Keynote Lecture – ‘Floodplain Catastrophes and Climate Change’ by Mark Macklin

22 10 2009

Macklin PolaroidSpeaker: Professor Mark G. Macklin (Aberystwyth University)

Full title: Floodplain Catastrophes and Climate Change: Lessons from the Rise and Fall of Riverine Societies

Discipline: Geography



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3 responses

24 10 2009
Scott Noegel

Dear Mark,

We tend to think of the ecological destruction as wrought by humans as a more contemporary phenomenon. I very much like the way you have shown this to be an on-going trait of human activity. This being said, I wonder whether we might consider other factors that might have contributed to these catastrophes. I note, for example, that the Assyrians, even in the Sargonid Age, had no local wood and essentially helped to deforest the Lebanon. Ditto with the Egyptians who got their cedars from that region. I believe it is Thutmosis III who also brags in an inscription that he killed the last pygmy elephant of Syria. Even the gathering of acorns as food helped to deforest large areas of land around the Jordan Valley already in prehistory. The Near East was very different in antiquity, in terms of fauna and flora, than it is today–largely because of human activity that happened thousands of years ago. Again, I thank you for your talk, which helps us to remember that we follow in the footsteps of ancients, but that we at times might be wiser not to.



25 10 2009
Eileen Joy

Mark: thanks so much for this talk, which I found highly enlightening. As a medievalist who studies the culture of earlier peoples, I also appreciated Scott’s comments. I’ve always been fascinated by the settlement of Greenland by Norse migrants in the tenth century who may not have learned how, or stubbornly refused, to adapt to Greenland’s climate and agricultural conditions, and therefore their settlements disappeared completely in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries [some speculate that actual climate change may have also had something to do with this, and I am intrigued by Jared Diamond’s take on the subject in his book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” where he speculates that, in addition to catastrophic changes in the climate in Greenland, the Norse living there also failed to adapt in creative ways to their surroundings and actually created environmental damage as a result, ultimately likely starving to death, even when there was an abundance of fish around them]. In any case, thanks again for this talk.

5 11 2009
mark macklin

Dear Eileen & Scott,

Many thanks indeed for your comments & I am very glad that you enjoyed my talk. I’m sorry for the delay in getting back to you but I have been away on field work in Israel for the last 10 days.

In terms of establishing causality of changes in riverine societies in the prehistoric and historical periods, precise dating of both archaeological and fluvial records is essential if we are going to avoid circular reasoning. All of the case studies I discussed in my talk where chosen because they have very good dating control and we can have some confidence that we are correctly disentangling climatic or anthropogenic impacts. Many other studies that are widely reported in the literature are not so well chronologically constrained and I’m pretty sure (know!) we are making some incorrect interpretations that unfortunately tend to get enshrined as fact. We are going back to northern Sudan in January 2010 to investigate with colleagues from the British Museum the site of Amara West which is an extensive Ramesside settlement (thirteenth-twelfth century BC), located on a former island of the River Nile opposite the modern town of Abri. Preliminary investigations last year of sediments infilling a major palaeochannel adjacent to the site showed a series of major flood events and drying phases evidenced by interbedded Nile silts and blown sand. We hope from this to build a high resolution record of droughts and catastrophic floods that we can relate to the occupation and abandonment of Amara West. Potentially it’s a methodology that could be applied to many other archaeological sites in the Nile Valley. I will keep you posted!

Thanks again for your interest.

With best wishes,


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