Author of the Month
Some scientists have argued that the rules in fact were different during the Ice Age: that climate conditions were such that large-scale settlements, supported by inland food sources, were practically impossible.
The “Little Ice Age” of Europe, many have argued, offers us a glimpse of the pre-Holocene, Ice Age environment, and its potential impact upon the food supply (whether grown or gathered).
Between the years 1450 and 1850, the global climate cooled by approximately two degrees (compared with the average nine degree drop that characterized the Ice Age). This period has been described as characterized by…
…repeated famine and cultural dislocation, as many people fled regions that had become hostile even to subsistence agriculture.
If a mere two-degree drop could produce measurable changes in human settlement patterns, we might reasonably expect a nine-degree drop to have had an even more dramatic effect.
If the Ice Age world was one in which only areas of high soil potency had the capacity to produce large quantities of foodstuffs, this would go some way toward supporting Hancock’s scenario. The “push” factor of a harsh worldwide climate might keep urban settlements from encroaching deeply into inland territories while the “pull” factor of relatively rich river deltas could draw human settlers to the shores in search of sustenance.
If we examine the Ice Age climate of India, we find some additional support for Hancock’s scenario (see side bar and animation). The vast expanse of the subcontinent was, at that time, dominated by desert, grassland and scrub. This seems to suggest an environment hostile to food production, both natural and (if anywhere existent) human engineered. Perhaps, now-submerged river deltas may have served as relatively bountiful refugia from this seemingly hostile world (indeed, it must be said that, if conditions in inland India were as harsh as the “Little Ice Age” might indicate, perhaps we ought to be surprised to find anyone at all living there!).
Nevertheless, though Hancock’s scenario appears defensible, it remains somewhat problematic.
Deltas are of limited carrying capacity. Civilizations that have settled on or originated at river deltas have historically tended to spread up the accompanying rivers – in keeping with their expanding population. This was the case with Ancient Egypt, where storage and transportation techniques permitted the outlying Nile delta to become the breadbasket for a community spanning a much larger mass of land (the river itself, providing a ready flow of fertile deposits to human settlers along its shore – even in the heart of what would otherwise have been a desert).
Had a scenario similar to the Egyptian model occurred before the Holocene, remnants of the larger civilization would almost certainly have survived in the archeological record, as glacial melt-water would have submerged only the outward extremities of the great rivers.
Thus, if Hancock’s civilization was born at the river mouths of the Ice Age world, for some unknown reason, it failed to spread up the lengths of the connecting waterways. As this appears to imply a lack of suitable storage and transportation techniques, Hancock’s civilization starts to look a lot less like a sophisticated urban society and more like a populous and (for a time) fortunate group of Paleolithic scavengers that simply stumbled upon a particularly fertile refugia.
Of course, if the particular deltas on which urban developments emerged were limited to those surrounded by large areas of low-lying plains – plains that were destined to sink below sea level – this would assure the extinction of the surrounding population centers supported by the delta bread basket.
Unfortunately, this essentially gets us back where we started: arbitrarily picking and choosing particular oceanfronts for hypothesized antediluvian cities. While the notion of the Ice Age fertile delta might explain to some extent why civilization originally located in the low lands, it appears inadequate, even in the context of climatic data, to explain why civilization failed to radiate up-river and leave its “fingerprints” in the present archeological record.
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