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      Human responses to climate and ecosystem change in ancient Arabia


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          Over the last 12,000 y, humans have faced a variety of challenges from climatic variability, either leading to a wide range of technological, economic and cultural responses, or societal collapse. In southeastern Arabia, ancient droughts appear to have corresponded with the decline of inland occupations and population movements to resource-rich areas on the coast, with transformative societal effects. Data from northern Arabia suggest that Holocene populations responded to environmental challenges through high mobility, managing water sources, and transforming their economies. Though more interdisciplinary archaeological data remain to be gathered from Arabia, these examples illustrate diverse strategies to resilience and provide important lessons for a world in which climate predictions forecast dramatic changes in temperature and precipitation.


          Recent interdisciplinary archaeological and paleoenvironmental research in the Arabian peninsula is transforming our understanding of ancient human societies in their ecological contexts. Hypotheses about the cultural and demographic impacts of a series of droughts have primarily been developed from the environmental and archaeological records of southeastern Arabia. Here we examine these human–environment interactions by integrating ongoing research from northern Arabia. While droughts and extreme environmental variability in the Holocene had significant impacts on human societies, responses varied across space and time and included mobility at various scales, as well as diverse social, economic and cultural adaptations, such as the management of water resources, the introduction of pastoral lifeways, and the construction of diverse types of stone structures. The long-term story of human societies in Arabia is one of resilience in the face of climate change, yet future challenges include rising temperatures and flash flooding. The history of human responses to climatic and ecosystem changes in Arabia can provide important lessons for a planet facing catastrophic global warming and environmental change.

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          Most cited references54

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          Climate and the collapse of Maya civilization.

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          In the anoxic Cariaco Basin of the southern Caribbean, the bulk titanium content of undisturbed sediment reflects variations in riverine input and the hydrological cycle over northern tropical South America. A seasonally resolved record of titanium shows that the collapse of Maya civilization in the Terminal Classic Period occurred during an extended regional dry period, punctuated by more intense multiyear droughts centered at approximately 810, 860, and 910 A.D. These new data suggest that a century-scale decline in rainfall put a general strain on resources in the region, which was then exacerbated by abrupt drought events, contributing to the social stresses that led to the Maya demise.
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              Is Open Access

              Implications of climate change for agricultural productivity in the early twenty-first century

              This paper reviews recent literature concerning a wide range of processes through which climate change could potentially impact global-scale agricultural productivity, and presents projections of changes in relevant meteorological, hydrological and plant physiological quantities from a climate model ensemble to illustrate key areas of uncertainty. Few global-scale assessments have been carried out, and these are limited in their ability to capture the uncertainty in climate projections, and omit potentially important aspects such as extreme events and changes in pests and diseases. There is a lack of clarity on how climate change impacts on drought are best quantified from an agricultural perspective, with different metrics giving very different impressions of future risk. The dependence of some regional agriculture on remote rainfall, snowmelt and glaciers adds to the complexity. Indirect impacts via sea-level rise, storms and diseases have not been quantified. Perhaps most seriously, there is high uncertainty in the extent to which the direct effects of CO2 rise on plant physiology will interact with climate change in affecting productivity. At present, the aggregate impacts of climate change on global-scale agricultural productivity cannot be reliably quantified.

                Author and article information

                Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
                Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
                National Academy of Sciences
                14 April 2020
                13 April 2020
                13 April 2020
                : 117
                : 15
                : 8263-8270
                [1] aDepartment of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History , 07745 Jena, Germany;
                [2] bHuman Origins Program, Smithsonian Institution , Washington, DC 20560;
                [3] cSchool of Social Science, The University of Queensland , Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia;
                [4] dExtreme Events Research Group, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology , 07745 Jena, Germany;
                [5] e Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry , 07745 Jena, Germany;
                [6] fInstitute for Geographical Sciences, Freie Universität Berlin , 12249 Berlin, Germany;
                [7] gDepartment of Geography, King’s College London , London, WC2B 4BG, United Kingdom;
                [8] hDepartment of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution , Washington, DC 20560;
                [9] iDepartment of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Calgary , Calgary, AB T2N 1N4, Canada
                Author notes
                1To whom correspondence may be addressed. Email: petraglia@ 123456shh.mpg.de .

                Edited by Torben C. Rick, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, and accepted by Editorial Board Member Dolores R. Piperno February 3, 2020 (received for review November 20, 2019)

                Author contributions: M.D.P. designed research; M.D.P., H.S.G., M.G., and P.S.B. performed research; M.D.P., M.G., and P.S.B. analyzed data; and M.D.P., H.S.G., M.G., P.S.B., and N.B. wrote the paper.

                PMC7165439 PMC7165439 7165439 201920211

                Published under the PNAS license.

                Page count
                Pages: 8
                Funded by: Max Planck Society
                Award ID: N/A
                Award Recipient : Michael D. Petraglia Award Recipient : Huw S. Groucutt Award Recipient : Maria Guagnin Award Recipient : Paul S. Breeze Award Recipient : Nicole Boivin
                Archaeology, Climate, and Global Change Special Feature
                Research Articles
                Social Sciences
                Custom metadata

                prehistory,climate change,droughts,archaeology,global warming


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