Tracing Drought in Ancient Egypt through Pollen Analysis

Bible and archaeology news

Drought in ancient Egypt may have led to the decline of the Old Kingdom. Researchers recently verified the historical record through pollen analysis, climate change and charcoal density. Photo Credit: Sarah Burch

Some summer mornings allergies make us wish there wasn’t so much pollen in the air. But what do lowered pollen counts in deeply buried soils tell archaeologists? Researchers investigating pollen and charcoal in the Nile Delta revealed a connection between the buried assemblages and a drought in ancient Egypt that precipitated the collapse of the Old Kingdom almost 4,200 years ago. The report, published in Geology, highlights the role of water availability and climatic stability in sustaining an ancient imperial system.

Drought, reflected in a decrease of wetland pollen, is often accompanied by fire, evidenced in elevated charcoal levels. These effects compliment the historical and archaeological record, which shows an extended decrease in vegetation in the region. The timing of the drought led to famines in Egypt and may have had impact on the agriculture and trade of the broader Eastern Mediterranean. The researchers, affiliated with the U.S. Geological Survey, University of Pennsylvania and Smithsonian Institution, identified two other large climatic shifts in around the Near Eastern Bronze Age, one of which is associated with the collapse of several Eastern Mediterranean and Near Eastern states at the end of the Late Bronze Age.

Read more in the press release by the U.S. Geological Survey.

How else is pollen studied by Biblical and other archaeologists?
BAS Library members can read “Does Pollen Prove the Shroud Authentic?” as it appeared in the November/December 2000 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, including sidebars “How to ‘Read Pollen’ and “Pollen Analysis—The Right Way.”

In the brand new FREE eBook Ancient Israel in Egypt and the Exodus, top scholars discuss the historical Israelites in Egypt and archaeological evidence for and against the historicity of the Exodus.

Interested in ancient Egypt? A new study suggests that inherited epilepsy may have contributed to the death of Tutankhamun, and the development of Egyptian monotheism.

Interested in pollen science? A recent pollen study revealed an extensive drought in the Late Bronze Age that likely served as a trigger in the major Bronze Age systems collapse.

Posted in The Ancient Near Eastern World.

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