Remember your history classes at school. Akkad was the first empire of all time. It was founded by King Sargon 4,400 years ago after some victorious conquests that unified the fertile lands between the Tigris and the Euphrates, the two rivers of present-day Iraq that watered the invention of Western civilization. The Akkadian language achieved the status of a literary language, written in cuneiform, as required by the good tone of the time. Sargon’s dynasty lasted a century and a half, and afterward the region, which had expanded across Iraq and into Syria, was administered by a coalition government of Akkadians and Sumerians. Suddenly, 4,200 years ago, the Akkadian empire vanished and its days of splendor only saw the light again thanks to the flashlights of archaeologists. What happened?
The key is in the dating of the Akkadian decline: 4,200 years ago. Because on the same date there was a tremendous episode of drought that affected not only Mesopotamia, but also the Nile, the Aegean Sea and the entire Mediterranean or beyond. Archaeologist Harvey Weiss and his team at Yale University in Connecticut have been amassing evidence for 30 years that this climate catastrophe caused the decline of many organized societies of the time. “We have Mesopotamia, the Nile, the Aegean, the entire Mediterranean up to Spain,” dice Weiss en Nature, and in all those places, according to him, there is evidence of some 4,200 years ago of a dry climate, of the disappearance of the central authorities and of the population fleeing to other places. There were many Acadians, from Algeciras to the Indus Valley.
What geologists and archaeologists, whether or not they agree with Weiss, already know as the “4.2 ka event” (kiloyears, or millennia) received its official confirmation in 2018, in the pre-pandemic era, when the origin of our geological era, the Meghalayan, for the region of India where a stalagmite was discovered that neatly records the climatic change of the time, an abrupt transition to drought on geological scales. The 4.2 ka event probably affected the entire planet. Michael Marshall picks up on Nature contrary opinions of some geologists. They do not accept a global event and prefer to think of a series of unrelated local droughts.
But the archaeologists at Weiss’s string continue to provide eloquent historical evidence. Just 4,200 years ago (4.2 kiloyears), for example, Egypt experienced a phase of instability called by historians the First Intermediate Period, in which power is decentralized and the Old Kingdom collapses. There is evidence that the flow of the Nile decreased on the same date, probably because the monsoon rains that supply the great river began to run out of steam. Similar stories can be documented throughout the Mediterranean.
Weiss’s theory is bold and controversial, capable of unbalancing received wisdom in various academic disciplines. If confirmed by waterproof evidence, it would imply that the great historical events have an explanation as external to our political system as a drought. And that climate change can have enormous disruptive power. This is how empires die.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.