Climate, Culture, and Catastrophe in the Ancient World

This page presents a summary narrative of and links to geological and paleoclimatalogical data bearing on the remarkable events of 3000 BCE (calendar years BC), when urban/technological society began. Most of our data comes from referenced scientific literature, although some of the studies, such as of the Mesopotamian delta,and certain sea level interpretations, are the author's. You will also find a handy chronological index HERE.  A summary graph of events around 3200 BC will be found here.

Illustration: Dry glacial climate in Near East, including Egypt and Mesopotamia. Monsoons are far to the south.

 (20000 BC)


In the beginning, the earth in a fitful sleep, (100000 BC) , stirring in a night sweat every five thousand years. Last stands of (30000 BC) Homo erectus and Neanderthal. The end of the Ice Age; (13000 BC) Slowly the great ice sheets melt away, from Chicago and Boston and Seattle and London, under the influence of an "altithermal" climate several degrees warmer than today. The sea level, which has remained some 350 feet below its present level for 100,000 years, begins to rise at a rate of ten feet a century.

Then, 12000 years before present, when the sea level had reached 100 feet below present level, something happened to interrupt the process; temperatures plunged 7 degrees, the sea level hesitated. This was the beginning of the Younger Dryas, (10500 BC) a millenium in which the circulation system of the North Atlantic went into a kind of planetary fibrillation, the African monsoons migrated southward, drying the desert. After a millenium, the end of the Younger Dryas (9500 BC) came about almost as quickly as it had begun, warmth returned to the North, and water to the deserts of the Near East. Again about 6000 BC, another abrupt cooling in Greenland, (6200 BC) this a short lived cycle, then a warming for two thousand years the sun shining, a great green spring in the northern lands, the wolves retreating, as the planet entered the the mid Holocene altithermal. 

I could not rest until I had written it out and then the great dread of my soul was that some accident would destroy the single copy & the world would lose a revelation.
--Ignatius Donnelly, 1882, on the writing of his "Ragnorak, The Age of Fire and Gravel"

Consider Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers: warm and wet, interrupted by the aformentioned severe cold drought (6200 BC) Again, warm conditions returned and the sea rose again, now at about 50 feet below present level.

Illustration: We place the "Garden of Eden" in the lower Tigris-Euphrates (most recently the scene of the Gulf War) at the time of 8000 to 6000 yrs. BP (6000-3500 BC) at which time the temperature is warming culminating in an era warmer than present, when equatorial weather patterns may have reached farther north than at present, and the westerly storms of the north would have been confined to latitudes higher than at present. 

 (5000 BC)


In those warm wet years a kind of Eden in Egypt (7000 BC) , Reported (5500 BC) Mid-Holocene flooding of Baltic Sea. a time of canoes and elephants. (3000 BC) This period the Atlantic or altithermal or hypsithermal, (4000 BC) with temperatures 5 degrees warmer than at present, raining all the time, Lake Chad one hundred feet higher until 3000 BC. The desert now supports game allowing hunting and herding or nomadic pastoralism. Predynastic Nagada (Naqadah) cultures. Evidence for this "Garden of Eden" can oddly enough be found almost everywhere; in California, the rings of bristlecone pines (4850 BC) near the Nevada border grew fat in the wet heat. By 4500 BC the favorable climatic conditions and stabilized lower alluvial plains favoring territorial control and mound building (4500 BC) among native Amercan groups in the lower valleys. Slowing sea level rise at 10-15 below present level, beginning of meander belts on (4000 BC) Mississippi River. In the San Francisco Bay area we begin to see a transition from hunter-gatherer to sedentary cultures. (3000 BC) In Santa Barbara the Mid Holocene Atlantic wet period features high human population growth (3300 BC) with increasing hunting, sea fishing, residential bases, status ranking, mortar and pestle use for large pulpy seeds, technology in general. This seems to be reflected as well in the central coast (3600 BC) as well as santa barbara basin off the coast (3250 BC) ; some principal evidence locally exhibited in the Stanford man (3020 BC) and Sunnyvale girl (3160 BC) burials in the San Francisco Bay area. Photos of the "Stanford Man" skull can be seen on "the skull". (3020 BC)

Elsewhere in the Mississippi valley we see a proliferation of native american mounds (3000 BC) starting at about 7000 BCE; See also sticks in boston (3100 BC) ; In New England coastal areas we find warmth and plenitude as represented by the great Boylston Street fish wier (3100 BC) discoovered in the 1940s some 15 feet below sea level, In Europe, early agriculture (3500 BC) appears.

Toward the end of the fourth millenium ominous signs in the North. The upper treeline in alps (3500 BC) drops 100 meters in 3500 BC then rises to 2500 BC indicating a northern cold spell (and corresponding Near Eastern drought) at 3500. See alsothe startling iceman of the alps ( BC) ; In the alps we see an Iceman; (3150 BC) see also iceman of the alps (3150 BC) ; At the same time the irish elm decline (4000 BC) occurs.

In recent years analysis of ice cores has yieklded even more precise information. recent studies of the ice cores by the GISP2 team (3200 BC) shows a minglacial feezeup at about 5000 BP.

Illustration: Rain storms, climatic oscillation. Millennial-scale warming terminates with a period of climatic disturbance and flooding in the lower latitudes (Nile, Arizona, Morocco, Israel, Mesopotamia), followed by a drought; general, worldwide, climate-driven shock to early societies living in "edenic" geography of plenty with "fertile crescent" survivors organizing into more centrally administered culture based on irrigation. 

