Turkey’s Catalhöyük: A Victim of Climate Change

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Çatalhöyük after the first excavations. (Omar hoftun/ CC BY-SA 3.0)

Turkey’s Catalhöyük: A Victim of Climate Change

These days, the dusty, sunbaked ruins of Çatalhöyük in central Turkey do not receive a lot of attention, except from tourists and archaeologists, but around 9,000 to 7,000 years ago it was a busy, bustling, Neolithic metropolis, boasting a farming civilization that was both unique and important in its day. However, having scarcely recovered from the end of the Younger Dryas Ice Age, the world was again hit with a climate catastrophe round about this time. The weather changed abruptly, leading to cooler, dryer summers for much of the Northern Hemisphere. Exactly what happened is anyone's guess, but the trigger is called the 8.2-Kiloyear Event, named after the fact that it happened 8,200 years ago.

Model of the Neolithic settlement at Catalhöyük (7300 BC ) Museum for Prehistory in Thuringia

Model of the Neolithic settlement at Catalhöyük (7300 BC ) Museum for Prehistory in Thuringia
(Wolfgang Sauber / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The 8.2-Kiloyear Event

One plausible explanation is that a huge melt water pulse occurred when the Laurentide Ice Sheet in North America, having already played a huge part in terms of changing global weather patterns at the end of the Younger Dryas, finally collapsed. Two immense glacial lakes, now called Ojibwa and Agassiz, located along the Canadian/North American border, suddenly drained into the North Atlantic. This released the equivalent of almost 50 Amazon Rivers’ worth of fresh water and disrupted the natural flow of the currents which bring warm equatorial water north, where it cools and then flows south again in a never ending circle that is recognized as an important regulator of current climate conditions. With that much cold glacial melt water suddenly dumped into the system, all kinds of terrible things happened. The result was what is today called climate change. The impact of such a sudden cooling of the earth's atmosphere might not have occurred as rapidly as it did a few thousand years earlier at the beginning of the Younger Dryas, but it would have had a devastating effect on the relatively new agricultural civilization that had begun to flourish in Anatolia, having spread out from Göbekli Tepe and then to Sumer, Egypt, and beyond.


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