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Megadrought and CollapseFrom Early Agriculture to Angkor$
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Harvey Weiss

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780199329199

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199329199.001.0001

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Megadrought, Collapse, and Causality

Megadrought, Collapse, and Causality

(p.1) Megadrought, Collapse, and Causality
Megadrought and Collapse

Harvey Weiss

Oxford University Press

Recent discoveries of megadroughts, severe periods of drought lasting decades or centuries, during the course of the Holocene have revolutionized our understanding of modern climate history. Through advances in paleoclimatology, researchers have identified these periods of climate change by analyzing high-resolution proxy data derived from lake sediment cores, marine cores, glacial cores, speleothem cores, and tree rings. Evidence that megadroughts occurred with frequency and abruptly over the last 12,000 years, a timespan long assumed to be stable compared to earlier glacial periods, has also altered our understanding of societies’ trajectories. The fact that severe, multi-decadal or century-scale droughts coincided with societal collapses well known to archaeologists has challenged established multi-causal analyses of these events. Megadroughts, impossible to predict and impossible to withstand, may have caused political collapse, regional abandonment, and habitat tracking to still-productive regions. The nine megadrought and societal collapse events presented in this volume extend from the foraging-to-agriculture transition at the dawn of the Holocene in West Asia to the fifteenth-century AD collapse of the Khmer Empire in Angkor (Cambodia). Inevitably, this collection of essays also raises challenges to causal analyses of societal collapse and for future paleoclimatic and archaeological research.

Keywords:   megadrought, abrupt climate change, societal collapse, causality, adaptation, Holocene, paleoclimatology

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