Climate and History in Late Antique and Byzantine Anatolia

(cross post from the Climate History Network)

Princeton’s Avkat Archaeological Project Workshop II


On the last weekend of May 2013 (24th-25th) the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies hosted a two-day meeting of archaeologists, climatologists and historians who share an interest in Anatolia’s late antique and medieval past. The event was organised by John Haldon, a historian from Princeton and the director of the Avkat Archaeological Project, together with Warren Eastwood, a palynologist from Birmingham conducting  palaeoenvironmental research around Avkat (a village in NE Turkey which once was an important Byzantine town). The aim of the workshop was to get together researchers from different disciplines who either study the climate history as their main focus, or who consider climate changes as a potentially significant factor in the phenomena and processes they study.


The majority of the presentations was thus given by scientists. Apart from papers focused primarily on climate reconstructions (Elena Xoplaki (Giessen), Dominik Fleitmann (Reading), Sturt Manning (Cornell), Kathleen Nicoll (Utah)), there were two presentations by palynologists who approached the study of the climate from the point of view of vegetation history (Neil Roberts (Plymouth), Warren Eastwood (Birmingham)). Historical papers included both an overview of the recent scholarship in the field of Byzantine environmental history (Ioannis Telelis from Athens) and two presentations addressing the problems which historians and archaeologists face when they try to actually make use of the scientific palaeoclimate data in their reconstructions and interpretations of the past (Hugh Elton (Trent) and Jim Newhard (Charleston), Adam Izdebski (Cracow)). These more general discussions were enriched by three papers presenting archaeological projects on sites in whose history the climate change may have played a role (Owen Doonan (California SU, Northridge), Marica Cassis (Newfoundland), Sabine Ladstätter (Vienna)). The workshop was summarised by Michael McCormick from Harvard.

Probably the most important result of the workshop was making everyone aware of the work of the others and of the indispensability of this work for one’s own research. Moreover, even though it turned out that it is not uncommon for the participants of the workshop to read papers coming from other disciplines, the long discussions during the meeting really helped in becoming aware of the language in which ‘the others’ speak and think. In particular, the participants learned what type of interpretation is feasible or acceptable for a scholar working in a particular field, and what is not, and why, an especially important point. All this was possible thanks to a very good and constructive atmosphere both in the seminar room and during informal talks. In the end, the participants decided to establish a network and draft together at least an overview paper on the desirable research agenda for climate and history in Anatolia in the Late Antique and Byzantine periods – which should lead to common interdisciplinary projects.