Impact of earthquakes on agriculture during the Roman-Byzantine period from pollen records of the Dead Sea laminated sediment

Suzanne A.G. Leroy, Shmuel Marco, Revital Bookman, Charlotte S. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Dead Sea region holds the archives of a complex relationship between an ever-changing nature and ancient civilisations. Regional pollen diagrams show a Roman-Byzantine period standing out in the recent millennia by its wetter climate that allowed intensive arboriculture. During that period, the Dead Sea formed laminites that display mostly a seasonal character. A multidisciplinary study focused on two earthquakes, 31 BC and AD 363, recorded as seismites in the Ze'elim gully A unit III which has been well dated by radiocarbon in a previous study. The sampling of the sediment was done at an annual resolution starting from a few years before and finishing a decade after each earthquake. A clear drop in agricultural indicators (especially Olea and cereals) is shown. These pollen indicators mostly reflect human activities in the Judean Hills and coastal oases. Agriculture was disturbed in large part of the rift valley where earthquake damage affected irrigation and access to the fields. It took 4 to 5 yr to resume agriculture to previous conditions. Earthquakes must be seen as contributors to factors damaging societies. If combined with other factors such as climatic aridification, disease epidemics and political upheaval, they may lead to civilisation collapse.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-200
Number of pages10
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The first author is grateful to the Isaiah Berlin Israel Travel Award (UK) for flight funding to Israel and to the British Academy (UK) , grant SG-37303 , for fieldwork funding in Ze’elim and the pollen and geochemical analyses of the Ze’elim samples. Dr. Amir Sandler graciously ran three X-ray samples at the Geological Survey of Israel. M. Turner (Brunel University) kindly revised the English of an earlier manuscript draft.


  • Agriculture
  • Dead Sea
  • Earthquake
  • Palynology
  • Roman-Byzantine period
  • Seasonal lamination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Impact of earthquakes on agriculture during the Roman-Byzantine period from pollen records of the Dead Sea laminated sediment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this