Climate Change May Have Sparked Civilization

NORWICH, England, September 7, 2006 (ENS) - Early civilizations emerged primarily because of severe climate change, according to new research released today. Natural changes to the climate diminished natural resources and forced previously transient people into close proximity in areas where water and productive land was still available, the study's author said.

"Civilization did not arise as the result of a benign environment which allowed humanity to indulge a preference for living in complex, urban, 'civilized' societies," said Nick Brooks, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia's Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research. "On the contrary, what we tend to think of today as 'civilization' was in large part an accidental by-product of unplanned adaptation to catastrophic climate change. Civilization was a last resort - a means of organizing society and food production and distribution, in the face of deteriorating environmental conditions."

Brooks presented his findings today at the British Association for the Advancement of Science's Festival of Science in Norwich.

His research is largely based on analysis of archaelogical remains of the Garamantian civilization in southwestern Libya. The civilization emerged in the wake of changing rainfall patterns 3,000-5,000 years ago, Brooks said.


The study links the onset of a drier climate with the emergence of early civilization. (Photo courtesy UN)
He contends similar connections can be linked to the emergence of early civilizations in Egypt, South Asia, South America and China between 6,000 and 4,000 years ago, when global climate changes caused a weakening of monsoon systems resulting in increasingly arid conditions. The changes in the climate were caused by natural fluctuations of the Earth's orbit, Brooks said.

The study challenges the widely held belief that the development of civilization was simply the result of a transition from harsh, unpredictable climatic conditions during the last ice age, to more benign and stable conditions at the beginning of the Holocene period some 10,000 years ago.

Brooks argues the development of civilization meant a harder life, with less freedom and more inequality.

Health and nutrition are likely to have deteriorated rather than improved for many, Brooks added, as the transition to urban living meant that most people had to work harder in order to survive, and suffered increased exposure to communicable diseases.

"Having been forced into civilized communities as a last resort, people found themselves faced with increased social inequality, greater violence in the form of organized conflict, and at the mercy of self-appointed elites who used religious authority and political ideology to bolster their position," Brooks said. "These models of government are still with us today, and we may understand them better by understanding how civilization arose by accident as a result of the last great global climatic upheaval."