A detailed climatic context for the growth and decay of Cretan Civilisations

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University
Department Name: Fac of Engineering and Environment


The Cretan landscape is a result of complex geological processes that resulted in the island's emergence from the sea some three to four million years ago, during the Pliocene era (McEnroe, 2010). The topographic, climate, and floral diversity of the island is immense. This is exemplified by the fact that the entire range of Mediterranean topography can be found condensed on its land mass that spans around 250 km long and only 60 km wide (McEnroe 2010).
Moreover, during the last few millennia, the Cretan landscape has been home to both the growth and decay of many cultures. Most famously the Minoans, who flourished on the island throughout the Bronze Age. As is widely known, the Minoan civilization collapsed at the end of the Bronze age (1315-1190 BCE) (Drake 2012). This collapse of the palatial system has been attributed to many different factors both human and environmentally driven (Drake 2012). Some purposed causes include large population migrations, economic system collapse, tectonic instabilities that led to a series of earthquakes throughout the region, and shifts in the climate such as the proposed drought event at the end of the Bronze Age that could have led to heightened aridity in the region (Drake 2012). Although the collapse at the end of the Bronze Age is given most of the attention as it marked the end of one of the most important cultures of Crete, in the subsequent periods we continue to see the growth and abandonment of various cultures and sites. Overall, there are a lot of different factors to consider when investigating the collapse of cultures, but the paradigm that tends to receive the most focus is environmental collapse (Middleton 2012). While it is a given that climate change and diversity would have had an impact on human societies, the extent to which societal collapse seen throughout Crete's past can be equated to shifts in the climate might be somewhat exaggerated.
As of right now, we have palaeoclimate records from Crete that document significant climate shifts and events during the last 10,000 years. Likewise, we also know that human occupation on the island played an important role in shaping the ecosystem of the region. However, there is a still a need for well-dated, high-resolution, and spatially distributed palaeoclimatic records for the region. Often conclusions drawn between societal shifts and climate are based on palaeoclimate reconstructions with large chronological uncertainties or using low-resolution records due to the deficiency of the paleoclimate data that currently exists for Crete. So, in the pursuit to better understand the connection between societal shifts and climatic shifts and to what extent we can equate societal collapse in Crete to environmental factors, we must further investigate climate variations throughout the region.
Project Aims:
Produce high-resolution, well-dated climate records using speleothems from Crete that cover the last 10,000 years.
Constrain the seasonal to decadal-scale extreme climate events (droughts, wildfires) that are more likely to have impacted human societies on Crete.
Synthesizing the existing climatic and archaeological data for the island.
Research question: Did climate play a role in shaping Cretan civilization?


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S007512/1 30/09/2019 29/09/2027
2879043 Studentship NE/S007512/1 30/09/2023 30/03/2027 Dimitra Skoulikari