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Climate Change and the Collapse of the Akkadian Empire - H. M. Cullen, et al.

Climate Change and the Collapse of the Akkadian Empire - H. M. Cullen, et al.

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Published by Samir Al-Hamed
The Akkadian empire ruled Mesopotamia from the headwaters of the Tigris-Euphrates Rivers to the Persian Gulf during the late third millennium B.C. Archeological evidence has shown that this highly developed civilization collapsed abruptly near 4170 ± 150 calendar yr B.P., perhaps related to a shift to more arid conditions.

Detailed paleoclimate records to test this assertion from Mesopotamia are rare, but changes in regional aridity are preserved in adjacent ocean basins. We document Holocene changes in regional aridity using mineralogic and geochemical analyses of a marine sediment core from the Gulf of Oman, which is directly downwind of Mesopotamian dust source areas and archeological sites.

Our results document a very abrupt increase in eolian dust and Mesopotamian aridity, accelerator mass spectrometer radiocarbon dated to 4025 ± 125 calendar yr B.P., which persisted for ~300 yr. Radiogenic (Nd and Sr) isotope analyses confirm that the observed increase in mineral dust was derived from Mesopotamian source areas.

Geochemical correlation of volcanic ash shards between the archeological site and marine sediment record establishes a direct temporal link between Mesopotamian aridification and social collapse, implicating a sudden shift to
more arid conditions as a key factor contributing to the collapse of the Akkadian empire.
The Akkadian empire ruled Mesopotamia from the headwaters of the Tigris-Euphrates Rivers to the Persian Gulf during the late third millennium B.C. Archeological evidence has shown that this highly developed civilization collapsed abruptly near 4170 ± 150 calendar yr B.P., perhaps related to a shift to more arid conditions.

Detailed paleoclimate records to test this assertion from Mesopotamia are rare, but changes in regional aridity are preserved in adjacent ocean basins. We document Holocene changes in regional aridity using mineralogic and geochemical analyses of a marine sediment core from the Gulf of Oman, which is directly downwind of Mesopotamian dust source areas and archeological sites.

Our results document a very abrupt increase in eolian dust and Mesopotamian aridity, accelerator mass spectrometer radiocarbon dated to 4025 ± 125 calendar yr B.P., which persisted for ~300 yr. Radiogenic (Nd and Sr) isotope analyses confirm that the observed increase in mineral dust was derived from Mesopotamian source areas.

Geochemical correlation of volcanic ash shards between the archeological site and marine sediment record establishes a direct temporal link between Mesopotamian aridification and social collapse, implicating a sudden shift to
more arid conditions as a key factor contributing to the collapse of the Akkadian empire.

