The Earth’s climate swings have disrupted human societies and civilizations throughout our species’ history; take examples like those in Jared Diamond’s Collapse. But are they also connected to one of the most famous collapses in the history books—the fall of the Roman Empire?
There are a host of reasons for the fall of Rome, researchers led by paleoclimatologist Ulf Büntgen write today in the journal Science. However, analyzing the climate records of the past 2,500 years reveals that changes to Europe’s climate coincided with the rise and fall of the famous civilization. Such a correlation could suggest that climate played some part in building the Romans up and in tearing them down.
Büntgen and colleagues collaborated with archaeologists to amass a database of more than 9,000 pieces of wood dating back 2,500 years. Samples came from both live trees and remains of buildings and other wooden artifacts, all from France and Germany. By measuring the width of annual growth rings in the wood, the researchers were able to determine temperature and precipitation levels on a year-by-year basis. [Discovery News]
The results of this unprecedented collection of climate data: In the third century B.C., when Rome fought the First and Second Punic wars against Carthage and began its ascent to Mediterranean empire, times were good. The rains fell, the temperatures were warm, and agriculture would have flourished. But by the third century A.D., the time when the Germanic invasions began to creep further into Roman territory, more droughts had come to Western Europe. This trend persisted into about the 6th century A.D.
An ancient Roman city that was the predecessor of Venice has been rediscovered beneath croplands near the Venetian lagoon using sophisticated aerial imagery and some clever analysis. Researchers say they’ve found the harbor city of Altinum, which was once one of the richest cities of the Roman empire. But terrified by the impending invasion of the fearsome Germanic Emperor Attila the Hun, its inhabitants cut their losses and fled in AD452, leaving behind a ghost town of theatres, temples and basilicas [Times Online].
Many of the city’s ancient buildings were dismantled and the stones were carted away in the Middle Ages. The remaining foundations sunk back into the marsh, which was drained and turned into agricultural land in the 19th century. The new study, published in Science, is a result of aerial images taken in unusually dry summer of 2007, when the crops were suffering from drought. When the visible light and near-infrared images were processed to tease out subtle variations in plant water stress, a buried metropolis emerged. The researchers discovered that the crops planted on the land were in different stages of ripening, thanks to differences in the amount of water in the soil [ScienceNOW Daily News].