SAN FRANCISCO — A 200-year-long drought 4,200 years ago may have killed off the ancient Sumerian language, one geologist says.
Because no written accounts explicitly mention drought as the reason for the Sumerian demise, the conclusions rely on indirect clues. But several pieces of archaeological and geological evidence tie the gradual decline of the Sumerian civilization to a drought.
The findings, which were presented Monday (Dec. 3) here at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, show how vulnerable human society may be to climate change, including human-caused change.
"This was not a single summer or winter, this was 200 to 300 years of drought," said Matt Konfirst, a geologist at the Byrd Polar Research Center.
Beginning about 3500 B.C., the Sumerian culture flourished in ancient Mesopotamia, which was located in present-day Iraq. Ancient Sumerians invented cuneiform writing, built the world's first wheel and arch, and wrote the first epic poem, "Gilgamesh." [Image Gallery: Ancient Middle-Eastern Texts]