Holocene Cold Spells Brought Drought And Famine…Sea Levels Were Often Much Higher Than Today

A Short History of the Human Race
The Climb Out Of The Ice Age
Part 2
By Ed Caryl

Below is a plot of sea level and temperature for the last 21,000 years, when the world warmed out of the last ice age, and civilization became possible. This is the end of the Upper Pleistocene and the dawn of the Holocene. Note, that at the end of the last ice age it took 12,000 years for all the ice to melt. It was a long slog out of the caves. That first warm period, from 10,200 Before Present (BP) to 8200 BP was warmer than it is today, even though a third of the ice was still melting. The last major ice melted about 6500 years ago.


Figure 1 is a plot of the last 21,000 years. The heavy purple and green traces are sea level with the scale on the right. The thin rust and blue traces are temperature from a greenland ice core and the Antarctic Dome C ice core respectively with the scale on the left. Three other time lines are: thick blue, the time of the last North African Pluvial period, when the Sahara was a grassland; dark orange, the time of the Persian Gulf flooding; and the light orange timeline, interrupted several times, were times of Alpine glacier recession. The short 8.2 kilo year cold period is marked in light blue. Various sea level high stands just above the green sea level trace are labeled in the legend. The grey time-line is the time of the Clovis Amerindian culture. The pink timeline is the time of the Folsom Amerindian culture.

I call your attention to several things in Figure 1. From right to left, old to more recent: The end of the ice age began about 20,000 years ago, when the northern hemisphere suddenly warmed by 5°C as seen at the source of the Greenland ice, the North Atlantic. The Southern Ocean, as seen at Dome C, did not warm for another 2000 years. But, the Bølling Interstadial warming took place simultaneously, globally, 14,500 years ago. During that short warming interval, the ancestors of the American Indians made their way across the Beringian plain, down either the west coast of what is now Canada, or down through an ice-free corridor through Alaska and central Canada, thence down across the length of the Americas to as far south as Terra Del Fuego in just a couple of thousand years.

In North America, by 13,500 years BP, the Amerindian Clovis culture was living off the megafauna, the large mammals present in this era, using beautifully worked large stone spear-points. 1500 years later, after the megafauna were killed off, either by the Clovis people or the cold Younger Dryas period, they morphed into the Folsom Culture, using smaller stone spear-points more suited to the smaller remaining animals.

In North Africa, and southwest Asia, beginning 15,000 years ago, because earth’s axis tilt began to favor the northern hemisphere during summer, the deserts were favored with additional summer monsoon rainfall. This allowed more human migration from north Africa into the Levant. At this time the Persian Gulf was a low valley watered by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and several others, some now dry wadis, combining into the Ur Schott river, and before the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), at least two large lakes. Fresh water springs, now 4 or 5 fathoms under the gulf off Bahrain, supplied additional water.


Figure 2 is a history of the Persian Gulf over the period from 74,000 years before present to 6,000 years ago. Source here.

There must have been people living in this valley, though because it is now flooded with 40 to 60 meters of water, the archeology necessary to prove it will be very difficult. But we do know that those occupation sites shown in the Stage IV panel above appeared very suddenly 8500 years ago on the Arabian shore and the people in those sites came from somewhere close by as they share a common and unique culture, the Ubaid culture. This valley may have been the source of the Eden stories. The sea level at the time of the Ubaid culture didn’t stop rising when it reached the level it has now. It rose an additional 5 meters in this area, flooding what is now southern Iraq for a hundred miles inland. Ur was established as a port, on the shore of this inland sea. There is evidence of reed-hulled sail boats in this time period, including bitumen fragments of the coating used to protect the reed structure, ceramic toy models, and an image on pottery showing a bipod masted craft. The ruins of Ur are now in the desert northwest of Basra, Iraq, far from the sea.

In this same period, Doggerland in what is now the North Sea, was also being flooded. The last bit of land there, what is now Dogger Bank, was an ever-shrinking island for several thousand years. Human produced artifacts have been dredged up by fishermen for many years. The last bit of land there went under about 6500 years ago.

Florida was also much larger before the sea level rose. Any coastal activity by Clovis culture people along the coast of the Americas is now under water. This is also true of many areas along in the Red Sea, the coast of India, and southeast Asia. A large area in what is now the South China Sea, the Sunda Strait, was also dry land and almost certainly settled.

The warm period from 11,500 to 8200 years ago was a time of many important advances for the human race. In this period, most of the important animals and agricultural crops we know today were domesticated in the Persian Gulf and Fertile Crescent region. Before this time people were nomadic, moving from one food source to another in the course of each year, building shelter as needed or living in caves. After this time many people lived in villages in permanent dwellings. By 8000 years BP, corn (maize) was domesticated in central Mexico.

As an example, Jericho is the oldest permanently occupied town, with the oldest level dating from 11,400 years BP. Before this time, the site had been used only as a temporary camp, as there is a large permanent spring nearby. The oldest level even had a 2 meter wall all around it with a watchtower that is still standing as it was buried in the tell. The dwellings were round pit houses, half sunken into the ground, with stone walls and a “wattle and daub” or adobe roof. World-wide, this type of house appears as the first permanent type dwelling in many cultures. It is still found in Northern Syria. At a similar village 5 miles north of Jericho, seedless domesticated figs have been found dating from this era. These would have had to have been propagated by cuttings, as the seeds never developed beyond the embryonic stage. Grains found at early Jericho were still of the wild variety, though they were gathered in quantity and stored for later use.

