine cities had stopped earlier. Here is the second video.
These two videos have given you a tour de force of modern, scientific archaeology at its best. And if you have read the above and diligently watched the two videos, you have well invested a couple of hours learning to see clearly how catastrophic were the events represented by those six red rows in the table below.
After seeing the skeletons of the starved masses in lower Egypt in the first video, you can easily imagine how the millennium-long Old Kingdom Culture disintegrated. The impact of this mega-drought upon Egypt and Akkad is breathtaking. Something else wiped out those city-states in the Levant 300 years earlier, and I wouldn’t be surprised if later evidence relates this destruction to the hegemonies of Akkad and Egypt, or more likely pestilence.
Once the drought stopped, it would take generations to reconstitute substantial new local cultures—if the world stood still and kept the bad guys away. Unfortunately for Ur’s 3rd dynasty, they apparently didn’t have sufficient opportunity to recover after Akkad’s fall, as the lingering enervating drought continued to drain their strength. Murphy’s Law prevailed, and the Elamite armies arrived and sacked them. But, if they hadn’t, Abraham’s father might never have taken his family out of Ur, and monotheism would not now dominate most of mankind. Indeed, this wasn’t left to chance.
You will find the latest update of the table of long-term cultural progression in the Fertile Crescent below my signature.
That’s enough for today.
Thanks for visiting,
R. E. J. Burke