Ghost Empire

Richard (Rick) Mills

Ahead of the Herd

Page 1 of 2

As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information

 

Drought is a normal recurring feature of the climate in most parts of the world. It doesn’t get the attention of a tornado, hurricane or flood. Instead, it’s a slower and less obvious, a much quieter disaster creeping up on us unawares.

 

Climate change is currently warming many regions, warmer temperatures increase the frequency and intensity of heat waves and droughts.

 

We can prepare for some climate change consequences with public education, water conservation programs, limiting pumping from our freshwater aquifers to recharge rates and putting in place early warning systems for extreme heat events.

 

Unfortunately some things cannot be prepared for…like the pervasiveness and persistence of a hundred year drought caused by climate change.

 

The collapse of the world’s earliest known empire was because of drought.

 

The Akkadians of Mesopotamia forged the world's first empire more than 4,300 years ago. The Akkad’s seized control of cities along the Euphrates River and swept up onto the plains to the north – in a short period of time their empire stretched 800 miles, all the way from the Persian Gulf to the headwaters of the Euphrates, through what is now Iraq, Syria and parts of southern Turkey.

 

Tell Leilan was a small village founded by some of the world’s first farmers. It’s located in present day Syria and has existed for over 8,000 years. The Akkad’s conquered Tell Leilan around 2300 B.C. and the area became the breadbasket for the Akkadian empire.

 

After only a hundred years the Akkadian empire started to collapse.

 

In 1978, Harvey Weiss, a Yale archaeologist, began excavating the city of Tell Leilan. Everywhere Weiss dug he encountered a layer of dirt that contained no signs of human habitation. This dirt layer corresponded to the years 2200 to 1900 B.C. - the time of Akkad’s fall.

 

The Curse of Akkad

 

For the first time since cities were built and founded,

The great agricultural tracts produced no grain,

The inundated tracts produced no fish,

The irrigated orchards produced neither wine nor syrup,

The gathered clouds did not rain, the masgurum did not grow.

At that time, one shekel's worth of oil was only one-half quart,

One shekel's worth of grain was only one-half quart. . . .

These sold at such prices in the markets of all the cities!

He who slept on the roof, died on the roof,

He who slept in the house, had no burial,

People were flailing at themselves from hunger.

 

The events described in "The Curse of Akkad" were always thought to be fictional. But the evidence Weiss uncovered at Tell Leilan (along with elevated dust deposits in sea-cores collected off Oman) suggest that localized climate change - in Tell Leilan’s case a three hundred year drought,  desertification, was the major cause. 

"Since this is probably the first abrupt climate change in recorded history that caused major social upheaval. It raises some interesting questions about how volatile climate conditions can be and how well civilizations can adapt to abrupt crop failures." Dr. Harvey Weiss, Yale University archeologist

 

Ghost Empire

 

Perhaps the most notable empire decline due to drought, or altered precipitation patterns, was the Maya empire. At the peak of their glory the Maya ranged from Mexico's Yucatán peninsula to Honduras. Some 60 Maya cities - each home to upwards of 70,000 people - sprang up across much of modern day Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula.

"The early Classic Maya period was unusually wet, wetter than the previous thousand years… Mayan systems were founded on those [high] rainfall patterns. They could not support themselves when patterns changed." Douglas Kennett, an environmental anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University.

During the wettest centuries, from 440 to 660, Maya civilization flourished.

 

Then things got worse, much worse. The following centuries, to roughly 1000 A.D., did not treat the Mayas as kindly, they suffered repeatedly from drought, oftentimes extreme drought lasting a decade and more.

 

Between 1020 and 1100 the region suffered the longest dry spell in many millennia. The Maya’s suffered crop failure after failure, famine, death and eventually mass migration.

 

“Yucatecan lake sediment cores ... provide unambiguous evidence for a severe 200-year drought from AD 800 to 1000 ... the most severe in the last 7,000 years ... precisely at the time of the Maya Collapse.” Richardson Gill, The Great Maya Droughts

 

After 200 years of drought, in just an eye-blink of time, famine and drought held sway, most people walked away leaving behind a ghost empire.

 

 

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