Climate and Culture Change in North America AD 900–1600

Climate and Culture Change in North America AD 900–1600

William C. Foster
Copyright Date: 2012
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/737419
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    Climate and Culture Change in North America AD 900–1600
    Book Description:

    Climate change is today's news, but it isn't a new phenomenon. Centuries-long cycles of heating and cooling are well documented for Europe and the North Atlantic. These variations in climate, including the Medieval Warm Period (MWP), AD 900 to 1300, and the early centuries of the Little Ice Age (LIA), AD 1300 to 1600, had a substantial impact on the cultural history of Europe. In this pathfinding volume, William C. Foster marshals extensive evidence that the heating and cooling of the MWP and LIA also occurred in North America and significantly affected the cultural history of Native peoples of the American Southwest, Southern Plains, and Southeast.

    Correlating climate change data with studies of archaeological sites across the Southwest, Southern Plains, and Southeast, Foster presents the first comprehensive overview of how Native American societies responded to climate variations over seven centuries. He describes how, as in Europe, the MWP ushered in a cultural renaissance, during which population levels surged and Native peoples substantially intensified agriculture, constructed monumental architecture, and produced sophisticated works of art. Foster follows the rise of three dominant cultural centers-Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, Cahokia on the middle Mississippi River, and Casas Grandes in northwestern Chihuahua, Mexico-that reached population levels comparable to those of London and Paris. Then he shows how the LIA reversed the gains of the MWP as population levels and agricultural production sharply declined; Chaco Canyon, Cahokia, and Casas Grandes collapsed; and dozens of smaller villages also collapsed or became fortresses.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-73742-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Physics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-13)

    European historians and climate scientists have long recognized that the Medieval Warm Period (ca. ad 900 to 1300) and the early centuries of the Little Ice Age (ca. ad 1300 to 1600) strongly influenced the climate and the economic and cultural history of Europe.¹ The European historian and climatologist H. H. Lamb characterizes the impact of the Medieval Warm Period on Europe as significantly contributing to the unprecedented expansion of the agrarian economy, the rapid increase in population density, and “the first great awakening of European civilization.”²

    In characterizing the effect of the Little Ice Age on Europe, Lamb and...

  5. CHAPTER 1 THE TENTH CENTURY
    (pp. 14-32)

    The 2006 report on surface temperature reconstructions for the last two thousand years, published by the National Academy of Sciences and prepared by its research arm, the National Research Council (nrc), concludes that “[l]arge-scale surface temperature reconstructions for the Northern Hemisphere yield a generally consistent picture of temperature trends during the preceding millennium, including relatively warm conditions centered around ad 1000 (identified by some as the ‘Medieval Warm Period’).”¹

    A more recent (2009) reconstruction of climate change for the last two thousand years, published inScience, the weekly journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, concludes that...

  6. CHAPTER 2 THE ELEVENTH CENTURY
    (pp. 33-48)

    During the first century of the new millennium, the surface temperature in the Northern Hemisphere rapidly increased and continued to warm western Europe, the North Atlantic, and the southern temperate zone of North America. As the 2006 National Research Council report indicates, European historical accounts provide valuable information about climate and culture change in Europe and the North Atlantic in the eleventh century.¹ The European historian Christopher Dyer characterizes the eleventh century in Europe as a period of great economic expansion. Dyer writes: “The climate improved, so that crops could be grown more reliably, and in inhospitable places.”² Dyer adds...

  7. CHAPTER 3 THE TWELFTH CENTURY
    (pp. 49-63)

    During the first half of the twelfth century, the Medieval Warm Period continued to provide generally favorable climatic conditions for the further intensification of agriculture, strong economic growth, the continued increase in population, the additional construction of monumental architecture, and the creation of new artistic expressions in both Europe and North America.

    In his study of the economy and culture of medieval England, Christopher Dyer writes that there was a great economic expansion in England and Europe in the twelfth century. And Dyer adds that during the century, the volume of trade and European population also increased.¹ H. H. Lamb...

  8. CHAPTER 4 THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY
    (pp. 64-86)

    The thirteenth century was a period of continued climatic instability in Europe and North America, a time of transition between the hot, dry, and sometimes droughty late Medieval Warm Period and the stuttering commencement of the cooler and more mesic Little Ice Age. In much of Europe the climate continued warm during the early decades of the century, but droughts appeared near the close of the period.

    The climatic transition between the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age is illustrated in the 2006 report on surface temperature reconstructions prepared by the National Research Council.¹ The surface temperature trends...

  9. CHAPTER 5 THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY
    (pp. 87-106)

    Climatologists describe the fourteenth century as a turbulent climatic period during which the cooler and more mesic Little Ice Age increasingly impacted many parts of Europe and North America. A widely cited 2002 dendrochronological study of climate change across North America, Europe, and western Asia by Jan Espen et al. indicates that the Medieval Warm Period faded and the Little Ice Age intensified during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The 2002 study concludes: “There is strong evidence for inferred below-average temperatures over much of the 1200–1850 interval, which may be regarded as a nh [Northern Hemisphere] extratropical expression of...

  10. CHAPTER 6 THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY
    (pp. 107-119)

    The Little Ice Age that began in the Northern Hemisphere during the late thirteenth century and early fourteenth century continued to influence environmental conditions and cultural change in Europe, the North Atlantic, and North America during the fifteenth century. Surface temperature reconstructions by the National Academy of Sciences indicate that during the fifteenth century surface temperature in the Northern Hemisphere dropped more precipitously than it had in any other century during the previous six hundred years.¹ This reduction in the surface temperature is clearly reflected in a reduction of the sea level in the Gulf of Mexico.²

    In his description...

  11. CHAPTER 7 THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
    (pp. 120-148)

    The Little Ice Age further intensified during the sixteenth century, adversely affecting agriculture and commerce and prompting serious change in culture patterns across Europe and North America. In his study of the impact of the Little Ice Age on sixteenth-century Europe, climatologist H. H. Lamb observes: “In the middle of the sixteenth century, a remarkable sharp change occurred . . . to the coldest regime at any time since the last major ice age. This may reasonably be regarded as the broad climax of the Little Ice Age.”¹

    In his assessment of climate change in North America in the sixteenth...

  12. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
    (pp. 149-168)

    Climate scientists and European historians have long recognized that the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age substantially influenced the climate, agrarian economies, and cultural history of Europe and the North Atlantic. In this summary and conclusion, after briefly reviewing the impact of the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age on Europe, I focus in more detail on the impact of climate change during the seven-hundred-year study period (ca. ad 900–1600) on the economic and cultural history of the Native peoples of the American Southwest, the Southern Plains, the Trans-Mississippi South, and the Southeast.

    Figures depicting...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 169-188)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 189-200)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 201-220)