Ancient garbage dump suggests collapse of the Byzantine Empire linked to climate change


Garbage from the ancient city of Elusa, also known as Haluza, rewrites the history of its decline. Digging through the garbage, scientists have discovered clues to the real reason: rapid climate change. ( Bukvoed | Wikimedia Commons )

When researchers scoured the ancient rubbish of the city of Elusa in the Byzantine Empire, they discovered clues to the destruction of the city in the rubble.

The garbage team's findings told a different story than historians used to believe about the collapse of the ancient city, found in what is now the Negev Desert in Israel.

According to National Geographic, it is widely believed that the Byzantine Empire in the Negev collapsed with the dawn of the Islamic period in the mid-seventh century. It has been said that major changes in wine trade and winemaking have greatly affected Elusa, triggering its eventual decline. It turns out that the real reason came a century before the arrival of the Islamic period.

In a study published in the journal PNAS, scientists excavated urban dumps on the perimeter of Elusa. With their findings, the team discovered that a rapid and intense climate change caused by volcanic eruptions caused the disappearance of the Byzantine city.

Digging through piles of trash

Guy Bar-Oz, a professor of archeology at Haifa University, and the rest of his team trained his attention on the Elusa dumps. After all, they point out, the end of the garbage collection would probably coincide with the end of the city.

Through the excavation and carbon dating of the material found in the garbage heaps, the researchers found that Elusa stopped collecting rubbish in 550. It is much earlier than they expected and preceded the beginning of Islamic rule in the region.

During this period, the Roman Empire was thriving, according to Baz-Oz. Instead of showing signs of success, however, the Elusa already showed signs of decline in the garbage.

"Instead, we are seeing a sign of what was really happening at that time and which has long been almost invisible to most archaeologists – that the empire was being plagued by disasters and climatic diseases," Bar-Oz told Live Science .

A climate change that triggered the end

The collapse of Elusa occurred during a period of rapid climate change called Late Little Ice Age, which was revealed in a study published in Natural Geosciences in 2016.

This ice age, lasting from 536 to 660, was the result of a series of volcanic eruptions at 536, 540 and 547. The eruptions blocked the sun and triggered a chill to settle in the northern hemisphere for more than a century.

Food shortages due to extreme climate change may have been a factor, but scientists have told National Geographic that the colder weather may even have been beneficial to the Negev deserts.

It is possible that Elusa's economy has collapsed with less demand for its wines and other commodities out of town.

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