Human responses to climate and ecosystem change in ancient Arabia

Anthropogenic changes to Earth’s biological, physical, and atmospheric systems, particularly as a result of global warming, pose significant challenges to people around the world today. Archaeologists have dedicated considerable effort to studying human–environment interactions through time, examining how societies have either collapsed in the face of environmental change  or transformed themselves in diverse social, political, economic, and material ways to adapt to challenging environments.

Recent interdisciplinary archaeological and paleoenvironmental research in the Arabian peninsula is transforming our understanding of ancient human societies in their ecological contexts. Hypotheses about the cultural and demographic impacts of a series of droughts have primarily been developed from the environmental and archaeological records of southeastern Arabia. 

In this study, Michael D. Petraglia and colleagues examine these human–environment interactions by integrating ongoing research from northern Arabia. While droughts and extreme environmental variability in the Holocene had significant impacts on human societies, responses varied across space and time and included mobility at various scales, as well as diverse social, economic and cultural adaptations, such as the management of water resources, the introduction of pastoral lifeways, and the construction of diverse types of stone structures. 

The long-term story of human societies in Arabia is one of resilience in the face of climate change, yet future challenges include rising temperatures and flash flooding. The history of human responses to climatic and ecosystem changes in Arabia can provide important lessons for a planet facing catastrophic global warming and environmental change.

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