"The Curse of Akkad”: what archaeology tells us about climate change and social collapse


Feb. 14, 2022, 11:30am to 12:30pm

Office/Remote Location



Please join us in this UNLV Anthropology Talk, given by Andrew McCarthy. McCarthy is a faculty in the Anthropology Program at College of Southern Nevada.

Archaeological subject matter is best treated as isolated from the present day in order to accurately build an unbiased picture of the past. At the same time, one of the purposes of understanding the past is to recognize patterns and improve future situations for ourselves. For instance, climate change has occurred multiple times in the human past. It is worthwhile seeing how previous cultures have adapted or failed to adapt, which could provide us with a blueprint to better understand how future climate change can be mitigated in terms of ensuring the continuation of society and preventing suffering. One such abrupt climate change event occurred about 4200 years ago and impacted what is often considered to be the first empire in the world: the Akkadian Empire. This empire began in what is modern Iraq and spread to dominate a wide swath of southwest Asia before eventually collapsing dramatically and leaving a power vacuum in the region that lasted for hundreds of years. The cause of this collapse has been speculated upon since ancient times, including the presumption that Akkad was cursed by the gods. Archaeology, however, suggests that climate change was also a factor and Yale University’s excavations at Tell Leilan in Syria provide detailed information on the timing and nature of the fall of the Akkadian Empire. The recent civil war in Syria tragically offers a modern parallel to the ancient example of social collapse being linked to climate stress, and the lessons from the Curse of Akkad can help us to understand how we might address future climate-induced social impacts.


Admission Information

Open to all members of the broader UNLV community. Audience members can attend the live stream in-person (in CBC C120) or register to attend online.

External Sponsor

Department of Anthropology