An interesting read, for many reasons. An old paper on the Egyptian “Intermediate Periods”. Called that as they are in between well attested Dynastic periods. They were times of chaos and famine. Here’s the two wikis for the PC Background version:
And the paper:
The Dark Ages in Ancient History
1. The First Dark Age in Egypt!
Prehistoric Climate 3
Decline of the Neolithic Wet Phase 5
The Nile 6
The First Dark Age in Egypt 7
Texts relating to the first great famine,
c. 2180-c. 2130 B.C. 8
Texts from the years c. 2150-C. 2000 B.C 14
Texts from the years c. 2002-C. 1950 B.C. 16
Take just a moment to look back at the very long term solar status graph in paper from the prior posting.
Look for about 2200 B.C. to 2500 B.C. (The wiki has 2181–2055 B.C.)
The second period was from about 1200 B.C. to 1600 B.C. so take a look at that as well. (The wiki has 1650–1550 B.C.)
Notice the big “dip” in solar activity at about 1500 BC ( -1500 on the graph) and at 2500 B.C and 2200 BC ( -2500 and -2200 on the graph)? Those were strong solar slumps.
This paper in this posting is from about 1971 if I’m reading things right.
In the history of the ancient Near East two striking Dark Ages have occurred. They occurred more or less simultaneously (within the limits of current dating accuracy) over a wide area extending at least from Greece to Mesopotamia and Elam, from Anatolia to Egypt, and probably beyond.
In Egypt, where the chronology is best established, the first Dark Age began around 2200 B.C., when at the end of Dynasty VI Egypt, until then a very stable society, with seeming suddenness fell into anarchy. About the same time the Akkadian Empire disintegrated. Byblos and a number of other sites in Syria and Palestine were destroyed by fire and some were abandoned for a time. Troy II, the wealthy citadel of Schliemann’s gold treasure, was destroyed by fire and rebuilt on only a very shabby scale. Lerna and other prosperous Argolid centers were burned and their destruction was followed by greatly lessened prosperity.
In western and southern Anatolia “the end of the E.B. [Early Bronze] 2 period is marked . . . by a catastrophe of such magnitude as to remain unparalleled until the very end of the Bronze Age” (Mellaart, 1962); widespread destruction is followed by a general decline in material culture and a decrease by about 75 percent in the number of known settlements. We may probably include also the decline of the Indus Valley civilization. The radiocarbon dates of Phase F (mature Harappan) lie between 2100 and 1900 B.C. (Dales 1965; half-life 5730), with an average of 1975 B.C. from 12 measurements. But when these dates are corrected for the systematic error in C-14 dates of this period, as determined by Suess (1967) and by Ralph and Michael (1969), the dates fall between about 2500 and 2250 B.C.
The second Dark Age began around 1200 B.C. It was marked by the disappearance of the Hittite Empire of Anatolia and the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization of Greece. About the same time, or a little later, Egypt went into a prolonged decline, while Babylonia and Assyria were also weak for most of the 1100’S and 1000’S. When we turn to the revised Cambridge Ancient History (CAH) or other modern studies for explanation, we find numerous references to evidence of destruction by fire. The destruction is often attributed to invasions by barbarians about whom little is known, however, and for whose activities the archaeological evidence is often meager or nonexistent. Moreover Adams (1968) has pointed out that the interpretation of seemingly violent destruction and discontinuous layering in a habitation site is more complex and ambiguous than previously recognized, and cannot be considered clear evidence of either intermittent occupation or enemy attack. He thus urges more caution in inferring invasions when there is no clear positive evidence for the presence of invaders.
But even where it is clear that barbarian invasions did occur, we are left with the question of whether they are a sufficient cause or explanation for the destruction of a number of apparently powerful and prosperous states, and why so many different barbarian tribes were stirred to attack centers of civilization at about the same time. Anyone or two of the above disasters, standing alone, might be sufficiently explained by political factors. But the concentration in time of so many disasters and the universal absence of prosperity throughout the area strongly suggest a common underlying cause. Of “historical truth,” Frankfort (1951) wrote that a concept whereby “many seemingly unrelated facts are seen to acquire meaning and coherence is likely to represent a historical reality.”
It is the thesis of this study that the two Dark Ages, and the numerous disasters in the periods c. 2200-2000 and c. 1200-900 B.C., can be given coherence and can all be explained at once by a single primary cause. The cause I postulate as “historical reality” is drought-widespread, severe, and prolonged lasting for several decades and occurring more or less simultaneously over the entire eastern Mediterranean and adjacent lands. This is not to deny the significance of contemporary political and social factors; it is, however, to assert that a climatic economic deterioration of sufficient magnitude can set in motion forces beyond the strength of any society to withstand.
