The 4.2-kiloyear BP aridification event was one of the most severe climatic events of the Holocene epoch. It defines the beginning of the current Meghalayan age in the Holocene epoch. Starting in about 2200 BC, it probably lasted the entire 22nd century BC. It has been hypothesised to have caused the collapse of the Old Kingdom in Egypt as well as the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia, and the Liangzhu culture in the lower Yangtze River area. The drought may also have initiated the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilisation, with some of its population moving southeastward to follow the movement of their desired habitat, as well as the migration of Indo-European speaking people into India.
A phase of intense aridity about 4.2 ka BP is recorded across North Africa, the Middle East, the Red Sea, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian subcontinent, and midcontinental North America. Glaciers throughout the mountain ranges of western Canada advanced at about this time. Evidence has also been found in an Italian cave flowstone, the Kilimanjaro Ice sheet, and in Andean glacier ice. The onset of the aridification in Mesopotamia about 4100 BP also coincided with a cooling event in the North Atlantic, known as Bond event 3. Despite this, evidence for the 4.2 kyr event in northern Europe is ambiguous, suggesting the origin and effect of this event is spatially complex.
In 2018, the International Commission on Stratigraphy divided the Holocene epoch into three, with the late Holocene being called the Meghalayan stage/age starting around 2250 BC. The boundary stratotype is a speleothem in Mawmluh cave in India, and the global auxiliary stratotype is an ice core from Mount Logan in Canada.
Recent studies show that the "motilla" sites from the Bronze Age in La Mancha may be the most ancient system of groundwater collection in the Iberian Peninsula. ... These were built during the Climatic Event 4.2 ka cal BP in a time of environmental stress due to a period of severe, prolonged drought.
The authors' analysis verified a relationship between the geological substrate and the spatial distribution of the motillas.
In the Persian Gulf region, there is a sudden change in settlement pattern, style of pottery and tombs at this time. The 22nd century BC drought marks the end of the Umm al-Nar culture and the change to the Wadi Suq culture.
The aridification of Mesopotamia may have been related to the onset of cooler sea-surface temperatures in the North Atlantic (Bond event 3), as analysis of the modern instrumental record shows that large (50%) interannual reductions in Mesopotamian water supply result when subpolar northwest Atlantic sea surface temperatures are anomalously cool. The headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are fed by elevation-induced capture of winter Mediterranean rainfall.
The Akkadian Empire, in 2300 BC, was the second civilisation to subsume independent societies into a single state (the first being ancient Egypt around 3100 BC). It has been claimed that the collapse of the state was influenced by a wide-ranging, centuries-long drought. Archaeological evidence documents widespread abandonment of the agricultural plains of northern Mesopotamia and dramatic influxes of refugees into southern Mesopotamia, around 2170 BC. A 180-km-long wall, the "Repeller of the Amorites," was built across central Mesopotamia to stem nomadic incursions to the south. Around 2150 BC, the Gutian people, who originally inhabited the Zagros Mountains, defeated the demoralised Akkadian army, took Akkad, and destroyed it around 2115 BC. Widespread agricultural change in the Near East is visible at the end of the 3rd millennium BC.
Resettlement of the northern plains by smaller sedentary populations occurred near 1900 BC, three centuries after the collapse.
South central Asia and India
In the 2nd millennium BC, widespread aridification occurred in the Eurasian steppes and south Asia. On the steppes, the vegetation changed, driving "higher mobility and transition to the nomadic cattle breeding."[note 1][note 2] Water shortage also strongly affected south Asia:
This time was one of great upheaval for ecological reasons. Prolonged failure of rains caused acute water shortage in large areas, causing the collapse of sedentary urban cultures in south central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, and India, and triggering large-scale migrations. Inevitably, the new arrivals came to merge with and dominate the post-urban cultures.
Urban centers of the Indus Valley Civilisation were abandoned and were replaced by disparate local cultures, due to the same climate change that affected the neighbouring areas of the Middle East. As of 2016[update] many scholars believe that drought and a decline in trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia caused the collapse of the Indus Civilisation. The Ghaggar-Hakra system was rain-fed, and water supply depended on the monsoons. The Indus valley climate grew significantly cooler and drier from about 1800 BC, linked to a general weakening of the monsoon at that time. The Indian monsoon declined and aridity increased, with the Ghaggar-Hakra retracting its reach towards the foothills of the Himalaya, leading to erratic and less extensive floods that made inundation agriculture less sustainable. Aridification reduced the water supply enough to cause the civilisation's demise, and to scatter its population eastward.
The drought may have caused the collapse of Neolithic cultures around Central China during the late 3rd millennium BC. At the same time, the middle reaches of the Yellow River saw a series of extraordinary floods related to the legendary figure of Yu the Great. In the Yishu River Basin, the flourishing Longshan culture was affected by a cooling that severely reduced rice output. This led to substantial decrease in population and fewer archaeological sites. In about 2000 BC, Longshan was displaced by the Yueshi culture, which had fewer and less sophisticated artifacts of ceramic and bronze.
- 5.9-kiloyear event
- 8.2-kiloyear event
- African humid period
- Bond event
- Climate change
- Great Flood (China) (c. 2300–2200 BC)
- Timeline of environmental history
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