February 28, 2007
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FROM VOLUME 12, NUMBER 2, FEBRUARY 1999
Climate and Culture
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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
- 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
- Natives of Australia and New Guinea adopted new agricultural
- 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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