Stephan Matthiesen

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Climate and human history (OLL Jan-Mar 2010)

The Open Studies course "Climate and Human History" at the Office for Lifelong Learning, the University of Edinburgh, looks at the impact of climate and climatic variations on certain periods of world history. It runs for 10 afternoons from 12 January 2010, each week on Tuesday at 2pm-4pm.

Course Information

With Global Warming constantly in the media the science of climate change has never been more relevant. But what are the facts behind the headlines? Major changes in climate have occurred throughout the ages, but how did different civilisations handle their effects? This fully illustrated course uses the latest results from archaeology and climate science to show how some societies were able to adapt while others crumbled in the face of climate change. The lessons for 21st century civilisation will be discussed.


  • Tutor: Stephan Matthiesen
  • Lectures: Tuesdays from 12 January 2010 (10 Classes) 2pm - 4pm
  • Pentland Room, 11 Buccleuch Place
  • £75.00/£50.00 conc.

Course Contents

Chapter 1: Climate and climate history — 12 Jan 2010

Introducing the basics of the climate system and methods to reconstruct climate history - from the general atmospheric circulation to interpreting the past through ice cores and tree rings.

Presentation (PDF, 2.74 Mb)

Chapter 2: The Ice Age — 17 Jan 2010

Climate variations during the ice age, and humans migrating out of Africa several times.

Presentation (PDF, 2.46 Mb)

Chapter 3: Farming — 26 Jan 2010

After the end of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, 18,000 years ago), climate became more stable - and humans settled down and invented farming.

Presentation (PDF, 1,77 Mb)

Chapter 4: The Roman Empire — 2 Feb 2010

Presentation (PDF, 2.71 Mb)

Chapter 5: Tang and Maya and their collapse in the 10th century — 9 Feb 2010

Both the Chinese Tang Dynasty and the Maya civilisation collapsed at a time when monsoon patterns changed. What are similarities, what are the differences between the two civilisations?

Presentation (PDF, 3.23 Mb)

Chapter 6: The Mediaevil Optimum and the Little Ice Age — 16 Feb 2010

Slightly warmer conditions prevailed from the 8th to the 13th century - followed by a period of generally colder winter temperatures and cool, wet summers from the 14th to the 19th century. Can we reconstruct the climate, and how much did it actually change? Was Greenland green, and what happened to the Vikings?

Presentation (PDF, 2.40 Mb)

Chapter 7: El Niño through the Ages — 23 Feb 2010

The Pacific climate oscillation and its possible impacts on South America and Asia throughout history.

Presentation (PDF, 1.26 Mb)

Chapter 8: Miscellaneous topics — 2 Mar 2010

We look at the collapse of the Old World Civilisations around 2100 BC, when the Old Kingdom and Mesopotamia went into their "Dark Ages".

Presentation (PDF, 688 kb)

Chapter 9: Present day climate change — 9 Mar 2010

Presentation (PDF, 4.0 Mb)

Chapter 10: What have we learned? Summary and discussions — 16 Mar 2010

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