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Climate of the Past An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  04 Nov 2020

04 Nov 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal CP.

Circum-Indian ocean hydroclimate at the mid to late Holocene transition: The Double Drought hypothesis and consequences for the Harappan

Nick Scroxton1,2,3, Stephen J. Burns1, David McGee2, Laurie R. Godfrey4, Lovasoa Ranivoharimanana5, and Peterson Faina5 Nick Scroxton et al.
  • 1Department of Geosciences, 611 North Pleasant Street, University of Massachusetts Amherst, MA 01030, USA
  • 2Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
  • 3School of Earth Sciences, University College Dublin, Bellfield, Dublin 4, Ireland
  • 4Department of Anthropology, 240 Hicks Way, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, USA
  • 5Mention Bassins sédimentaires, Evolution, Conservation (BEC) – BP 906 – Faculté des Sciences, Université d’Antananarivo – 101 Antananarivo, Madagascar

Abstract. The decline of the Mature Harappan period of the Harappan civilization in and around the Indus Valley between 4.3 and 3.9 kyr BP, its transition to the Late Harappan and subsequent abandonment by 3.0 kyr BP are frequently attributed to a reduction in summer monsoon rainfall associated with the 4.2 kyr event (4.26–3.97 kyr BP). Yet while the 4.2 kyr event is well documented in the Mediterranean and Middle East, its global footprint is undetermined, and its impact on monsoon rainfall largely unexplored. In this study we investigate the spatial and temporal variability of the tropical circum-Indian ocean hydroclimate in the mid to late Holocene. We conducted Monte-Carlo principal component analysis, taking into account full age uncertainty, on ten high-resolution, precisely dated paleohydroclimate records from the circum-Indian Ocean basin, all growing continuously or almost continuously between 5 and 3 kyr BP. The results indicate the dominant mode of variability in the region was a drying between 3.967 kyr BP (±0.095 kyr standard error) and 3.712 kyr BP (±0.092 kyr standard error) with dry conditions lasting for at least 300 years in some records, but a permanent change in others. We interpret PC1 and the drying event as a proxy of summer monsoon variability. A more abrupt event from 4.2 to 3.9 kyr BP is seen locally in individual records, but is often not of unusual magnitude, lacks regional coherence and is of minor importance to the principal component analysis. This result does not fit the prevailing narrative of a summer monsoon drought at the 4.2 kyr event contributing to the decline of Harappan civilisation. Instead we present the Double Drought Hypothesis. A comparison of existing Indian subcontinent paleoclimate records, modern climatology, the spatial and temporal evolution of Harappan archaeological sites, and upstream climatic variability in the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean and Middle East indicates two consecutive droughts were contributing factors in the decline of the Harappan. The first drought was an abrupt 300-year long winter rainfall drought between 4.26 and 3.97 kyr BP, associated with the 4.2 kyr event, propagated from the Mediterranean and Middle East. This led to Harappan site abandonment in the Indus valley and the end of Mature Harappan period. The second drought was a more gradual but longer lasting reduction in summer monsoon rainfall beginning 3.97 kyr BP leading to the further site abandonment at sites in Gujarat, a transition towards a more rural society, and the end of the Late Harappan. The consequences for the new mid to late Holocene Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point in a stalagmite from Meghalaya are explored.

Nick Scroxton et al.

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Nick Scroxton et al.

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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
The end of the Harappan civilization in the Indus Valley around 4,200 years ago has been attributed to monsoon failure associated with a global megadrought. Using a suite of high resolution paleoclimate records from around the Indian Ocean basin we find that two consecutive droughts contributed to the end of the Harappa. A winter drought starting 4,200 years ago was followed by monsoon failure at 3,900 years ago. The double hit caused civilization decline first, and abandonment later.
The end of the Harappan civilization in the Indus Valley around 4,200 years ago has been...