300-year drought frames Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age transition in the Near East: new palaeoecological data from Cyprus and Syria

  • David KaniewskiEmail author
  • Nick Marriner
  • Joachim Bretschneider
  • Greta Jans
  • Christophe Morhange
  • Rachid Cheddadi
  • Thierry Otto
  • Frédéric Luce
  • Elise Van Campo
Original Article


In Eastern Mediterranean history, 1200 BCE is a symbolic date. Its significance is tied to the important upheavals that destabilised regional-scale economic systems, leading to the dislocation of mighty Empires and, finally, to the “demise” of a societal model (termed “the Crisis Years”). Recent studies have suggested that a centuries-long drought, of regional scale, termed the 3.2 ka BP event, could be one of the motors behind this spiral of decline. Here, we focus on this pivotal period, coupling new palaeoenvironmental data and radiocarbon dates from Syria (the site of Tell Tweini) and Cyprus (the site of Pyla-Kokkinokremnos), to probe whether climate change accelerated changes in the Eastern Mediterranean’s Old World, by inducing crop failures/low harvests, possibly engendering severe food shortages and even famine. We show that the Late Bronze Age crisis and the following Dark Ages were framed by an ~ 300-year drought episode that significantly impacted crop yields and may have led to famine. Our data underline the agro-productive sensitivity of ancient Mediterranean societies to environmental changes, as well as the potential link between adverse climate pressures and harvest/famine.


Late Bronze Age crisis Climate change Drought 3.2 ka BP event Food shortages Famine Eastern Mediterranean 


Funding information

Support was provided by the Institut Universitaire de France, CLIMSORIENT program, the University of Ghent—Department of Archaeology and the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO, G010218 N). This work is a contribution to Labex OT-Med (n° ANR-11-LABX-0061) and has received funding from the Excellence Initiative of Aix-Marseille University—A*MIDEX, a French “Investissements d’Avenir” project.

Compliance with ethical standards

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10113_2018_1460_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (67 kb)
ESM 1 (XLSX 67 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Kaniewski
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Nick Marriner
    • 4
  • Joachim Bretschneider
    • 5
  • Greta Jans
    • 6
  • Christophe Morhange
    • 7
    • 8
  • Rachid Cheddadi
    • 9
  • Thierry Otto
    • 1
    • 2
  • Frédéric Luce
    • 1
    • 2
  • Elise Van Campo
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Université Paul Sabatier-Toulouse 3EcoLab (Laboratoire d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Environnement)Toulouse cedex 9France
  2. 2.CNRS, EcoLab (Laboratoire d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Environnement)Toulouse cedex 9France
  3. 3.Secteur Biologie-Médecine-SantéInstitut Universitaire de FranceParisFrance
  4. 4.CNRS, Laboratoire Chrono-Environnement UMR6249Université de Franche-Comté, UFR STBesançonFrance
  5. 5.Department of Archaeology / Ancient Near East, Faculty of Art and PhilosophyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  6. 6.Near Eastern Studies, Faculteit LetterenKatholieke Universiteit LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  7. 7.CNRS, IRD, INRA, Collège de France, CEREGEAix-Marseille UniversitéAix-en-ProvenceFrance
  8. 8.Recanati Institute for Maritime StudiesUniversity of Haifa (RIMS)HaifaIsrael
  9. 9.Université Montpellier II, CNRS-UM2-IRD, ISEMMontpellierFrance

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