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Tang and Maya

February 5, 2007

A recent study suggests that climate change helped do in two ancient civilizations.


Can climate destroy cultures? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Around the 9th century, two great civilizations on opposite sides of the globe collapsed: the Tang dynasty of China, and the Maya of Central America. Coincidence? Perhaps not, according to paleoclimatologist Gerald Haug of Germany’s national geosciences research center. Looking back at sixteen thousand years of geological records, his team found that the fall of the Tang and Maya cultures coincided with increasingly windy winters and dry summers. Haug says the likely culprit was a shift in a global weather system called the tropical rain belt. But he’s cautious about the historical implications.

GERALD HAUG (GeoForschungsZentrum, Germany):
I don’t think we should view this that those civilizations collapsed just because of climate.

He says crop failures, water shortages, and other resulting crises may have played a role in a larger social breakdown. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.