By SAM SHEAD
PUBLISHED: 09:00 EST, 17 August 2012 | UPDATED: 10:37 EST, 17 August 2012
- Researchers analysed pollen and charcoal levels in the Nile and found evidence of massive fires and few crops
- Mega-drought led to famine and demise of the Egyptians
An ancient Egyptian kingdom close to the Nile collapsed more than 4,200 years ago because it failed to adapt to climate change, according to new research.
During Egypt’s Old Kingdom – the pyramid-building time – 4,200 years ago, droughts and fires plagued the region, causing famine and social unrest.
Scientists examined 7,000-year-old ancient pollen and charcoal samples from the Nile to piece together the time – and found evidence of a ‘mega drought’ in the the area.
The Great Pyramid in Giza was built by Egyptians between 2560¿2540BC
Marcia McNutt, of the US Geological Survey (USGS), said: ‘Even the mighty builders of the ancient pyramids more than 4,000 years ago fell victim when they were unable to respond to a changing climate.
‘This study illustrates that water availability was the climate-change Achilles Heel then for Egypt, as it may well be now, for a planet topping seven billion thirsty people.’
The researchers examined the presence and amount of charcoal, as fires increase during times of drought leaving charcoal in the geological records.
The temple of Abu Simbel was built after the mega drought observed in the geological records
They also found large reductions of wetland pollen, signifying far fewer plants grew, and increases in microscopic charcoal occurred during four different periods between 3,000 and 6,000 years ago.
One of those events was the abrupt and global mega-drought around 4,200 years ago, which led to famines and probably played a role in the end of Egypt’s Old Kingdom and affected other Mediterranean cultures.
These events are also recorded in history – the first about 5,000 years ago when the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt happened and the Uruk Kingdom in modern Iraq collapsed, the Geology study says.
The second event 3,000 years ago took place in the eastern Mediterranean and is associated with the fall of the Ugarit Kingdom and famines in the Babylonian and Syrian Kingdoms.
Christopher Bernhardt, of the USGS, said: ‘Humans have a long history of having to deal with climate change.
The aftermath of the drought and sandstorms which destroyed the Egyptian Old Kingdom around 2200BC was shown in the BBC’s Death on the Nile
‘Along with other research, this study geologically reveals that the evolution of societies is sometimes tied to climate variability at all scales – whether decadal or millennial.’
Professor Benjamin Horton, of the University of Pennsylvania, said: ‘The study geologically demonstrates that when deciphering past climates, pollen and other micro-organisms, such as charcoal, can augment or verify written or archaeological records – or they can serve as the record itself if other information doesn’t exist or is not continuous.’