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Moments of crisis – volcanic eruptions, environmental impacts and societal change in the northern European past

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Richard Tipping and colleagues noted in 2012 that major societal transformations in Scottish prehistory can be seen as ‘moments of crisis’ precipitated by climate change. May such moments crisis have been more widespread in the past? In my lecture, I will build on this suggestion and focus on three such pivotal moments in the northern European past, from the deep time of the Late Pleistocene – the Laacher See eruption of 13,000 years ago – to the second millennium BCE – the Thera and/or Aniakchak eruptions of 3600 years ago – to the not at all so distant 6th century CE with its series of multiple compounding eruption events. I thus present three cases, one each from the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages, where distant volcanic eruptions are implicated in societal change through their impacts on past lives and livelihoods. Finally, I place the study of such ancient calamities and the societal transformations they may have been involved in in a wider perspective that articulates with our contemporary predicaments of climate change and the societal challenges it poses.

This talk is part of the Climate and Environmental Dynamics - Department of Geography series.

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