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INTRODUCTION
Mesopotamia is the broad,flat alluvial plainbetween the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in whatis today Syria and Iraq (Fig.1). Under the rule of Sargon of Akkad,the world’s first united empirewas established in this region,linking the remoteagricultural hinterlands of northern Mesopotamiawith the complex city-states in the south. Thisunited empire extended from the Persian Gulf tothe headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Riversfrom ca. 4300 to 4200B.P. Particularly importantto the success of the Akkadians was the fertile,rain-fed agricultural production of the wide,northern Mesopotamian plains. Over this broadgeographic area,the Akkadians imperialized agri-cultural production and controlled long-distancetrade. After <100yr of prosperity,the Akkadianempire collapsed abruptly near 4200B.P. (Weissetal.,1993). Resettlement by smaller sedentarypopulations occurred ~300yr later (3900B.P.).Archeological investigations from the excava-tion site at Tell Leilan in northeast Syria (Fig.1)have suggested that a major environmental changeassociated with the Akkadian collapse occurrednear 4200B.P. Tell Leilan,one of three major city-states in northeast Syria to be integrated into theAkkadian empire,was a provincial capital and pri-mary provider of imperialized cereal production.Immediately above the collapse horizon at TellLeilan and the nearby site Abu Hgeira,archeolo-gists noted a thin (0.5cm) volcanic ash layer over-lain by a thick (100cm) accumulation of well-sorted,wind-blown silts which were barren of artifacts. Weiss etal. (1993) interpreted this soilsequence to reflect the sudden onset of more aridconditions,which may have contributed to theobserved collapse. This soil micromorphologicalevidence,however,is inherently subjective andmay reflect localized phenomena unrelated tolarger scale regional aridification.The Akkadian collapse had been previously at-tributed to human factors,including invaders andpolitical disintegration (Yoffee and Cowgill,1988). Whether the Akkadians were an exampleof social collapse resulting from climatic degra-dation (Hodell etal.,1995; Sandweiss etal.,1999) or whether this collapse was related to ex-ternal or internal social factors may be resolvedby an independent record of Holocene paleocli-matic variations in Mesopotamia as preserved ina marine sediment core from the Gulf of Oman.
MESOPOTAMIAN CLIMATE AND DUSTTRANSPORT
The climate of northern Mesopotamia is char-acteristically semiarid,with strong seasonality inboth precipitation and temperature. Winters arecool and wet (100–300mm/yr),whereas sum-mers are hot,very dry,and marked by a persistentnorthwest wind known locally as the shamal(Fig.1). Winter precipitation results from the east-ward penetration of Atlantic and Mediterraneanrain-bearing cyclones embedded within the mid-
Geology;
April 2000; v. 28; no. 4; p. 379382; 4 figures.379
Climate change and the collapse of the Akkadian empire:Evidence from the deep sea
H.M.CullenP.B.deMenocalS.HemmingG.Hemming
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, New York 10964, USA
F.H.Brown
University of Utah, Park City, Utah 84112, USA
T.Guilderson
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California 94551, USA
F.Sirocko
Institut für Geowissenschaften, Johannes Gutenberg Universität, 55099 Mainz, Germany
Data Repository item 200041 contains additional material related to this article.
30
°
45
°
60
°
E15
°
30
°
45
°
N
SyriaIraqM5-422KL-74TellLeilan
5
Figure 1.Location of Gulfof Oman core M5-422 (24°23.40
N,59°2.50
E;2732mdeep).Average summer(June–August) wind roseis shown in lower right.Tell Leilan archeologicalsite and Arabian Sea corelocation KL-74 are alsoshown.Area of detail isshown in upper right withthe Mesopotamian flood-plain (star),Zagros Moun-tain (circle) and IndusRiver (diamond) geochem-ical end members.
ABSTRACTThe Akkadian empire ruled Mesopotamia from the headwaters of the Tigris-Euphrates Rivers tothe Persian Gulf during the late third millennium B.C. Archeological evidence has shown that thishighly developed civilization collapsed abruptly near 4170 ± 150 calendar yr B.P.,perhaps relatedto a shift to more arid conditions. Detailed paleoclimate records to test this assertion fromMesopotamia are rare,but changes in regional aridity are preserved in adjacent ocean basins. Wedocument Holocene changes in regional aridity using mineralogic and geochemical analyses of amarine sediment core from the Gulf of Oman,which is directly downwind of Mesopotamian dustsource areas and archeological sites. Our results document a very abrupt increase in eolian dust andMesopotamian aridity,accelerator mass spectrometer radiocarbon dated to 4025 ± 125 calendar yrB.P.,which persisted for ~300yr. Radiogenic (Nd and Sr) isotope analyses confirm that the observedincrease in mineral dust was derived from Mesopotamian source areas. Geochemical correlation of volcanic ash shards between the archeological site and marine sediment record establishes a directtemporal link between Mesopotamian aridification and social collapse,implicating a sudden shift tomore arid conditions as a key factor contributing to the collapse of the Akkadian empire.Keywords:
Holocene climate,Middle East,civilization collapse.
 