Such an hypothesis has indeed already been advanced by Rhys Carpenter (1966) for the Second Dark Age, c. 1200-900 B.C.; his argument is based primarily on study of the decline of Mycenaean Greece and the Hittite Empire. And in a subsequent paper I plan to discuss this period with primary reference to Egypt. The present paper will examine the evidence for the hypothesis that the First Dark Age of Egypt, the so-called First Intermediate Period, was brought on by a similar prolonged and intense drought. Later papers will examine the evidence from other lands, but there are several advantages in beginning with Egypt:
It goes on from there in very readable fashion. Particularly haunting are some of the actual texts from those eras that are being discussed. There are also various descriptions of the nature and degree of known changes in the climate and precipitation:
average difference between high and low water is 22′ (6.7 m.), with a yearly variation that depends on the volume of the equatorial rains; 4-5′ (1.21.5 m.) below average is a “bad Nile” and in antiquity a succession of these usually resulted in crop failures and famine, while a flood of 30′ (9 m.) or more would cause widespread destruction. Deposits south of Wadi HaIfa suggest that flood levels in early predynastic times were about 10 m. higher than today, that they declined in an oscillatory way to about 5 m. above today in early dynastic times, and to the present level by the time of the New Kingdom (Trigger 1965:31). It is hoped that the present study, in this and subsequent papers (now including Bell 1970), will provide additional details on the flood levels in historical times.
So talk about your ‘climate extremes’. They had stronger rainy periods in general by about 10 m at full flood. And then they had one heck of a drought. The implication seems to be that the next time a great drought comes, it will be even lower rains as our flood stage is already lower.
If Egypt is a politically unstable mess now, how will they be after 10 years of extreme drought?
This interpretation would still leave tzw as an appropriate figure of speech to mean famine due to insufficient flood, but not for famine from other causes. This view is supported also by the phrase from the Book of the Dead from whose prototype Vandier (1950) believes that Ankhtifi’s scribe derived the terms of the tomb inscription: O master of the stormclouds (igp) … O thou who sailest the bark (of/ Re) by this sandbar (tzw) of Apophis. … Thus the appearance of tzw in a context of famine may, and indeed should be taken as evidence of a very low flood, quite sufficient in itself to cause severe famine without any political complications.
Returning now to the inscription of Ankhtifi, we find a very severe famine indeed: . . . All ofUpper Egypt was dying of hunger (/:zkr), to such a degree that everyone had come to eating his children, but I managed that no one died of hunger in this nome. I made a loan of grain to Upper Egypt. … I kept alive the house of Elephantine during these years, after the towns of He/at and Hormer had been satisfied. … The entire country had become like a starved (?) grasshopper, with people going to the north and to the south (in search of grain), but I never permitted it to happen that anyone had to embark from this to another nome. … Vandier (1936 :8) points out that this is one of only two known references to cannibalism in Ancient Egypt, an act of desperation that also occurred during famines in mediaeval Arab Egypt (see Toussoun 1925 :458-474, for details).
It is just a joy to read decent academic work that does not stretch beyond the facts and data, has not a single “model” in it anywhere, and is written in an engaging and compelling style.
The story it tells is one of episodes of famine and associated social chaos, all driven by droughts. That these come at times of abnormally low solar output, and that we are entering just such a period of low solar output, and with Egypt already “on the edge” of food riots; well, it’s something to ponder…
Indeed, women are barren and none conceive. Khnum fashions (men) no more because of the condition of the land . .. hearts are violent, plague is throughout the land, blood is everywhere … many dead are buried in the river; the stream is a sepulchre and the place of embalmment has become a stream (E: the corpses are too numerous to be buried; they are thrown into the water like dead cattle)…. Squalor is throughout the land, and there is no one whose clothes are white in these times. … Indeed, the land turns round as does a potter’s wheel. The robber possesses riches. … (Considering the second sentence, the first would seem to refer to the social order; but I wonder whether it might not refer also to the land itself, keeping in mind Ankhtifi’s sandstorms, and Butzer’s invading dunes, and possible shiftings in the course of the Nile.)
Somehow it’s extraordinarily haunting to read the words of the survivors.
All in all, this paper shows that historical swings of climate and weather have been far worse than anything recent, and it shows just how bad things can get when the rains fail in dramatic fashion for a couple of decades. It also shows that this is not a ‘one time event’ and has elements of periodicity about it. With luck, we are not in a period of solar slowdown quite as strong as those were; or there were some other causes that were also contributory. IF, and it is a very big IF, past is prologue, this is not a very good picture.
To our great advantage now, if rains fail regionally, we can ship food from anywhere on the planet. In an earlier posting we saw that when the Gulf Stream slows down bringing cold, snow and such to Europe, the warmth and rains stay in Florida and down near the Gulf of Mexico (i.e. more rain in the “Desert South West”). To the extent that whatever change of rain patterns causes droughts in Egypt just moves that rain somewhere else that needs it, it becomes a ‘transportation problem’ not a ‘production problem’.
So there is a lot of hope that “this time will be different” as we have much more capacity to use technology and machines to provide food and get it where it is needed. We also are a couple of thousand years further along in the changes of obliquity and precession, so with luck the effects of any solar slowdown are different now. Finally, we don’t know if this solar slowdown is anywhere nearly the same as those solar slowdowns. As near as I can figure it, the next Really Big One isn’t for about another 300 years. Then again “I could be wrong”… In an ideal world, this will be just a quick short cold snap, just enough to break the AGW myth, but not so much as to result in famine and death. We came through the Dalton and Maunder in relatively good form.
The small bits of the paper I quoted here can’t come close to the effect of the whole thing, and I do recommend reading it. If for no other reason than to appreciate how really good we have it now.
I’m adding part of that very large graph of reconstructed TSI. There’s enough references to it that it really needs to be easily seen: