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Global Climate Change Digest

A Guide to Information on Greenhouse Gases and Ozone Depletion
Published July 1988 through June 1999


Climate and Culture

Item #d99feb37

In “Transitions in the Mid-Holocene” [Science 283, 499-500 (Jan. 22, 1999)], D. H. Sandweiss, K. A. Maaasch, and D. G. Anderson summarize the recent meeting, FERCO International Conference on Climate and Culture at 3000 B.C. The thesis emerging from this meeting was that during the mid-Holocene climate became more variable and, coincidently, human society made great strides. Conjecture on correlation and causality was considerable at the conference. After all, a number of paleoclimatic records are being published that show that the El Niño-Southern Oscillation with great interannual variability established itself as the dominant climate pattern in the Pacific Basin about that time. [See “An }15,000-Year Record of El Niño-Driven Alluviation in Southwestern Equador,” D. T. Rodbell ( et al.,Science 283, 516-520 (Jan. 22, 1999) in Global Climate Change Digest, Jan. 1999.] And other parts of the world also experienced increased variability, such as Scandinavia (where climate change altered forest cover from elm to faster-growing hardwoods) and the Middle East (where regional droughts alternated with rainy periods). In each of these locations, anthropologists can point to significant, coincident changes in the organization and maintenance of human society:

  • In Peru, groups used both seafood and agricultural products as staples for the first time, gathered in large cities, and built temple mounds.
  • The culture of Chile became more complex as people lived in large sites and adopted agriculture.
  • The people of Japan built larger structures, ate more shellfish, practiced burial differentiation, and traded high-status goods with small distributions.
  • Natives of Australia and New Guinea adopted new agricultural practices.
  • In the Nile Valley, seasonally occupied villages of cattle herders appeared, and people began to worship cattle and building monumental architecture like the pyramids.
  • In Scandinavia, people began interior settlements and started pottery, farming, and long-barrow construction.

In short, a case can be made that cultural complexity increased when and where climate change was most defined, but the connections between climate and culture are still unclear and speculative

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