Tree study shows how drought may have doomed ancient Hittite empire
One of the mightiest to perish was the Hittite empire, centered in modern Turkey and spanning parts of Syria and Iraq.
Around 1200 BC, human civilisation experienced a harrowing setback with the near-simultaneous demise or diminishment of several important empires in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean region - an event called the Bronze Age collapse.
One of the mightiest to perish was the Hittite empire, centred in modern Turkey and spanning parts of Syria and Iraq. Researchers on Wednesday offered new insight into the Hittite collapse, with an examination of trees alive at the time showing three consecutive years of severe drought that may have caused crop failures, famine and political-societal disintegration.
The Hittites, with their capital Hattusa situated in central Anatolia, were one of the ancient world's great powers across five centuries. They became the main geopolitical rivals of ancient Egypt during its glittering New Kingdom period.
"In pre-modern times, with none of our infrastructure and technology, the Hittites controlled and ruled a huge region for centuries despite myriad challenges of space, threats from neighbours and entities incorporated into their empire, and despite being centred in a semi-arid region," said Cornell University professor of arts and sciences in classics Sturt Manning, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature.
Scholars long have pondered what triggered the fall of the Hittites and broader collapse that also devastated kingdoms in Greece, Crete and the Middle East while weakening the Egyptians. Hypotheses have included war, invasion and climate change. The new study offers some clarity about the Hittites.
The researchers examined long-lived juniper trees that grew in the region at the time and eventually were harvested to build a wooden structure southwest of Ankara around 748 BC that may have been the burial chamber for a relative of Phrygia's King Midas, who legend holds turned anything he touched into gold.
The trees offered a regional paleoclimatic record in two ways: patterns of annual tree-ring growth, with narrow rings indicating dry conditions; and the ratio of two forms, or isotopes, of carbon in the rings, revealing the tree's response to water availability.
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