 (3500 BC)


Sea Level Changes

Fairbridge cycles.... late Holocene sea level ( BC) Holocene delta development worldwide (3500 BC) By 4000 BC sea level rise began to slow and deltas begin to form.The sequence of events along the coast is illustrated graphically in a diagrammatic sequence in "The End of Eden" (4000 BC) San Francisquito geology ( BC) More locally view of San Francisquito creek development ( BC) Recent data from the Han River delta (3500 BC) indicate a rapid sea level rise (3 meters) from 4000 to 3000 BC. The sea level curve of the Han river delta (3500 BC) does not contain enough data in the 4000-3000 BC period Huang Ho river (2900 BC) also the South Carolina sea level (3500 BC) South Carolina sea level ( BC) ; The Fiji sea level (3500 BC) drops; the Fji sea level curves. ( BC) show a one meter drop between 3500-3000 BC. For example, data collected by Atwater a few years ago in San Francisquito bay (3300 BC) features sea level stillstands (3000 BC) Also the Mississippi delta (3400 BC) In Iraq sea level, persian gulf (4000 BC) Studies of the Nile and holocene delta development worldwide (4000 BC) shows a similar sequence. At about 6000 BC something odd happened. This is recorded in an erratic sea level response all over the world; when the rise stopped rivers began to discharge their silt onto a constant shoreline. Deltas were built, with their rich loads of fertile silt. A notable example is the mesopotamia delta (3200 BC) in times leading up to the great flood. This is a condition that had not existed for 120,000 years. It is a history that is preserved to this day in most of the delta environments (6000 BC) of the world.

Mesopotamian and Nile Deltas

(3250 BC) In the middle East, Egypt's Nile delta (3250 BC) A core (5-44) taken at the south margin of one of the coastal lagoons at the north end of the Nile delta showed a layer of potsherds 25 ft. below sea level dated at 3,500 to 4,500 CYBP. egypt, nile (3090 BC) Similar evidence permits a reconstruction (by the author) of stratigarphy of the mesopotamia delta (4000 BC) showing the ancient city of Ur at the edge of a 100 mile flood basin.

Illustration: sea level rise and stabilization in Gulf of Persia, and accompanying warm, 4000 BC 

(6000 BC)


 Lake Van oscillation (3150 BC) ; Ironically Ur is a t the center of the recent Gulf War and notably very close to the area in with the "Gulf War Syndrome" reportedly originated. chemical gas poisoning ( BC) tigris-euphratres (3200 BC) This sequence may be compaed with other events in a Tigris and Euphrates comparative chronology ( BC) . Beginning of the Sumerian king list culminates with Glgamesh, king of Uruk. (2700 BC) Between Palestine and Mesopotamia, the lost city of Jawa. (3000 BC) Tigris and Euphrates alluvial plain (3500 BC) Irrigated society, 3500 BC 

 Sumerians in Mesopotamia (3000 BC)

The story of the great flood was told in the 1930s by Leonard Woolley. (3500 BC) dated later by Father Burrows (3700 BC) His associate the Jesuit epigrapher Father Burrows (3700 BC) presents an early Mesopotamian version of the flood story, Also this is the time of Pharoah Sneferu at Meydum (3400 BC) ; sumerian influences on egypt (3000 BC) ; unification of Egypt (3100 BC) ; recent reports of ancient egyptians in palestine (3000 BC) . A dramatic rise in Dead Sea level near mt. sedom (3001 BC) occurs at this time. According the Lebor, as inter[erted by O'Rahilly... cessair (3200 BC)

The Flood (3150 BC) 3150 BC(?). Abrupt cooling at higher latitudes, possibly related to oceanic effects, especially in Northern Europe, corresponding to peak of megalith cultures. Probable oscillation in sea level shortly before 3000 BC followed by 10-15 ft. alluvial deposition in river valleys. 

The Great Shock of 3250 BC

( BC) ; Many other paleocliamtic events are summarized on the paleoclimate data page (3200 BC) . A period of stormy weather (3250 BC) ; The sequence of events is shown in a San Francisquito Creek history (3250 BC) ; This period corresponds to the so-called palynological Pora oscillation in Europe (3250 BC) ; Elsewhere we see natural catastrophes during the bronze age (3000 BC) ; as shown on the paleoclimate data page ( BC) ; sierra cooling (3100 BC) ; gisp ice core (3100 BC) ; Globally corresponds sulfate in gisp2 (3250 BC) ; In Greenland sulphate spike ( BC) ; atmospheric methane (3250 BC) ; sulphate spike (3150 BC) ; camp century, greenland (3150 BC) ; yangtze river (3110 BC) ; methane peak, (3050 BC) ; methane ( BC) ; Heckla eruption heckla eruption, iceland (3190 BC) ;

In the Americas devon island (3050 BC) ; bristlecone pines (3000 BC) ; hemlock decline new england (3250 BC) ; elm collapse (3270 BC) ; july summer cooling, soviet union (3300 BC) ; wooden tracks (3000 BC) diamond pond, (3000 BC) ; paleoclimatic flood, global (3150 BC) ;

In the Americas: a flood peak (3150 BC) ; huascaran glacier (3250 BC) ; general wetting western u.s (3000 BC) ; republican river, (3100 BC) ; floods in netherlands (2970 BC) ; pine bursts (3250 BC) ; pomme de terre river (3200 BC) ; end of alluvial period (3100 BC) ; new data from peru ( BC) ;

Significant archeological finds of this period include: belgian coastal monuments (3300 BC) ; brittany coast emerges (3050 BC) ; newgrange megalithic tomb (3075 BC) newgrange megalithic tomb (3075 BC) ; carnac megaliths (3000 BC) ; mayan recreation (3113 BC) ; ancient french trapper (3000 BC) ; french coastal megaliths (3212 BC) ; stonehenge (start) (3100 BC) ; newgrange start (3250 BC) ; In Europe irish oaks (3199 BC) ;