Climate Change and the Bronze Age Transition in Northwestern China

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A new dissertation in anthropology by Elizabeth Berger at UNC-Chapel Hill shows how culture and climate change combined to shape the changes in northwestern China’s human society during the Bronze Age transition of the first and second millennia BCE. As the climate became cooler and drier in northern Eurasia, human groups changed in uneven ways. Skeletal analyses of remains from northwestern China show that groups with Bronze Age subsistence systems seem to have better adapted to the colder, more arid climate, while groups with Iron Age subsistence systems suffered poorer health. But because the defining elements of these subsistence systems were not categorically changed over this period, Berger argues that the Bronze Age transition would be better described as “incremental adaptation” rather than a collapse, as it has been previously understood.

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