How the 'Little Ice Age' Shaped the Rise and Fall of Empires

First Posted: Feb 08, 2016 06:23 PM EST

The "Little Ice Age" may have had some major impacts on human civilization. Researchers have identified an unprecedented, long-lasting cooling in the norther hemisphere that coincided with the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire and the rise of the Arab Empire.

In this latest study, the researchers mapped new climate information against a particularly turbulent period in history in Europe and central Asia. In this case, the researchers found that a drop of temperature occurred 1500 years ago. This drop in temperature was immediately followed by three large volcanic eruptions in the years 536, 540 and 547 AD.

Volcanoes can cause climate cooling by ejecting large volumes, called sulfate aerosols, that enter the atmosphere blocking sunlight.

The volcanic eruptions probably affected food supplies-a major famine struck the region at precisely this time followed immediately by the pandemic. Further south, the Arabian Peninsula received more rain allowing more vegetation to grow. It's likely that this may have driven the expansion of the Arab Empire in the Middle East because the vegetation would have sustained larger herds of camels used by the Arab armies for their campaigns.

In cooler areas, several tribes migrated east towards China, possibly driven away by a lack of pastureland in central Asia. This led to hostilities between nomadic groups and the local ruling powers in the steppe regions of northern China.

The findings reveal a bit more about this particular Ice Age. More specifically, it shows how climate can greatly impact the rise and fall of cultures.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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