At Ur and H3 (above map, Figure 2, stage IV), domesticated grains were found, and 8200 years ago, evidence of irrigation, as well as domestic cattle, sheep, and goats. At this time, the domestic cat is found, though who domesticated who has not been established. Cats seem to have wandered in from the desert, found a source of food (domestic mice and domestic house swallows feeding on the stored domestic grain) and shelter, and decided to stay on. Some authors say this is “self-domestication.” I suspect cats domesticated us.

The first Holocene cold snap occurred 8200 years ago. Global temperature dropped about 2 degrees as seen at both poles. This lasted for about 200 years and was accompanied by drought and famine. This forced an increasing reliance on domesticated crops and animals, triggered the use of irrigation in Mesopotamia, and the domestication of corn (maize) in Central America. In North America, this split up the Folsom Culture people and drove the beginning of tribalism in the Paleo-Amerindians. This cold and arid spell was overcome by the technology, and the animal and plant domestication, that had developed in the earlier warm period.

Advances were made possible by the warm period that began more than 3000 years before all the ice melted. Sea levels were rising to be much higher than today and the human race was thriving on all continents except Antarctica. Warm is good. Cold is bad.

Next: The later Holocene and the rise of empires.


13 responses to “Holocene Cold Spells Brought Drought And Famine…Sea Levels Were Often Much Higher Than Today”

  1. Over at NoTricksZone – A Short History of the Human Race and The Climb Out Of The Ice Age – the last Ice Age that is « Errors in IPCC climate science

    […] A Short History of the Human Race Part 1, The Late Pleistocene, A Story of Survival By Ed Caryl and A Short History of the Human Race Part 2 – The Climb Out Of The Ice Age By Ed […]

  2. Ed Caryl

    There is more…

  3. stefanthedenier

    ”There must have been people living in this valley, though because it is now flooded with 40 to 60 meters of water” WOW!!! and another WOW!!!

    are you suggesting that: the sea-level was lower by 40-60m?!

    b] because since then, the rivers brought EXTRA silt in the Persian gulf = that ads another inches to the bottom of the gulf that was ”even lower” then…

    2] the ”Ice Age” wasn’t GLOBA cooling, but only part of the northern hemisphere.
    b] ”extra ” warming also wasn’t GLOBAL BUT LOCALIZED

    3] finding evidence in ice cores ” based on ”theory” is not science! is not factual!**
    4] the normal laws of physics say: ”the self adjusting mechanism the planet’s atmosphere has; extra warming of the WHOLE planet, or extra cooling of the WHOLE planet cannot happen for more than ONE day!!! those ”normal laws of physics” where same then as they are today – and will be same in 100y from now!
    5] nobody knows what was the overall temp on the whole planet last year” to save his / her life; but stating with precision the temp on the WHOLE planet for thousands of years = is a travesty… the ”climatologist” didn’t start telling lies in the 80’s – ”proxy” data is the biggest lie since Homo Erectus invented language!!! :http://globalwarmingdenier.wordpress.com/climate/

    1. Ed Caryl

      1. The sea level was 120 meters lower at the Last Glacial Maximum. All that water was stacked on Canada, Northern Europe, and Patagonia, a mile deep as ice.
      (b) ???
      2. The ice age was clearly global. This isn’t based only on oxygen isotope proxies. It is also based on clear geological evidence.
      (b) How do you know? Again, there is clear geological evidence as well as proxy evidence.
      3. Ice core temperature is not theory. It is based on well-known Physics.
      4. Warming and cooling clearly lasts longer than a day. The ice ages come in 120,000 year cycles.
      5. Clearly you don’t believe in anything.

  4. oebele bruinsma

    Fascinating stuff; many thanks

  5. Steve C

    It would be interesting to know whether anyone has worked out a reasonable chronology of the “Great Flood” stories embedded in the mythologies of so many cultures around the world. Presumably, all will originate somewhere between ca. 8,000 and 20,000 years ago, but that’s a big error bar and it would be fascinating to know which culture was experiencing which part of the long sea level rise. All part of trying to work out roughly who was where and when, to put a bit more detail into our ancient history.

    And next, Empires, which an archaeological friend regards as the full flowering of the “madness of cities”. All good stuff! Thanks, Ed.

    1. DirkH

      For the Great Flood, I bet on Meltwater Pulse 1A 12,000 years back or so, sea level rising by 100m. Here in our area, Doggerland drowned back then. So lots of inhabitated land was lost.
      Similar losses must have happened in all inhabitated coastal regions, and humans around the globe live mostly near the coast as the climate is more moderate and the sea provides food and access to world trade. (for thousands of years already, see e g Phoenizians, or Polynesians, maybe also the Toltecs – their statues show a wild variety of ethnical traits as if they were a mixture of people from around the globe).
      So all the coastal cultures would have experienced the event -and huge losses of arable fertile land-; traders would then carry the story with them inland.

    2. Ed Caryl

      There could be many sources of the great flood myths. The last pulses of sea level rise, the Black Sea filling deluge, river floods on the Tigris and Euphrates, the Doggerland flooding, are just a few possible sources. It could be all of those together, reinforcing each other.

      1. DirkH

        Must have been global – South Americans have such myths as well AFAIK. River floods won’t do.

        1. Ed Caryl

          Could be, There is this:
          An object that size in the ocean would create a lot of water vapor, and the timing is right.

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