The ancient Anatolian empire of the Hittites mysteriously collapsed more than 3,000 years ago. Now, researchers find that climate change could have played a part.
The Hittite empire dominated most of Anatolia — the peninsula that roughly corresponds to the Asian part of modern Turkey — and parts of northern Syria between 1650 and 1200 BC. It collapsed shortly after 1200 BC, with no historical records of Hittite rulers after King Suppiluliuma II, who came to rule in 1207 BC.
A study that ties together climate observations and human history suggests that a three-year drought in central Anatolia from 1198 to 1196 BC contributed to the demise of the empire’s capital, Hattusa, perhaps dooming the civilization.
The study, published in Nature on 8 February1, found reduced tree growth in central Anatolia, which the authors attribute to a decrease in local rainfall during the twelfth century BC. They identified three consecutive years of drought from 1198 to 1196 BC — rare but not unheard of in the central Anatolian climate — which synchronize with the abandonment of the Hittite capital and the fall of the empire.
“One year of real drought across a large area wrecks lives even in the modern world,” says Sturt Manning, an archaeologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and a co-author of the paper. But in the pre-modern world, a third consecutive year of drought would mean “no food, no taxes, no ability to feed the army”, he says, and could undermine any civilization.
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