Ethiopian drought may have caused the end of the Egyptian Old Kingdom

Monday 1 August 2011

A severe drought approximately 4,200 years ago may have may contributed to the demise of the Egyptian Old Kingdom new research has found.

A new survey of Lake Tana in Ethiopa, which is the source of the Blue Nile River, has discovered, through seismic investigations and carbon dating, that there was a drought around the time that the Egyptian Old Kingdom began to decline.

Dr Richard Bates, a senior lecturer in Earth Sciences at the University of St Andrew confirms that the new data reveals that the ancient civilisation may have experienced a prolonged period of the same severity being suffered by parts of  the African continent today.

A geophysics expert, Dr Bates used seismic (sound) reflection methods on Lake Tana to acquire geophysical data on how the water levels in the lake had varied over the past 17,000 years.

He said: “This allows us to get a picture of what the past environments could have looked like.”

The geophysical information was verified by drilling a 100-metre core into the sediment on the lake bed.

Dr Bates added: “The core sediments have been dated to show a time period of over a hundred thousand years but geophysical data suggests that the lake might contain an even longer  record of East African climate.”

Dr Bates together with a team from the University of Aberystwyth, linked the lake’s water levels with evidence for climate change.

Previous evidence had indicated an abrupt drought in Africa around 16,500 years ago liked to changes in the Earth’s climate, but the researchers were seeking evidence of a dry period around 4,200 years ago, when the Egyptian Old Kingdom declined.

As the fertile soils of the Nile’s floodplain were the bedrock of the ancient Egyptian civilisation, long-term changes in the river’s flow would have had serious implications for the Old Kingdom’s society.

Understanding how and why rainfall patterns change can help improve prediction of rainfall in sub-Saharan Africa where prolonged droughts have serious social and economic consequences today.


Note to Editors

Dr Richard Bates is available for comment on 01334 463997 / 07713 630172

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews

Contact Fiona MacLeod on 01334 462108 / 0771 414 0559.

Ref: (drought 01/08/11)

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