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Climate change and socio-economic transformations in the Late Antiquity of the Middle East



Project Team

Mr Matthew Jacobson, Professor Dominik Fleitmann (UoReading), Dr Alison Gascoigne (UoSouthampton)






Middle East

Key Contact

Mr Matthew Jacobson, Professor Dominik Fleitmann


Palaeoclimate, History, Archaeology, Economic History, Environmental History,




In the past decade, frequent and intense droughts have caused mass civil unrest in the Middle-East. The Syrian droughts between 2007 and 2010 reduced agricultural output to a level unable to sustain the population, leaving up to 1.5 million people displaced. This led to enhanced politico-economic instability in a region where these systems were already vulnerable. The dramatic socio-economic effects, immediately following this drought, underline the importance of water for political stability in the region. Despite evidence suggesting that climate change, in combination with war and political instability, has led to these humanitarian crises, the contribution of drought is still vehemently debated. It is therefore important that additional evidence is produced to further test the idea that climate change can cause societal upheaval, especially when in combination with a plethora of other factors, so that we can best prepare to combat social problems that arise as a result of climate change. Late Antiquity (~300-800 CE) has been identified as a period of societal transformation in the Middle East, and yet the environmental factors that have been deemed important for similar developments in Central and Western Europe during this time have been largely ignored in the discussion.

Our research

This project will produce a number of multi-proxy speleothem(stalagmite)-based palaeoclimate records for the region and then examine correlations between this data and previous archaeological/historical research to verify what impact climate (esp. droughts) had on empires, communities and individuals. This work is being completed with international collaborators from a range of disciplines, including archaeologists, historians, meteorologists, palaeobotanists, psychologists and geochemists.

Our impact

By testing the current methodologies in combining palaeo-environmental and archaeological/historical datasets, this research will identify biases, inconsistencies and problems with the methodology. From this a new interdisciplinary approach will be developed for examining the impacts of climate change (and extreme weather events) on past societies - this should highlight possible interactions between people and climate in the future, to help us better prepare for the local impacts of global climate change.