latitude westerly flow. The marked seasonality of Mesopotamian rainfall and wind makes this re-gion a rich source of mineral dust to the atmo-sphere,with many regions reporting over 200days per year of dust-impaired visibility (Pye,1987). Analysis of satellite imagery and marinesediments (Al-Bakri etal.,1984; Al-Ghadban,1990; Sirocko and Sarnthein,1989) indicates thatthese mineral dusts are transported southwest bythe shamal to the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Omanwith an estimated mass flux of 100× 10
6
tons peryear (Pye,1987). Mesopotamian dusts have char-acteristically high concentrations of detrital dolo-mite,calcite,and quartz (Al-Bakri etal.,1984;Sirocko and Sarnthein,1989). During the morearid conditions that prevailed during the lastglacial maximum and Younger Dryas,as much as50% of the total measured calcite content in theGulf of Oman sediments was composed of fine,silt-sized detrital carbonate eolian grains (Sirocko,1989; Sirocko etal.,1993). Dolomite concentra-tion variations in northwest Indian Ocean sedi-ments have been used previously to reconstructlate Pleistocene variations in Mesopotamian arid-ity (Sirocko,1989; Sirocko etal.,1993).
METHODS AND AGE CONTROL
Core M5-422 (Fig. 1; 24°23.40
N,59°2.50
E;2732m deep) from the Gulf of Oman was contin-uously subsampled at 2cm intervals to reconstructa marine sediment record of Holocene variationsin regional aridity. The position of this core withinthe Mesopotamian dust trajectory and its distal lo-cation away from shelf and slope redepositionsources make it ideal for determining past changesin Mesopotamian climate. An oxygen isotopicstratigraphy from analyses of 
Globigerinoidesruber 
(Fig.2) indicates average Holocene sedi-mentation rates of 15cm/k.y.,as the deglacial tran-sition occurs at a depth of 150cm,and our tempo-ral resolution averages about 100yr (Fig.2). Sam-ples were analyzed for magnetic susceptibility,calcium carbonate content,quantitative X-ray dif-fraction mineralogy,oxygen isotopic analyses,andSr and Nd isotopic composition of the extracteddetrital fraction using a sequential extraction tech-nique described in Sirocko etal. (1993).Age control was established using eight accel-erator mass spectrometer (AMS) radiocarbondates on monospecific (
G. sacculifer 
) foraminif-era. Conventional radiocarbon dates on mixedplanktonic foraminifera (>150
µ
m fraction) of four samples were also obtained (Table1).
1
Con-version to calendar ages (Table1,see footnote1)was accomplished using the Calib 3.03c calibra-tion program (Stuiver and Reimer,1993) afterapplying a reservoir correction of –560yr derivedfor pre-bomb northwest Indian Ocean surfacewaters. All ages are in calendar years before present(B.P.) unless otherwise indicated. Sedimentationrates average 23cm/k.y. over the mid-late Holo-cene portion of the record (past ~5000–6000yr).
RESULTS
High abundances of detrital (eolian) dolomiteand calcite at the base of core M5-422 concurwith the well-documented and widespread arid-ity that was prevalent in Mesopotamia during thelast glacial maximum and Younger Dryas coldperiod; dust fluxes to Arabian Sea sedimentswere two to five times greater than present valuesduring the last glacial maximum (Clemens andPrell,1990; Sirocko,1989; Sirocko etal.,1993).By 11500B.P. the region became abruptly morehumid due to the well-documented intensifica-tion of the Indian monsoon. Increased humidityin the region is documented in core M5-422 byabrupt decreases in eolian dolomite and calciteconcentrations commencing near 145cm (ca.12000B.P.; Fig.2) and is also documented byparallel changes in eolian deposition and mon-soon-related upwelling in the Arabian Sea (core74 KL; Fig.1) (Sirocko etal.,1996).A dramatic mid-Holocene increase in eoliandolomite and calcite deposition occurred be-tween 70 and 56cm in the core,corresponding toan ~400yr period spanning 4025–3625B.P.based on four calibrated AMS radiocarbon ages(Fig.2; Table1,see footnote1). Dolomite con-centration,which reflects eolian mineral supplyfrom Mesopotamian sources,increased from1.5% to peak values approaching 9% by weightat 68cm,a level dated to 4025 ± 150B.P. Wecalculate that the mass flux of eolian dolomite(acomponent of solely eolian origin) increasedfrom background values of 0.39–0.43 g/cm
2
 /k.y.to a weighted average value of 0.97 g/cm
2
 /k.y.during this abrupt mid-Holocene aridificationevent. Calcium carbonate in this core,which re-flects contributions from both eolian carbonategrains as well as biogenic microfossil tests,in-creased from 19% to nearly 39% by weight.Under petrographic microscope,these sedimentshad marked increases in subrounded,well-sorted(25–30
µ
m) lithic dolomite,limestone,andquartz grains relative to adjacent sediments. Asmaller amplitude increase in eolian dolomiteand calcite concentrations was also detected at adepth of 86–90cm (Fig.2) within core M5-422,corresponding to about 5200B.P.,although thislevel was not radiocarbon dated directly.
PROVENANCE OF THE 4025 B.P.INCREASE IN EOLIAN DEPOSITION
We employed radiogenic isotope analyses (Ndand Sr) to determine the provenance of the 4025±150B.P. increase in eolian deposition. The
ε
Ndand
87
Sr/ 
86
Sr isotopic signatures of marine sedi-ments have been used previously to identify theprovenance of lithic particles in marine sedimentsglobally (Goldstein and O’nions,1981; Groussetetal.,1988),and in the northwest Indian Ocean inparticular (Dia etal.,1992). There are three princi-pal sources of terrigenous sediments to the north-west Indian Ocean (Fig.1),each with its own char-acteristic
ε
Nd and
87
Sr/ 
86
Sr isotopic composition(Sirocko and Ittekot,1992):the Zagros Mountains(Iran),the Indus River (southwestern Asia),andthe Mesopotamian flood plains (Fig.3). Estimatesof the
ε
Nd and
87
Sr/ 
86
Sr compositional ranges forthese three end members are summarized in Fig-ure3. We use
ε
Nd and
87
Sr/ 
86
Sr analysis to recon-struct past variations in the relative contributions of Zagros and Mesopotamian detrital sources withrespect to the terrigenous sediment fraction in theM5-422 core top.
380GEOLOGY,April 2000
1
GSA Data Repository item 200041,Tables 1–3,isavailable on request from Documents Secretary,GSA,P.O. Box 9140,Boulder,CO 80301-9140,editing@geosociety.org,or at www.geosociety.org/ pubs/drpint.
-3-2-101
δ
18
O (‰)(
G. ruber 
)
10203040
CaCO
3
 
