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Classics professor documents changing climate

Alan Flurry

UGA's Jordan Pickett recently published findings which reveal that environmental and climatic changes in the eastern Mediterranean were part of a “perfect storm” that led to widespread settlement abandonment or transformation in the early medieval period, roughly 1,500 years ago.

This new body of research, which challenges decades of scholarly work, provides modern humans with a case study for how our ancestors adapted creatively to changes in their environment. Our colleagues in UGA Research Communications share the story:

These findings, published in PLOS ONE, are part of a study that examined the effects of premodern changes in climate throughout modern-day southwestern Turkey. The study combined approaches from climate science, archaeology and history to better understand the factors at play in the region’s initial growth, and subsequent transformation, over the course of the Roman and early medieval periods.

“I served as the archaeologist of the project,” said Pickett. “My role was the compilation of our regional dataset of 381 historical settlements. For each site, I read all the available literature and historical sources—in German mostly, but also French, Italian, English and Turkish, besides ancient Greek and Latin—and kept track of what was happening or being built at each site, in a database format.”

Because the period under study long predates thermometers and rain gauges, for climate data the team had to collect what researchers call “proxies”: physical remains that reveal important facts about long-term climate. These proxies often take the form of tree rings or sea cores, but in this study, cave stalagmites and pollen told the story.

This fusion of research revealed that eastern Mediterranean settlements were initially able to adapt creatively to changing climates between the 1st to 5th centuries A.D., but a combination of additional factors—earthquakes, plague, invasions of foreign armies—combined with changing environmental conditions, resulted in approximately half of settlements in the region disappearing from the map during and after the 6th century.

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Image: Roman aqueduct in Aspendos in what is now southern Turkey. Photo by Jordan Pickett

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