Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Climate news from archeology and history for July and August 2012

I know that there are two major news stories breaking, the Republican National Convention and Hurricane Issac, which become intertwined last week when Republicans cancelled the first day of their convention because of the passing storm, but I'm not up to examining either in any detail right now. Instead, I present the climate news from archeology and history that first appeared in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Opening of London Olympics edition), Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (PECASE, President's Birthday, and Curiosity edition), Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Curiosity's first destination edition), and Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Neil Armstrong R.I.P. edition) on Daily Kos this past month.

Follow over the jump from stories from the beginning of civilization to projections of the effects of future climate change and sea level rise on archeological sites to read the past month's articles on climate in history, both ancient and modern.

Nature: Climate change shaped ancient burial rituals
Development of Chinchorro mummification practices coincided with a population boom, researchers say.
Helen Thompson
13 August 2012
A relatively wet climatic period may have triggered the development 7000 years ago of complex culture in hunter-gatherer communities in the Atacama Desert, including the earliest known examples of ritual mummification.

Bands of hunter-gatherers lived along the Atacama coastline from 11000 BC to 500 BC, but the Chinchorro began mummifying their dead only around 5000 BC. An early Archaic burial (dated 9000-8000 BC) that uses similar funerary symbols to the later mummy burials suggests that mummification was a local development, rather than being introduced from elsewhere. Now, researchers posit that cultural innovations, including the cult of mummification, were spurred by environmental change.
LiveScience: Natural Disasters in Ancient Egypt Revealed
Megan Gannon, News Editor
Date: 16 August 2012 Time: 12:36 PM ET
Researchers say they've traced a record of ancient Egypt's droughts and fires with fossil pollen and charcoal deposits preserved in the Nile Delta. The record provides evidence for historic climate catastrophes, including a huge drought linked to the downfall of Egypt's Old Kingdom, the era sometimes known as the Age of the Pyramids.
Museum of London Archaeology: Cataclysmic volcano wreaked havoc on medieval Britain
6 August 2012
The results of the largest archaeological investigation ever to have taken place in London are to be published by MOLA. Some 10,500 human skeletons dating from the 12th century to the 1500s were discovered by archaeologists a decade ago. It has taken ten years to analyse the results of this colossal discovery. Amongst the orderly burials were a number of mass burial pits that had scientists baffled.

Through radiocarbon dating, the mass burials were accurately dated but the timings didn’t marry with devastating events know to have taken place in the medieval period, like the Black Death or the Great Famine. Osteologist Don Walker set about solving the mystery. He turned to contemporary documentary sources, in which he found mention of ‘heavy rains’¹, ‘there was a failure of the crops; upon which failure, a famine ensued…many thousand persons perished’².
LiveScience: Wet Climate May Have Fueled Mongol Invasion
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 20 July 2012 Time: 01:23 PM ET
Beginning in the 13th century, the Mongol Empire spread across Asia and into the Middle East like wildfire, growing into the largest contiguous land empire the world has ever seen.

Historians have long speculated that periods of drought pushed the Mongol hordes to conquer their neighbors, but preliminary new findings suggest that theory may be exactly backward. Instead, consistent rain and warm temperatures may have given the Mongols the energy source they needed to conquer Eurasia: grass for their horses.

This idea, bolstered by the discovery of tree rings that preserve a climate history of Mongolia back to 657 A.D., is still in the preliminary stages of investigation. LiveScience spoke with Amy Hessl, the dendochronologist, or tree-ring researcher, who along with collaborators Neil Pederson and Baatarbileg Nachin first discovered the preserved trees hinting at the weather during the era of the Mongols.
NPR: How The Smokey Bear Effect Led To Raging Wildfires
by Christopher Joyce
The history of fire in the American Southwest is buried in a catacomb of rooms under the bleachers of the football stadium at the University of Arizona.

Here rules professor Thomas Swetnam, tree ring expert. You want to read a tree ring? You go to Tom. He's a big, burly guy with a beard and a true love for trees.

Tree sections are stacked floor to ceiling. They're like rounds chopped from a carrot, the carrot being a tree trunk. They're the size of dinner plates. When the football team scores, they rattle on their shelves.

Growth rings tell how old the sectioned tree was. But when Swetnam holds up one, he points to something else: fire scars.
NASA Explorer on YouTube: NASA | Yellowstone Burn Recovery

A combination of lightning, drought and human activity caused fires to scorch more than one-third of Yellowstone National Park in the summer of 1988. Within a year, burn scars cast a sharp outline on the 793,880 acres affected by fire, distinguishing wide sections of recovering forest, meadows, grasslands and wetlands from unburned areas of the park. After more than two decades, satellite instruments can still detect these scars from space.

Landsat Project Scientist Jeff Masek has been studying the recovery of the forest after the 1988 Yellowstone fires. In the video below, he talks about how Landsat satellites detect the burn scars from space and distinguish them from healthy, un-burned forest and from new growth.
Zee News (India): Beijing floods: 160 heritage sites damaged
Last Updated: Friday, July 27, 2012
Beijing: About 160 historical sites, including the Peking Man World Heritage Site at Zhoukoudian, were damaged in floods caused by the heaviest rainfall in six decades in Beijing and suburbs.

Seventy seven people were killed in the incessant rains which also left a trail of destruction causing direct economic losses of about USD 125 million, Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage said.

The deluge caused several small-scale landslides at the Peking Man site and disabled its security system, Li Yan, the senior administrator at Zhoukoudian, located in a village 50 kilometres southwest of Beijing said.
Anatolia News Agency via Hurriyet Daily News (Turkey): Ilisu River dam excavation sheds light on new artifacts
DI.YARBAKIR - Anatolia News Agency
Work on the new ‘Ilisu Protection Excavation’ is taking place at sites around Diyarbak?r on a river that is soon to be controversially dammed. The total number of excavation works will increase to 17, Diyarbak?r Museum manager Nevin Soyukaya says, noting that important discoveries have already been made at the sites

The excavation works at the southeastern province of Diyarbakir’s Ilisu River are soon to begin with seven local and two foreign teams. The works are slated to protect the areas that would otherwise be submerged after the construction of the contentious Il?su Dam.

The “Ilisu Protection Excavation” works will be located at Körtik, Salattepe, Karavelyan, Hakemi Use, Müslüman Tepe, Ziyarettepe and H?rbemerdon. The total number of excavation works will be 17, Diyarbak?r Museum manager Nevin Soyukaya told the Anatolia news agency. Works at Hakemi Use and Salattepe have already begun and the other works will begin this year.
KQED: Rising Seas Threaten California’s Coastal Past
Higher tides and increased erosion will wipe out archaeological sites
Mike Newland
A site with evidence of more than 1,000 years of occupation is eroding due to high tides hitting the base of the cliff.

On a sunny day earlier this summer at Point Reyes National Seashore, I scrambled behind Mike Newland as he clambered across gullies and bushwhacked through thigh-high lupine. Once we got to the spot he was aiming for, on the edge of a sandy beach-side cliff, he stopped and started to pick through shells and stones.

“You can see, we’ve got sort of a handful of little guys here, popping out of the ground,” he noted. “Some of these that we’re going to see, they weren’t here a year ago, when I came here last time.”
I'll see if I'm up to more demanding blogging tomorrow.

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