Research ArticleANTHROPOLOGY

Role of climate in the rise and fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire

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Science Advances  13 Nov 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 11, eaax6656
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax6656
  • Fig. 1 Locations, climate, proxy data, and historical context.

    (A) Observed November to April (N-A) precipitation anomalies (relative to 1901–1980) during one of the most severe episodes of multiyear (2006/7–2008/09) droughts (18, 19) in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East (EMME) (~30° to 40°N and 30° to 50°E). Gridded (0.5° × 0.5°) precipitation data are from the Global Precipitation Climatology Center (GPCC v.7) (Materials and Methods) (52). The inferred spatial extent of the Assyrian Empire at its peak (~670 BCE) (dashed line), traditional Assyrian heartland (triangle) (13), and the locations of modern cities of Mosul (ancient Nineveh) and Erbil (yellow circles) are shown along with the location of Kuna Ba Cave (star). (B) Shaded regions show the area bounded between the 200- and 300-mm isohyets for the dry (2007–2009), wet (2009–10, 2013), and mean climatology (1980–2010) periods. Topography data are from Global 1-min elevation collection (https://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/global/) (C to E) Time series of November to April GPCC precipitation anomalies (% departure from the 1901–1980 period) over the EMME and northern Iraq (~33° to 38°N and 41° to 46°E) and from the grid points closest to Mosul (~36.5°N and 43.1°E) and Kuna Ba Cave (~35°N and 45°E). (C) Kuna Ba (this study) and Gejkar cave δ18O data (21) for the 1900–2006 (D) and 1900–2012 (E) periods, respectively, as anomalies (relative to the 1900–2000 period) (shaded). Linear trends (least-squares fits of EMME and speleothem time series) that are significantly different from zero at 95% confidence level are shown with black lines.

  • Fig. 2 Kuna Ba Cave δ18O and δ13C profiles and change point estimation.

    (A) δ18O profiles of NIR-1 (dark blue) and NIR-2 (orange) and 230Th dates with 2σ error (color-coded by speleothems). (B) δ13C profiles of NIR-1 (blue) and NIR-2 (red) and 230Th dates with 2σ error (color-coded by speleothems). The insets in both panels show the timings of initial changes in the δ18O and δ13C profiles between 2600 and 2900 B.P. using an objective approach (Materials and Methods) (49). Change points and associated 1σ errors (relative to the age model chronology) are marked by solid circles (color-coded) and numbers.

  • Fig. 3 Comparisons between the detrended Kuna Ba cave z score transformed δ18O record and the key Assyrian historical events.

    The detrended and normalized δ18O record (this study) delineates a number of subdecadal to multidecadal periods of inferred drought (z score > 0.5, brown) and pluvial conditions (z score < −0.5, green). The inset shows the δ18O record between 550 and 950 BCE (shaded, with increasing saturation index representing increasing intensity) and the major historical Assyrian events delineated by horizontal color bars, yellow dots, and supporting text. Approximate reigns of the key Assyrian kings are shown with horizontal bars (cyan). Red circles and error bars mark 230Th dates with 2σ error. The chronology of Neo-Assyrian rulers and imperial events is primarily based on the dating of the Būr-saggilê eponym to the solar eclipse of 15 June 763 BCE (see also the Supplementary Materials for more information) (27). The age errors associated with historical events are known with annual and, for many events such as the Fall of Nineveh in 612 BCE, at monthly chronological precision (27).

  • Fig. 4 Comparison between Kuna Ba and regional proxy records.

    (A) Spatial map showing the November to April precipitation amount (GPCC) and locations of the proxy records (black circles and numbers). (B) Collection of z score transformed regional proxy climate records showing wetter (green) and drier (brown) conditions over the past 4000 years. Names and locations of the proxy records are noted, and the numbers correspond to the proxy locations on the map. Proxy records from left are as follows: (1) δ18O of Kuna Ba (this study) cave speleothem; (2) δ18O of carbonate from Lake Zeribar (29) and (3) Lake Mirabad (30); (4), x-ray fluorescence–based elemental abundance of Ti in the Neor Lake sediments (31); (5) δ18O of planktonic foraminifera Globigerinoides ruber from the eastern Mediterranean near the Ashdod coast, Israel (32); and (6 and 7) δ18O of speleothem from Soreq (33) and Jeita caves (22). Starting from left, vertical bars show approximate temporal durations of inferred drier (brown) and wetter (green) conditions as reported by the authors of original studies from Lake Maharlou (34), Lake Van (35), Tecer Lake (36), and Lake Iznik (37). Dashed line marks a regime shift from wetter to drier conditions in most proxy records at around 2.7 ka B.P.

Supplementary Materials

  • Supplementary material for this article is available at http://advances.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/5/11/eaax6656/DC1

    Supplementary Text

    Fig. S1. The geographic context of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and major Assyrian cities.

    Fig. S2. The geographic context of the key Neo-Assyrian canal systems.

    Fig. S3. The climatic context of the study area.

    Fig. S4. Age models of NIR-1 and NIR-2 and scanned images of speleothems.

    Fig. S5. δ18O of rainfall, drip water, and modern calcite.

    Fig. S6. Regional precipitation trends and anomalies.

    Fig. S7. Observed and simulated precipitation amount and δ18Op.

    Fig. S8. Comparison between Kuna Ba and regional proxy records.

    Fig. S9. Spatial maps of precipitation composites and SIF.

    Table S1. Stable isotope data.

    Table S2. U-series data.

    References (6179)

  • Supplementary Materials

    The PDFset includes:

    • Supplementary Text
    • Fig. S1. The geographic context of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and major Assyrian cities.
    • Fig. S2. The geographic context of the key Neo-Assyrian canal systems.
    • Fig. S3. The climatic context of the study area.
    • Fig. S4. Age models of NIR-1 and NIR-2 and scanned images of speleothems.
    • Fig. S5. δ18O of rainfall, drip water, and modern calcite.
    • Fig. S6. Regional precipitation trends and anomalies.
    • Fig. S7. Observed and simulated precipitation amount and δ18Op.
    • Fig. S8. Comparison between Kuna Ba and regional proxy records.
    • Fig. S9. Spatial maps of precipitation composites and SIF.
    • References (6179)

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    Other Supplementary Material for this manuscript includes the following:

    • Table S1 (Microsoft Excel format). Stable isotope data.
    • Table S2 (Microsoft Excel format). U-series data.

    Files in this Data Supplement:

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