Articles | Volume 12, issue 1
Research article
15 Jan 2016
Research article |  | 15 Jan 2016

Evidence of a prolonged drought ca. 4200 yr BP correlated with prehistoric settlement abandonment from the Gueldaman GLD1 Cave, Northern Algeria

J. Ruan, F. Kherbouche, D. Genty, D. Blamart, H. Cheng, F. Dewilde, S. Hachi, R. L. Edwards, E. Régnier, and J.-L. Michelot

Abstract. Middle Holocene cultures have been widely studied around the Eastern-Mediterranean basin in the last 30 years and past cultural activities have been commonly linked with regional climate changes. However, in many cases such linkage is equivocal, in part due to existing climatic evidence that has been derived from areas outside the distribution of ancient settlements, leading to uncertainty from complex spatial heterogeneity in both climate and demography. A few high-resolution well-dated paleoclimate records were recently established using speleothems in the Central and Eastern-Mediterranean basin, however, the scarcity of such records in the western part of the Mediterranean prevents us from correlating past climate evolutions across the basin and deciphering climate–culture relation at fine timescales.

Here we report the first decadal-resolved Mid-Holocene climate proxy records from the Western-Mediterranean basin based on the stable carbon and oxygen isotopes analyses of two U/Th dated stalagmites from the Gueldaman GLD1 Cave in Northern Algeria. Comparison of our records with those from Italy and Israel reveals synchronous (multi) centennial dry phases centered at ca. 5600, ca. 5200 and ca. 4200 yr BP across the Mediterranean basin. New calibrated radiocarbon dating constrains reasonably well the age of rich anthropogenic deposits (e.g., faunal remains, pottery, charcoal) excavated inside the cave, which allows the comparison between in situ evidence of human occupation and of climate change. This approach shows that the timing of a prolonged drought at ca. 4400–3800 yr BP blankets the onset of cave abandonment shortly after ca. 4403 cal yr BP, supporting the hypothesis that a climate anomaly may have played a role in this cultural disruption.