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expert reaction to study looking at how people in ancient Turkey responded to climate change

A study published in PLOS ONE looks at settlement, environment, and climate change in the ancient world of Anatolia – now Turkey.


Prof Meric Srokosz, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton

“The article is a study of the impact of climatic conditions on settlements in Anatolia from about 3000BCE to 1000CE, and shows how the impacts of such changes can be made worse when compounded with pandemics, earthquakes and wars. This is a timely reminder to us as we face catastrophic climate change that other factors, such as the recent pandemic, could make matters much worse. This adds to the urgency of tackling climate change by reducing or stopping our emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”


Prof Ilan Kelman, Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, said:

“This study confirms decades of disaster research that socio-political, not environmental, factors determine our ability to adapt. Yet some of these findings do not apply today. We are pushing heat-humidity into devastatingly lethal realms that have already manifested. We must learn from history about how to stop disasters while accepting that some human-caused climate change ends up far beyond previous human experience.”


Prof Frank Mayle, Department of Geography & Environmental Science, University of Reading, said:

“This study provides important new data which shows that attributing the rise and fall of ancient societies to climate change is over-simplistic. Instead it shows that the extent to which ancient societies were able to adapt to climate change was heavily dependent upon complex socio-economic, cultural and political factors.

“However, although the authors point toward adaptation to drier conditions in the eastern Mediterranean during the 5th century, to suggest it proves that ‘we can overcome anthropogenic climate change’ is unwarranted and misleading. Throughout human history societies have had to cope with entirely natural variations in climate, with varying degrees of success.  What we are facing now is man-made climate change, the rate, magnitude, and impact of which is unprecedented in human history.  Perhaps this claim was only loose language, but such statements could give entirely unjustified ammunition to climate-change sceptics.”


Prof Robert Nicholls, Professor of Climate Adaptation and Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, said:

“To say we can adapt to climate change is almost meaningless – the magnitude and form of climate change needs to be clearly defined. Humans are undoubtedly good at adaptation and history gives us examples of this as in this paper. It also gives us examples of failure due to change climate such as the collapse of the Mayan civilisation. The role of other factors compounding the impacts of climate change as identified in this paper is informative and relevant for the future as it is clearly the world we live in. It suggests caution concerning the success of adaptation and the need to avoid complacency. Nonetheless, the future scale of climate change and the demands of our large and growing global population are unprecedented in the archaeological record and any interpretation of past trends towards the future needs to be made with caution.”


Prof Jonathan Bamber, Director of the Bristol Glaciology Centre, University of Bristol, said:

This is an intriguing study of one relatively small regional response to a temporary perturbation to local climate conditions. From a historical perspective it is interesting and valuable to unravel how communities adapted to these changes. However, making direct inferences from this analysis about how communities may adapt to climate change in the future is challenging for numerous reasons. To understand those issues, a better place to look is the latest IPCC Working Group II assessment report published this year, which looks at climate change impacts and adaptation options across the inhabited world in great detail.”



‘Settlement, environment, and climate change in SW Anatolia: Dynamics of regional variation and the end of Antiquity’ by Matthew J. Jacobson et al. was published in PLOS ONE at 7pm UK time on Monday 27 June 2022.



Declared interests

Prof Frank Mayle: “I declare I have no competing interests.”

Prof Robert Nicholls: “No interests.”

Prof Jonathan Bamber: “No competing interests.”

Prof Meric Srokosz: “Nothing to declare.”

Prof Ilan Kelman: “No interests to declare.”

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