Dust clouds, climate change and coins: consiliences of palaeoclimate and economy in the Late Antique southern Levant

D. Fuks, O. Ackermann, A. Ayalon, M. Bar-Matthews, G. Bar-Oz, Y. Levi, A. M. Maeir, E. Weiss, T. Zilberman, Z. Safrai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The climate factor has become a focus of much historical and archaeological investigation, encouraged recently by improvements in palaeoclimatic techniques and interest in global climate change. This article examines correlations between climate and history in the Byzantine southern Levant (c. 4th–7th centuries AD). A proposed 5th century economic downturn attested to by numismatic trends is shown to coincide with palaeoclimatic evidence for drought. We suggest a climatic ultimate cause for the apparent economic decline. In addition, the relationship between the Dust Veil Index (DVI) and annual precipitation in Jerusalem suggests the likelihood of increased precipitation following the 536 AD volcanic dust veil. This prediction is borne out by high-resolution precipitation reconstructions from Soreq Cave speleothems and by sedimentation records of extreme flash flooding. These finds complement palaeoclimatic reconstructions from Europe showing a drop in precipitation after 536 AD. Drought in Europe and flooding in the Middle East are both expected outcomes of global cooling during volcanic winters, such as those described in historical accounts of the 530s AD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-223
Number of pages19
Issue number2
StatePublished - 4 May 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank Jay Rosenberg for drawing the maps; Kyle Harper for answering questions and sharing unpublished work on economics and climate in the 5th and 6th centuries; Bernhard Lucke for information and discussion on Late Byzantine sedimentation in Jordan; Nahshon Roche for editing assistance; and two anonymous referees for their suggestions that improved an earlier version of this manuscript. This research was made possible by a scholarship from Bar-Ilan University’s Doctoral Fellowships of Excellence Program.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, © Council for British Research in the Levant 2017.


  • 536 AD dust veil
  • Byzantine Levant
  • climate history
  • missing century
  • palaeoclimate change

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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