Climate change, Dust Bowl Era (1931-1939), Tiwanaku culture, Pleistocene-Holocene boundary


Variable Holocene climate conditions have caused cultures to thrive, adapt or fail. The invention of agriculture and the domestication of plants and animals allowed sedentary societies to develop and are the result of the climate becoming warmer after the last glaciation. The subsequent cooling of the Younger Dryas forced humans to concentrate into geographic areas that had an abundant water supply and ultimately favorable conditions for the use of agriculture and widespread domestication of plants and animals. Population densities would have reached a threshold and forced a return to foraging, however the end of the Younger Dryas at 10,000 BP allowed agrarian societies to grow in number and expand spatially. The Norse took advantage of the favorable climate conditions of the medieval warm period (800 to 1300 CE) to establish settlements off the coast of Greenland, but the onset of the Little Ice Age (1350-1850 CE) caused sea ice to block trade routes with China and led to their demise. The long and cold winters of the Little Ice Age inspired works of art and literature, and were celebrated in London, but also caused crop failures, famine and disease. The Dust Bowl drought of the 1930’s only lasted six years but caused the most devastating ecological, sociological, agricultural, and economic disaster in United States history. Multicentury and multidecadal droughts led to the collapse of the Akkadian, Classic Maya, Mochica, and Tiwanaku civilizations. The primary factors affecting global climate variations include changes in thermohaline circulation, solar irradiance, and the effects of active volcanoes. Complex societies are not completely powerless nor fully adaptive to climate change. Modern society should use knowledge of past abrupt climate changes to better prepare for the future.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

Persistent Identifier




To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.