[Marxism] Jared Diamond's "Collapse", part one

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Mar 2 07:27:34 MST 2005

>Anthropologist Brian Fagan's recent book "The Long Summer: How Climate
>Changed Civilization" (2004) also examines the rise and collapse of
>ancient civilisations, but uses recent climatological research to
>emphasise the role of climate change in bringing them down (which I
>assume Jared Diamond doesn't do). Fagan's general thesis is that
>agricultural civilisations based on irrigation developed in the first
>place as a response to the fluctuations in climate that made early
>agricultural life precarious. Later down the line these elaborate
>agricultural systems, and whole societies based upon them, became
>victims of their own success as climate changed in more dramatic ways
>that they could not adjust to, thus leading to collapse. The Maya are
>apparently an example of this pattern. He writes:

Many, many thanks to Brian for this reference. I was in a debate on PEN-L a 
couple of years ago about a claim that had been made in James O'Connor's 
journal and supported by John Bellamy Foster in Monthly Review that the 
Mayans destroyed their civilization through unwise farming practices. 
Although I reserve judgement on this question until I have a chance to do 
some new research, Mark Jones also emphasized the role of climate in the 
collapse of ancient societies in the Western Hemisphere during this debate.

Mark Jones:
El Nino events were most probably behind the rise and decline of both
ancient and classical Peruvian civilisations. Foster seems completely
unaware of this. 'Nature' recently ran a piece on this:

Culture rained off
Ancient Peruvian civilization may have fallen foul of El Niño.
25 June 2001

El Niño may have put Peruvian culture under monumental strain

El Niño events may have altered the course of prehistoric civilization.
Around 3,000 years ago rainfall seems to have put paid to the Peruvian
progress it kicked off 3,000 years earlier, US researchers now report.1

The coast of Peru is dotted with the remains of temples built between 5,800
and 2,800 years

ago, during the Preceramic and Initial Periods. Predating Egypt's pyramids,
and often decorated with elaborate art, these monuments attest to a highly
organized civilization with its own religious and political systems. At the
end of this period, the temples seem to have been abandoned.

A shift in climate patterns around 3,000 years ago may have triggered this
change, Daniel Sandweiss, of the University of Maine, and his coworkers

Now Peru's coast is strongly affected by El Niño events, which bring
torrential rainfall. Such floods would not have occurred before 5,800 years
ago. That's when El Niño events started, Sandweiss' team point out.

The coincidence of the onset of El Niño with the building of the first
temples implies that wetter episodes might have made agriculture possible,
and so helped to nurture a civilization.

Yet the shells of temperature-sensitive molluscs in coastal marine sediments
imply that El Niño may also have had a destructive side. These shells record
that the frequency of El Niño events increased roughly 3,200 years ago.

A bit of rain is a good thing. But too much of it, it seems, placed a fatal
stress on the temple-building civilization, which, as archaeological
evidence bears out, was literally washed away.

Indeed, the youngest temple, at Manchay Bajo, which was occupied until 2,800
years ago, was protected by a wall built to redirect water and mudslides
from two ravines that otherwise would have disgorged their contents onto it.

Climate-related rise and fall of civilizations has been seen elsewhere. In
1993, Harvey Weiss, of Yale University, and his colleagues claimed that
abrupt climate change about 4, 200 years ago caused a prolonged drought in
the Middle East, affecting civilizations from the Aegean Sea to the Indus
River and leading to the collapse of the Akkadian Empire in the Euphrates

for more see: http://www.nature.com/nsu/010628/010628-5.html

see also:

Lessons From Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Maya: Abrupt Climate Change Can
Cause Societal Collapse.
American scientists warned on Friday of "unprecedented social disruptions"
that could result from global warming, after linking the collapse of
societies throughout history to climate change. There is "mounting evidence"
that the demise of some civilisations was climate-driven, report Prof.
Harvey Weiss of Yale University and Prof. Raymond Bradley of the University
of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Scientists are now able to link the rise and fall of societies recorded in
the archaeological record with evidence of the timing and magnitude of
climate change held in ice cores, corals and sediments. "We find a very
precise coincidence between the abrupt climate changes and the
archaeological record of collapse," says Prof. Weiss.

Studies of ancient coral reefs in New Guinea show that the climate
phenomenon El Nino, which disrupts rainfall patterns worldwide, is more
intense these days than at any time in the past 130,000 years - possibly as
a result of global warming.

Sediments from Lake Titicaca, which straddles the border between Bolivia and
Peru, reveal that South America has endured alternating periods of heavy
rainfall and severe drought over the past 25,000 years. Societies from the
Classic Maya of the New World to the prehistoric hunting and gathering
Natufians of south-west Asia were drastically affected by sudden, prolonged
and intense temperature and rainfall changes which disrupted agriculture.

"These events were abrupt, involved conditions unfamiliar to the inhabitants
of the time, and persisted for decades to centuries," say the professors in
the journal Science. "They were therefore highly disruptive, leading to
societal collapse."

The demise of the Classic Maya society in the 9th century AD coincided with
the most prolonged and severe drought of the millennium. The
pyramid-constructing Old Kingdom of Egypt, the Akkadian empire of
Mesopotamia, and Early Bronze civilisations of Palestine, Greece and Crete
all peaked in 2300 BC, then declined when catastrophic drought and cooling
struck a decade or so later. The Late Uruk society that flourished in
southern Mesopotamia in 3500 BC collapsed between 3200 and 3000 BC, again
due to drought.

The professors suggest that modern societies, faced with prospects of global
warming, may not be immune to social disruptions triggered by abrupt climate
change. In spite of technological change, most of the world's people will
continue to be subsistence or small-scale market farmers, vulnerable to
climate fluctuations. But unlike ancient societies, who could migrate to
where cultivation of crops was possible, the world is now too crowded for
such migrations.

"We do, however, have distinct advantages over societies in the past because
we can anticipate the future using computers," say the authors.

more at:



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