The ancient civilizations of South America, located in the high mountain regions of the Andes, were subjected to significant climatic changes. New research has shown that these changes may be associated with major social and political changes in the history of the region.
Researchers at the University of Sheffield studied climate change in the highlands of Peru and Bolivia using glacier analysis. Their work, published in Nature Communications, shows that between 800 and 1400 A.D., the region’s climate was unstable and subject to frequent fluctuations.
During this period, climatic conditions in the Andes changed relatively rapidly, over several decades. The changes included seasonal variations in precipitation and temperature, as well as longer periods of drought and cold.
These climatic changes may have had serious consequences for the life of the ancient peoples of the Andes. Changes in crops and pastoralism could have led to food and resource shortages, which in turn could have led to social and political changes.
Climate change is one of the most pressing problems of our time. Rising temperatures, expanding troposphere, increased spread of disease-causing mosquitoes-all these factors are already affecting people’s lives. But a new study from the University of California, Davis, has shown that climate change can also lead to increased violence.
Researchers studied how ancient cultures of the south-central Andes responded to climate change about 1,000 years ago. They found that for every 10 cm decrease in annual ice accumulation caused by rising temperatures during the so-called medieval warm period, the level of violence between people more than doubled.
To come to this conclusion, the researchers examined data from a study of 2,753 skull fractures of human remains collected from 58 archaeological sites. They then used the ice record of the Calcaya Glacier, found in what is now Chile, Peru and Bolivia, to map what is happening to the climate. They came to this conclusion from the number of head injuries found in the fossil record, a measure often used by archaeologists to study cultural violence.
Interestingly, the upsurge in violence, which could have been caused not only by rising temperatures but also by decreased precipitation due to changing weather conditions, was observed only in communities living in the highlands of the Andes. The same trend was not found in the communities living in the middle and coastal areas.
“This discrepancy probably arose from different economic and sociopolitical strategies at different altitudes,” the researchers write. “The failure of rain-fed agriculture during periods of drought and the concomitant dissolution of organizing polities likely predisposed highland populations to socioeconomic stress and stiff competition for limited resources. Conversely, the diversity of lowland and middleland economies may have mitigated the effects of drought.”
This study may be an important cautionary tale for contemporary society. As temperatures rise, so does violence. If the same patterns continue today as the world undergoes dramatic climate shifts, violent confrontations could unfold in the style of the 1979 dystopian film Mad Max.