Drought and the Decline of Indus Valley Civilization

5 Mar

Archaeologist Brian Fagan wrote a broadly informative book called Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind. Arguably, no other variable has had such a significant impact on the rise and fall of civilizations than water. The Indus Valley Harappan civilization appears to be no exception.

Indus Valley city of Mohenjodaro ("Mound of the Dead"; Wikipedia)

Indus Valley city of Mohenjodaro (“Mound of the Dead”; Wikipedia)

Environmental variables, such as unpredicted changes in the availability of water, have been implicated in the declines of most pre-industrial civilizations. These variables are often compounded by sociopolitical factors (warfare, internal strife, etc.), but the role of resource shortage is undeniable. Paleoclimatic data published recently in Geology – and summarized this week in Nature – indicates that drought hastened the decline of Harappan civilization:

“The decline of Bronze-Age civilizations in Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia has been attributed to a long-term drought that began around 2000 bc. Now palaeoclimatologists propose that a similar fate was followed by the enigmatic Indus Valley Civilization, at about the same time. Based on isotope data from the sediment of an ancient lake, the researchers suggest that the monsoon cycle, which is vital to the livelihood of all of South Asia, essentially stopped there for as long as two centuries” (Emma Marris; Nature doi:10.1038/nature.2014.14800).

Check out the Nature summary for a quick read, or the Geology article for complete (though quite technical) results.

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