- Climate and Cultural Change in Prehistoric Europe and the Near East ed. by Peter F. Biehl and Olivier P. Nieuwenhuyse
Albany, NY: State University of New York. Pp. v + 297. Hardback, $100.00. ISBN: 978-1-4384-6183-0. Paperback, $37.85. ISBN: 978-1-4384-6182-3.
At a time when the basic tenets of climate science are called into question, the need for demonstrable evidence of systemic links between climate and the human condition has never been more acute. Archaeologists find themselves in the unique position of being able to document these connections in a variety of past contexts, given the now long-standing interdisciplinary emphasis on environmental reconstruction. Archaeologists are armed with data sets that materially chronicle, for example, the movement of settlements from one ecological zone to another because of seasonal shifts in the rainfall regime. They can pinpoint the time when urban residents in such classic village sites as Çatalhöyük abandoned one "high and dry mound" for another because high levels of precipitation altered the position of the city's stream channel, the Carsamba River (Climate and Cultural Change in Prehistoric Europe and the Near East, p. 109), thus forcing residents to migrate safely away from the flood axis.
Formally, Merriam Webster refines the definition of climate, as opposed to weather, as "a region of the earth having specified climatic conditions." It's an absolutely critical distinction and one that is so ingrained in baseline theory that climatologists ignore its invocation, to their and the world's detriment. By invoking scale as a measure of assessing impacts of circulation systems, archaeologists can assess human ecological trends across time and space. Thus the recent publication Climate and Cultural Change in Prehistoric Europe and the Near East is especially timely. It considers potentially synchronous trends in climate and cultural systems for two adjacent regions, both of which were pivotal to the emergence and evolution of Western civilization in the present post-glacial or Holocene geological epoch. A core theme, and arguably this volume's subtext, is to question facile human ecological models that presume causality between human adaptive strategies and climatically triggered environmental transitions. That point is logistically placed in the editors' introduction and it is echoed in nearly every contribution. By the same token, the volume's individual case studies attempt to tease out objectively the connections between climate and human geography.
The volume is organized into three sections. Part I covers the Near East and Part II, Europe. Part III is a retrospective Commentary. The two regional sections consist of six chapters each, concentrating on specific study areas in which the prehistoric climate-culture nexus is explored. In Part I the Near Eastern case studies pivot almost exclusively on the ramifications of the critical Early Holocene "8.2 ka event." For those unfamiliar with this paleoclimatic pulse, it broadly refers to a dramatic decrease in global temperatures, generally accompanied by desiccation, which lasted on the order of two to four centuries. This break in the overall post-glacial Holocene warming trend broadly coincided with the Neolithic and early Chalcolithic cultures of the Mediterranean Basin and interior Near East. Part II migrates the geographic coverage westward, across Turkey (the traditional bridge from Asia Minor) into neighboring Europe. It includes a more diverse group of papers one of which is uniquely methodological (i.e., Chapter 9 by C. Bonsall et al., on radiocarbon discontinuities) and two final chapters that break off from the focus of the 8.2 ka event and look at the Late Holocene "4.2 ka event" in Poland (Chapter 11 by A. Pelesiak) and post 1500 BCE climatic discontinuities in Sweden (Chapter 12 by D. Löwenborg and T. Eriksson).
Part III is simply a stand-alone paper (Chapter 13) by E. Zubrow entitled "Epilogue to a Prologue," which is a refreshingly humorous but synoptic personal reflection on the state of climate studies in archaeology with an eye towards present and future interpretive potential. Its signature contribution is Table 13.2 that categorically summarizes and sorts out...