20,000 years of societal vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in southwest Asia

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


  • Matthew D. Jones
  • Nizar Abu-Jaber
  • Ahmad AlShdaifat
  • Douglas Baird
  • Benjamin I. Cook
  • Jonathan R. Dean
  • Morteza Djamali
  • Dominik Fleitmann
  • Alan M. Haywood
  • Ola Kwiecien
  • Lisa A. Maher
  • Sarah E. Metcalfe
  • Adrian Parker
  • Cameron A. Petrie
  • Nick Primmer
  • Tobias Richter
  • Neil Roberts
  • Joe Roe
  • Julia C. Tindall
  • Ezgi Ünal‐İmer
  • Lloyd Weeks

External organisations

  • German Jordanian University (GJU)
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Liverpool
  • NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
  • University of Hull
  • University of Reading
  • University of Leeds
  • Ruhr-Universität Bochum
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • Oxford Brookes University
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Copenhagen
  • University of Plymouth
  • University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Hacettepe University
  • University of New England


The Fertile Crescent, its hilly flanks and surrounding drylands has been a critical region for studying how climate has influenced societal change, and this review focuses on the region over the last 20,000 years. The complex social, economic, and environmental landscapes in the region today are not new phenomena and understanding their interactions requires a nuanced, multidisciplinary understanding of the past. This review builds on a history of collaboration between the social and natural palaeoscience disciplines. We provide a multidisciplinary, multiscalar perspective on the relevance of past climate, environmental, and archaeological research in assessing present day vulnerabilities and risks for the populations of southwest Asia. We discuss the complexity of palaeoclimatic data interpretation, particularly in relation to hydrology, and provide an overview of key time periods of palaeoclimatic interest. We discuss the critical role that vegetation plays in the human–climate–environment nexus and discuss the implications of the available palaeoclimate and archaeological data, and their interpretation, for palaeonarratives of the region, both climatically and socially. We also provide an overview of how modelling can improve our understanding of past climate impacts and associated change in risk to societies. We conclude by looking to future work, and identify themes of “scale” and “seasonality” as still requiring further focus. We suggest that by appreciating a given locale's place in the regional hydroscape, be it an archaeological site or palaeoenvironmental archive, more robust links to climate can be made where appropriate and interpretations drawn will demand the resolution of factors acting across multiple scales.

Bibliographic note

Jones MD, Abu‐Jaber N, AlShdaifat A, et al. 20,000 years of societal vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in southwest Asia. WIREs Water. 2019;6:e1330. https://doi.org/10.1002/wat2.1330


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1330
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water
Early online date10 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


  • archaeology, holocene, hydrology, Iran, Levant, palaeoclimate, Turkey

Sustainable Development Goals