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Study suggests that collapse of Hittite Empire was accelerated by drought

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A study on tree rings by Cornell University and using isotope records has suggested that the collapse of the Hittite Empire was accelerated by drought.

The Hittites were an Anatolian people who established an Empire stretching across most of Anatolia, parts of the northern Levant and Upper Mesopotamia, centred on the capital of Hattusa near modern Boğazkale, Turkey.

Before the arrival of the Hittites, the region was inhabited by the Hattian people known as the “land of Hatti” around 2000 BC. The Hattians were absorbed into a new Hittite state either by conquest or gradual assimilation, but the origins of the Hittites are divisive, with some academics speculating a connection with the Yamnaya culture of the Pontic–Caspian steppe, the Ezero culture of the Balkans or the Maykop culture of the Caucasus.

Most of what we know about the Hittites comes from cuneiform text written in either Akkadian (the diplomatic language of the time) or in the various dialects of the Hittite confederation, and from diplomatic and commercial correspondence found in archives in Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt and the Middle East.

The collapse of the Hittite Empire in the Late Bronze Age has been blamed on various factors, from war with other territories to internal strife. Now, a Cornell University team has used tree ring and isotope records to pinpoint a more likely culprit: three straight years of severe drought.

In a paper published in the journal, Nature, archaeologists studied samples from the Midas Mound Tumulus at Gordion, a man-made 53-metre-tall structure located west of Ankara, Turkey.

The mound contains a wooden structure believed to be a burial chamber for a relative of King Midas, possibly his father. But equally important are the juniper trees – which grow slowly and live for centuries, even a millennium – that were used to build the structure and contain a hidden paleoclimatic record of the region.

The researchers looked at the patterns of tree-ring growth, with unusually narrow rings likely indicating dry conditions, in conjunction with changes in the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 recorded in the rings, which indicate the tree’s response to the availability of moisture.

Their analysis finds a general shift to drier conditions from the later 13th into the 12th century BC, and they peg a dramatic continuous period of severe dryness to approximately 1198–96 BC, plus or minus three years, which matches the timeline of the Hittite’s disappearance.

“We have two complementary sets of evidence,” Manning said. “The tree-ring widths indicate something really unusual is going on, and because it’s very narrow rings, that means the tree is struggling to stay alive. In a semi-arid environment, the only plausible reason that’s happening is because there’s little water, therefore it’s a drought, and this one is particularly serious for three consecutive years. Critically, the stable isotope evidence extracted from the tree-rings confirms this hypothesis, and we can establish a consistent pattern despite this all being over 3,150 years ago.”

At three consecutive years of drought, hundreds of thousands of people, including the enormous Hittite army, would face famine, even starvation. The tax base would crumble, as would the government. Survivors would be forced to migrate, an early example of the inequality of climate change.

Severe climate events may not have been the sole reason for the Hittite Empire’s collapse, the researchers noted, and not all of the ancient Near East suffered crises at the time. But this particular stretch of drought may have been a tipping point, at least for the Hittites.

Cornell University

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This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Archaeology

Post-medieval township discovered in Scottish forest

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Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a pre-medieval township in the Glen Brittle Forest on the Isle of Skye.

The discovery was made during an environmental survey before the harvest of a mature conifer plantation.

AOC Archaeologists have found traces of 28 buildings, consisting of houses, byres, barns and corn-drying kilns, which are surrounded by fields and stock enclosures that traditionally formed a small clachan (or township).

An early 19th century map surveyed by John Thomson in 1832 names the site as the township of Brunell, a small agricultural township which dates from the 17th and 18th centuries.

A passage in the Parish of Bracadale on Skye describes Brunell as: “The parish produces black cattle, sheep and horses. Black cattle is the main staple… from the returns of which the people pay their rents and supply themselves with necessities. There are small quantities of sheep on each farm, but there is no farm laid out entirely to sheep pasture”

During the late 18th century, the township experienced a decline due to farms consolidating land for sheep-grazing and reduced the need for labour, consequently displacing and leaving the small tenants adrift.

By the Ordnance Survey of 1881, the town had dwindled to merely two roofless buildings and several fields, suggesting that the entire population had abandoned the township by this time.

According to Forestry and Land Scotland, the survey data was used to guide machine operators during tree harvesting, ensuring they could fell trees without causing harm to any archaeological features.

Header Image Credit : Forestry and Land Scotland

Sources : Forestry and Land Scotland – Dig deeper: revealing the ruins of Brunell Township.

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Geophysical study finds evidence of “labyrinth” buried beneath Mitla

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A geophysical study has found underground structures and tunnels beneath Mitla – The Zapotec “Place of the Dead”

Mitla is an archaeological site associated with the Zapotec culture, located in the Oaxaca Valley in the present-day state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico.

The Zapotec civilisation emerged in the late 6th century BC, originating in the Central Valleys of the Etla. The culture was centred on the settlements of Oaxaca, San José Mogote, and Mitla, with the city of Monte Albán serving as the civic-ceremonial centre.

At its peak, the Zapotec had a population of more than 500,000 inhabitants, having developed sophisticated construction techniques, a writing system, two calendar systems, and complex agricultural cultivation.

In 2016, the Lyobaa Project, an institutional collaboration led by the National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH) employed ground penetrating radar (GPR), electrical resistivity tomography (ERT), and ambient seismic noise interferometry (AIRSA) to explore potential archaeological features beneath the San Pablo Apóstol church, built atop the Zapotec ruins in Mitla.

Image Credit : Lyobaa Project

According to local legend, the church was constructed on an entrance way to an underground labyrinth, serving as a passage between the realm of the living to the realm of the dead, referred to as Mictlán in Nahuatl, meaning the “place of the dead” or “underworld.”

In 1674, the Dominican chronicler, Francisco Burgoa, described Spanish missionaries entering the labyrinth: “Such was the corruption and bad smell, the dampness of the floor, and a cold wind which extinguished the lights, that at the little distance they had already penetrated, they resolved to come out, and ordered this infernal gate to be thoroughly closed with masonry.”

As part of phase two of the Lyobaa Project, the researchers have identified buried architectural complexes and a series of corridors during a study of the Calvario, Arroyo, and del Sur groups within the archaeological zone.

The Arroyo group, located in the central area of the site has three quadrangle features connected by tunnels that likely date from AD 1200 during the Late Postclassic period.

The project also conducted a survey of the quadrangular plaza where the San Pablo Apóstol church was constructed on the remains of a pre-Hispanic temple. Beneath the plaza the researchers found that there are four mounds with clay internal cores.

Archaeologist, Denisse Argote, said: “We were able to determine that, although the core of the stepped structure is solid, the foundation of the historic church requires short-term intervention to guarantee its conservation, so measures must be taken to ensure its structural stability.”

“There are cracks in the historic building, since it does not have a foundation and, underneath, in what corresponds to the remains of the pre-Hispanic building, it seems that there are areas with small cavities,” added Argote.

Header Image Credit : Shutterstock

Sources : INAH

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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