Thursday, March 29, 2012

Monsoon Change Influenced Ancient India

A new study of monsoon weather patterns on the Indian Peninsula over thousands of years is highlighting reasons for shifts in development of that region’s ancient civilizations.
According to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution:
Together, the geological record and the archaeological evidence tell a story of the possible fate of India’s earliest civilizations. Cultural changes occurred across the Indian subcontinent as the climate became more arid after ~4,000 years. In the already dry Indus basin, the urban Harappan civilization failed to adapt to even harsher conditions and slowly collapsed. 
But aridity favored an increase in sophistication in the central and south India where tropical forest decreased in extent and people began to settle and do more agriculture. Human resourcefulness proved again crucial in the rapid proliferation of rain-collecting water tanks across the Indian peninsula, just as the long series of droughts settled in over the last 1,700 years.
 “What the new paleo-climatic information makes clear is that the shift towards more arid conditions around 4,000 years ago corresponds to the time when agricultural populations expanded and settled village life began,” says Dorian Fuller of the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. “Arid-adapted food production is an old cultural tradition in the region, with cultivation of drought-tolerant millets and soil-restoring bean species."
“There may be lessons to learn here, as these drought-tolerant agricultural traditions have eroded over the past century, with shift towards more water and chemical intensive forms of modern agriculture,” Fuller adds.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bad Spirits May Have Frightened the Maya

Researchers are speculating that some segments of Mayan civilization crumbled because of beliefs that malevolent spirits inhabited Mayan areas that had been deserted due to environmental catastrophes.
The Maya once claimed an area about the size of Texas, with cities and fields that occupied what is now southern Mexico and northern Central America, including the countries of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. The height of the Mayan civilization, known as the Classic period, extended from approximately AD 250 to at least 900.
According to, the Classic Maya would have implicated gods and their "divine" rulers for the collapse. In that way, their abandoned territories became thought of as chaotic or haunted, and reclaiming any lands from the forest was at best done with great care and ritual. Survivors in outlying sites may often not have bothered.
"I have little doubt that droughts and environmental degradation — for example, soil erosion or declining soil fertility — played roles in the collapse, defined here as a substantial and prolonged decline in population, of some sites or regions," said researcher Nicholas Dunning, a geographer at the University of Cincinnati. "There is also the important role played by the environmental setting of sites — for example, sites in the elevated interior region were significantly more vulnerable to drought cycles than those in surrounding lower-elevation areas where water was more abundant." 
"But the fact that collapse was often a patchwork affair and a prolonged process does indeed strongly suggest that cultural factors — for example, strength of rulership, flexibility of the society and its ability to adapt to change — were equally important for determining whether or not a given site or group of sites adapted or collapsed," Dunning told LiveScience.
While some locales remained abandoned for long periods, others recovered more quickly. This patchwork pattern of recovery might argue against environmental catastrophes being the sole determining factor behind the collapse.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lost Mongolian Section of "Great Wall" Located

Artist's depiction of workers on Mongolian section around 1100 AD.

Google Earth has helped an international expedition locate a 60-mile forgotten section of the Great Wall of China in southern Mongolia.
The defensive barrier formed part of the Great Wall system built by successive Chinese dynasties to repel Mongol invaders from the north, according to findings published in the March issue of the Chinese edition of National Geographic magazine.
Preserved to a height of 9 feet (2.75 meters) in places, the desert discovery belongs to a sequence of remnant walls in Mongolia collectively known as the Wall of Genghis Khan, said expedition leader and Great Wall researcher William Lindesay.
Named after the founder of the Mongol Empire, the Wall of Genghis Khan usually survives only as "a faint trace," Lindesay said in an email. But "we found a 'real wall', standing high and existing as a dominant landscape feature," he said.
The section wasn't the work of Genghis Khan or his heirs but actually a long-lost segment of the Great Wall of China network, the team's findings suggest.