(% wt.)
102030
Susceptibility
(10-6SI units)
051025
Calendar Age (k.y)
036912
Dolomite
(% wt.)
14
C (
R = 560 yr)Calendar age (k.y.)
3626 calendar yr B.P.4194 calendar yr B.P.
M5-422 - Gulf of Oman
S.E. = 1.1%S.E. = 0.6%
050100150200
   D  e  p   t   h   (  c  m   )
1520
Figure 2.Core M5-422 (24°23.40
N,59°2.50
E;2732m deep) increase in eolian dolomite andCaCO
3
between 4194 and 3626 calendar yr B.P.Conventional bulk (>150
µ
m fraction) radio-carbon analyses are shown with error bars,respective analytical precisions are shown.
 
Analyses of the extracted terrigenous fractionof core-top samples (open circles) from coreM5-422 demonstrate that the dominant source of terrigenous sediment to this site is derived fromthe Zagros drainage (Fig.3; Table2,see foot-note1). A modern sample of atmospheric mineraldust fallout collected in Baghdad,Iraq,(closedcircles) in the summer of 1995 was analyzed andits isotopic composition is within the Mesopo-tamian end member. Measured samples takenfrom the collapse horizon at the Tell Leilan–AbuHgeira archeological site in northeast Syria(closed triangle) are consistent with an increasedMesopotamian end-member composition as com-pared to the core top. The
ε
Nd and
87
Sr/ 
86
Sr iso-topic composition of the 149cm level (shaded tri-angle) in M5-422,representing the Younger Dryas(Table1,see footnote1),is shifted ~25% towardthe Mesopotamian dust end member as comparedto the core top (Fig.3; Table2,see footnote1).This result confirms previous studies documentinggreatly increased Mesopotamian aridity and dustsupply during the hyper arid last glacial maxi-mum and Younger Dryas cold periods (Sirockoand Sarnthein,1989; Sirocko et al.,1993). The
ε
Nd and
87
Sr/ 
86
Sr values obtained for the 68 and66cm samples (two open triangles) imply a returnto arid conditions during the mid-Holocene andconfirm an increased supply of eolian detritusfrom Mesopotamian sources at 4025± 150B.P.(Fig.3; Table2,see footnote1). The
87
Sr/ 
86
Sr val-ues for this level (0.7124–0.7128) are clearlylower than the core-top sediment value (0.7145)and are shifted ~30% along a Nd-Sr mixing linetoward the less radiogenic Mesopotamian dustend-member value (0.7082–0.7086). We interpretthe radiogenic isotope and mineralogic results toreflect an abrupt and rather short-lived (~400yr)aridification of Mesopotamian dust source areas(primarily the Tigris and Euphrates flood plains)commencing near 4025± 150B.P.
TEPHROSTRATIGRAPHICCORRELATION TO TELL LEILAN(NORTHEAST SYRIA)
There remains the significant task of docu-menting a direct temporal link between this arid-ification event near 4025± 150B.P. and the pur-ported aridification event ascribed to the collapseof the Akkadian empire dated as 4175± 150B.P.(Weiss etal.,1993). The calibrated radiocarbonages for the aridification and social collapseevents are synchronous in their joint 1
σ
