Stela record

The world’s oldest weather report reveals how climatic changes turn the tide of history.

Updated: April 6, 2014 11:10 pm

Before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, there was the Tempest Stela, a 3,500 year-old block of calcite inscribed with messages of disaster. The world’s oldest weather report was found in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, and it gives the IPCC some stiff competition in doomsaying. If the latest IPCC report predicts the seas rising, cities flooding and wildfires spreading across North America, the Tempest Stela speaks of the “sky being in storm without cessation, louder than the cries of the masses”.

The weather patterns described in the inscription are said to have been caused by the Thera catastrophe, a volcanic eruption that changed the course of the ancient world.

The Tempest Stela goes back to the time of the pharaoh Ahmose. It  helps understand how environmental changes shaped the fortunes of empires. Weakened by the cataclysmic effects of the Thera eruption, the Canaanite kingdom of Egypt fell to the invading Ahmose, and the Babylonians to the Hittites. Through the centuries, the weather has turned the tide of human history — the Medieval Warm Period was a period of stability and prosperity for Europe, and the devastating Black Death that came afterwards has been attributed to climatic changes. In 1816, a Europe still recovering from the Napoleonic wars experienced the “year without a summer”, extreme weather conditions that were later connected to a volcanic eruption in Indonesia. With thousands dying from hunger and cold, England would witness a period of agricultural riots and social unrest.

In the summers of the past lie the clues to the future, and the current period of global warming is likely to change more than just physical conditions. When the Tempest Stela of our times is written, it may explain some of these changes.

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