El Niño in Prehistory

  • Richard Grove
  • George Adamson
Part of the Palgrave Studies in World Environmental History book series (PSWEH)


A western Pacific sediment core provides us with an indication of the early activity of the Holocene El Niño. Stronger activity is evident around 4200, 3700 and 3300 BP. These first periods of severe El Niños correspond with a number of significant droughts that affected major northern hemisphere civilisations, especially in Mesopotamia and Egypt. The earliest literate societies, particularly those of Ancient Egypt, have left us with a clear impression of the colossal impact of these droughts: in 2200–1850, 1500–1650 and 1150–1250 BCE. A further series of droughts between 500 and 900 CE also had catastrophic impacts on human populations in India and the Americas, during a period that has been termed the ‘Dark Ages’. In all cases El Niño is highly implicated.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Grove
    • 1
  • George Adamson
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for World Environmental HistoryUniversity of SussexBrightonUK
  2. 2.Department of GeographyKing’s College LondonLondonUK

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