Zebu: Harbingers of Doom in Bronze Age Western Asia?

By Matthews, Roger | Antiquity, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Zebu: Harbingers of Doom in Bronze Age Western Asia?


Matthews, Roger, Antiquity


Collapse and climate in the Bronze Age

A major area of study in recent years has been that of the collapse of complex human societies (Tainter 1988). In parallel with issues of the rise of civilization and the growth of complex states, there has been a developing interest in their decline and fall, especially as correlated against episodes of climatic change (Butzer 1995). Few areas of the world offer such rich, varied and chronologically deep material on this topic as western Asia.

Throughout the late prehistory and early history of western Asia long periods of relative stability, in gross terms, were punctuated by short, sharp episodes of disruption and change. Three major phases of massive and widespread cultural disruption appear to have occurred. These episodes took place at the start, in the middle and at the close of the Bronze Age, that is at approximately 3000, 2200 and 1200 BC. In each case there is persuasive, although not universally accepted, evidence for the collapse of Bronze Age societies. The first of these punctuations is attested in the collapse of the `Uruk world system' at the very transition of the Chalcolithic and Bronze Ages (Algaze 1993). At this time, the end of the 4th millennium, there is evidence for a sharp curtailment of the previously broad spread of south Mesopotamian cultural influence and for substantial social and political upheaval across vast areas.

At the end of the Early Bronze Age, in the late 3rd millennium, well-established empires and civilizations fell apart and died. In Mesopotamia, the empire of Akkad shrank rapidy from its greatest spread to an embattled and short-lived core in the south. Large-scale settlement upheavals and social collapse are attested by archaeological evidence from much of the Mediterranean world and beyond, including the Iberian Peninsula, Greece and the Aegean, the Levant, Egypt, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Iran and the Indus Valley (Peltenburg 2000; Weiss 2000; Weiss & Bradley 2001). Effects of this dramatic episode appear to linger on for a period of a millennium or more in marginal regions most sensitive to climatic fluctuations, such as the western Habur River area of north Syria, completely abandoned by permanent settlement through the later 3rd and all of the 2nd millennia BC (Hole 1997).

A thousand years later, at the end of the Late Bronze Age around 1200 BC, a comparable scale of social and state collapse is attested by archaeological and historical evidence from an equally broad geographical range (Neumann & Parpola 1987; Ward & Joukowsky 1992). In Anatolia the Hittite empire came to a sudden end, and there is convincing evidence for widespread disruption across much of the Mediterranean world.

Many scholars believe that climatic factors were heavily implicated in the timing and nature of these vast and complex processes. Based on examination of climatic evidence from a range of sources, Butzer has underlined the importance of three `incisive episodes of major ecological significance, perceptible to some degree or other throughout the Near East', occurring at approximately 3000, 2200 and 1300 BC (Butzer 1995: 136-8). In environmental terms, the single major element of these devastating episodes, called `dry shifts' by Butzer, is a substantial decrease in precipitation, as attested by fluctuations in the water levels of Lake Van (east Anatolia) and Lake Zeribar (west Iran), and in oak-pollen records obtained from sediment sequences from these two lakes (Butzer 1995: figure 2). In addition, evidence from deep-sea sediments from such widely separated locations as the North Atlantic (deMenocal 2001) and the Gulf of Oman (Cullen et al. 2000) reinforces the picture of regular and protracted episodes of excessively cool and dry climate in the Bronze Age, putatively caused by fluctuations in solar irradiance and volcanism (deMenocal 2001: 668). The Gulf of Oman evidence, in particular, shows an abrupt increase in wind-borne dust of Mesopotamian origin lasting for a period of 300 years from about 2300 BC (Cullen et al. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Zebu: Harbingers of Doom in Bronze Age Western Asia?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.