Researchers from Hokkaido University, Kyushu University, Kiel University and the KIKAI Institute for Coral Reef Scientists have used paleo-climatic reconstruction of air temperature and hydrological changes in the territory which once comprised the heart of the Akkadian Empire, concluding that climate change was indeed responsible for the empire’s decline and fall.
In their study, recently published in the Geology journal, scientists decided to test the ‘climate crisis’ hypothesis by studying fossil coral records, with the remains of these marine creatures making a highly accurate reconstruction of the paleo-climactic environment in the region possible.
Researchers sampled six 4,100-year-old fossils of Porites corals from the Gulf of Oman, downwind of the Ancient Syrian city of Tell Leilan, which was once the centre of the Akkadian Empire. Using radiocarbon dating and geochemical analysis, scientists were able to discover the climactic parameters which were prevalent over four millennia ago, including sea level and water temperature.
Previously, scientists and historians had hypothesised that the Akkadian Empire suffered from a hotter and more arid climate in the last decades of its existence, with an increase in the frequency of dust storms, prolonged winters and intense dry spells causing severe agricultural problems which may have led to the Empire’s collapse. In their analysis, researchers confirmed that severe sand storms had become more and more frequent during the winter period in the empire’s last years, with the region facing an acute lack of rainwater, with these factors thought to have caused famine and the subsequent political instability leading to collapse.
The collapse of the Akkadian Empire led to much of Mesopotamia being deserted for several centuries, and to the creation of two Akkadian-speaking nations: the Ancient Assyrians and the Babylonians.
Dr. Tsuyoshi Watanabe, a lecturer in the earth and planetary system science department at Hokkaido University and lead author of the new study, said the team’s work has important implications for historians.
“Although the official mark of the collapse of the Akkadian Empire is the invasion of Mesopotamia by other populations, our fossil samples are windows in time showing that variations in climate significantly contributed to the empire’s decline,” Dr. Watanabe said.
“Further interdisciplinary research will help improve our understanding of connections between climate changes and human societies in the past,” he added.
The true cause of the Akkadian Empire have long been shrouded in mystery, with the empire becoming a legend in later studies in the works of Greek and Roman writers and the authors of the Bible’s Old Testament. The mystery surrounding the civilisation was only heightened by the fact that the capital city of Akkad, thought to have been situated somewhere between the modern Iraqi cities of Samarra and Baghdad, has yet to be found to this very day.
In its time, the Akkadian Empire was responsible for some of the greatest advances in human civilisation, and included a number of cultural, technological, linguistic and ideological developments, many of which would be adopted by the Empire’s successors. Among other things, the Empire was known for innovations including the abacus, wheels, some of the world’s first roads, a postal service, and a census.