datingerrors (Fig.4) but other factors such as changes inthe marine reservoir age correction,for example,can shift apparent marine radiocarbon ages byseveral hundred years (Bard etal.,1994).Geochemical correlation of volcanic ash falloutlayers presents an analytically robust way to doc-ument synchroneity. A thin (0.5cm) volcanic ashhorizon from an as-yet unknown source volcanowas identified in the Tell Leilan and nearby AbuHgeira site strata (level43 90-2) that immediatelypostdated the Akkadian collapse horizon but pre-dated the ~300yr occupational hiatus (40–100cmof eolian sediments barren of artifacts). Abundantrhyolitic ash shards were observed and the majorelement geochemistry of these shards was deter-mined by electron microprobe analysis (Weissetal.,1993) (Table3,see footnote1). We exam-ined the 68 and 70cm levels in core M5-422 forvolcanic shards under the petrographic micro-scope and found very rare volcanic ash shardswhich were clear,evidently rhyolitic,largelyarcuate in shape,and with evident bubble-wall junctions. No shards were found in the sedimentsdirectly above and below this level (Fig.4).These samples were acidified to remove car-bonate material,sieved at 38
µ
m,and the >38
µ
mfractions were then analyzed by electron micro-probe analysis. Samples were analyzed on aCameca SX-50 electron microprobe equippedwith four wavelength-dispersive spectrometers.The accelerating voltage was 15kV,the beam cur-rent 25nA,and the beam diameter was between 5and 25
µ
m. Elemental concentrations were calcu-lated from relative peak intensities using the
φ
(
ρ
z)algorithm (Pouchou and Pichoir,1991). Theresulting major element oxide compositions froma total of seven probe analyses on two shards arepresented in Table3 (see footnote1). The oxidecompositions of the Tell Leilan–Abu Hgeira sitesand core M5-422 (Gulf of Oman) volcanic ashshards are extremely similar (Table3,see foot-note1). The Si,Ti,Fe,Mn,Mg,and Ca oxide
GEOLOGY,April 2000381
-12-10-8-6-4-2020.7060.7080.710.7120.7140.716
MesopotamianIndusZagros
87/86
Sr
ε
Nd
Iraqi dust air fall M5-422 (68-70cm)4025 
± 
150 yr B.P.YD core top Leilan 
Figure 3.Radiogenic isotope (
ε
Nd and
87
Sr/
86
Sr) data measured for core M5-422,TellLeilan–Abu Hgeira (northeast Syria),andsamples of atmospheric mineral dust falloutcollected in Baghdad,Iraq.Zagros,Indus,andMesopotamian terrigenous
ε
Nd and
87
Sr/
86
Srend-member compositions are estimated (afterSirocko et al.[1993]).
20003000400050006000
   C  a   l  e  n   d  a  r   A  g  e   (  y  r   B .   P .   )
0250500
Dead Sea Level(m)
Dry Wet Dry Wet 
-6.0-5.6-5.2
20003000400050006000
δ
18
O (‰)(Soreq Cave, Israel)
   A   k   k  a   d   i  a  n   I  m  p  e  r   i  a   l   i  z  a   t   i  o  n   C  o   l   l  a  p  s  e   R  e  s  e   t   t   l  e  m  e  n   t
Tell Leilan
Tephra (68-70 cm)
Gulf of Omancore M5-422Dolomite
(% wt.)
CaCO
3
 
(% wt.)
0481210203040
Figure 4.Eolian mineral concentra-tion data for 6000–2000 calendar yrB.P.interval in core M5-422.Cali-brated radiocarbon ages of imperial-ization,collapse,and resettlementphases of Akkadian empire as deter-mined from archeological investiga-tions at Tell Leilan are provided(dates from Weiss et al.[1993]).Mean calibrated ages of thesephases,their 2
σ
and full age ranges,are represented by filled symbols,boxes,and range bars,respectively.

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