Research ArticleCLIMATOLOGY

Climate change and water management in the biblical city of Dan

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Science Advances  22 Nov 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 11, e1700954
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700954


Global climate change has sharpened focus on the social and economic challenges associated with water deficits, particularly in regions where anthropogenic demands exceed supply. This modern condition was also experienced by the people of ancient western Asia, where chronic water shortages were accentuated by recurrent droughts. However, human societies may react to climate change, particularly desiccation, in different ways depending on specific local conditions. Focusing on the biblical site of Tel Dan (present-day Israel), we show the effects of severe precipitation decline in an environment that was well watered and fertile even in times of drought. Such local niches of prosperity became attractive targets for predation when food resources became scarce in surrounding rain-fed areas. We propose that predation forced urban populations to either flee or adopt new subsistence strategies. Predation and abandonment, even if only partial, led to the poor maintenance of water networks in and around the city. Once stagnant water surrounded the area, water-borne disease proliferated. Our study shows how climate changes can disrupt social and political structures, cause water system management to collapse, and facilitate marshland expansion.

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