Dr. Eric Cline had a provocative piece in the New York Times this morning. Dr. Cline is the author of 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. We chatted on the show today, and it turns our Dr. Cline isn’t urging any political agenda (which the New York Times’ editorial page staff may not have known or didn’t care to tell us.) Seems to me that Dr. Cline’s points are equally valid in urging that climate change activists are just urging on us a new series of false gods to offer sacrifices to.
HH: I want to begin the show with Dr. Eric Cline, who had an op-ed in today’s New York Times. Dr. Cline is a classical and Biblical archaeologist and ancient historian. He is very well known in his field, extraordinarily well-respected. He has a brand new book out called 1177BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed, and his New York Times op-ed today, it’s the lead New York Times op-ed, Climate Change Doomed The Ancients. Dr. Cline, welcome, I appreciate you making the time in a busy day to join me today. Thank you for joining me on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
EC: My pleasure, thank you for having me on.
HH: Now I also, by the way, checked you on RateMyProfessor, and your students think very, very highly of you. So I know I’m going to be talking with someone who is more than capable of holding their own in a conversation. Would you summarize for the audience what the point was of your op-ed today, which is so provocatively titled Climate Change Doomed The Ancients?
EC: Yeah, sure, and first of all, I have to tell you, I didn’t make up the title. That was from the New York Times.
EC: But it comes down to one very simple thing. My book, the 1177BC, is about the collapse of civilizations in the area of Greece and the Near-East in about 1200BC. And basically, everything that had been flourishing for three, four, five hundred years suddenly came to a crashing halt within about a 50 year period, 100 years at the most. And it was due to a number of different things, including droughts and famines and earthquakes and various, there’s quite a few factors that boil in there. The thing that prompted the op-ed was this comment by the good Senator from Oklahoma who had said that a recent report by these retired, high-ranking officers, they said that drought and rising seas and extreme weather conditions would cause global instability. And the Senator from Oklahoma just dismissed that as kind of a publicity stunt. And I thought to myself, wait a minute, you know, I’ve got no fewer than four separate studies that have been done over the last year by different groups showing that there is drought and famine, which in my mind would imply climate change back at 1200BC. But more than that, I’ve got the textual evidence, the letters and the records written on clay tablets from that time by people at Ugarit on the north coast of Syria and the Egyptian pharaoh and the Hittite king up in Turkey, and they’re writing things like please send me grain, my people are starving. And they’re also saying things like the enemy ships have been cited, please let me know if there are more, and my gosh, it’s too late, they were here, they’ve burned my city. And so I thought wait, it looks to me like climate change back at the end of the Bronze Age did lead to global instability. And so I simply wanted to point that out, that you know, regardless of what causes climate change, you know, it might be Mother Nature, and it might be us, but it does lead to instability. And so I really wanted to point that out. That was the main point, which seems to have now gotten kind of lost in some of the comments.
HH: Well now, I’ve got to say, though, I got it, and I’m now fascinated. I’m going to read 1177BC, and I am fascinated by your digs in Israel. As I dug into you, I said wow, this guy is interesting. But I also have to ask you about Mother Jones summarized, I quote Mother Jones here. Last week, we learned from two separate research teams that the ice sheet of West Antarctica, which comprises just one relatively small part of Antarctic ice overall, but contains enough frozen water to raise global sea levels by some ten or eleven feet, has been irrevocably destabilized. And Eric Rignot is a glaciologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, came to the same conclusion that look, we are in for, over two to three hundred years, massively higher oceans. These are inevitable, Dr. Cline. This is going to happen if we believe the same scientists who tell us climate change is a reality, and again, I’m not in that debate today. I’m taking it for granted. So we are going to have instability. So what ought we to do about it? I thought you know what? I think he’s arguing for bigger Defense budgets.
EC: Me, personally, I’m not arguing for anything. All I’m pointing out is that this is not the first time that civilization has been faced with this. And there’s been numerous other instances which you know, Jared Diamond has gone into with his Collapsed book and all of that, the Maya this and that. But in 1177BC, the one thing I point out is that they’re very similar to us insofar as it is an interlinked series of civilizations back there. I mean, they’re names that maybe most people haven’t heard of, but that in our field, we’re quite familiar with – the Minoans, the Mycenaeans, the Hittites, the Cypriots, the Canaanites, the Egyptians. I mean, some people have heard of some, others have heard of others. But the things was that it was a globalized and very complicated small world back then, and more similar to us today than we might imagine. They had economic embargoes, they had embassies, they had lavish celebrity marriages, they had really bitter divorces, they had royal assassinations. So when their interwoven civilizations went down more than 3,000 years ago, I would argue that it’s kind of a warning to us today. And all I would say is if it happened before, it could happen again.
EC: And again, I’m not getting into the climate change, you know, debate.
HH: Oh, I’m with you, but I think the reason the New York Times ran it, and they used the headline Climate Change Doomed The Ancients, is to try and provoke a political response to the worries about climate change, to which I respond, well, what political response would the people have us do? And I was just curious if you had an answer to that, because climate change enthusiasts or absolutists never tell me what they want us to do. I mean, would they have us not air condition India? Would they have us not build water supplies for Africa or cure cholera, because instability can come from all sorts of different sources, can’t it?
EC: Well, I would presume so, but you’re getting into not my area of specialty. I’m an ancient historian and archaeologist. All I can tell you is what the ancient records tell me, and that’s all I really wanted to bring to the conversation is to say look, we have not only now scientific evidence from four different studies that there was drought and famine back in 1200BC, but we’ve also got the written evidence. So it’s clear that this has happened before. Now you know, obviously it was Mother Nature, because you don’t have big, you know, cars back being driven by the Hittites. But regardless, the point is that I would say you almost can’t ignore it. I mean, let’s put it this way. The ancient Hittites had no idea probably what was happening to them. You know, they don’t know what causes a drought. Maybe they pray to the gods, maybe they do some sacrifices. But in the end, they’re rather powerless to stop anything. I would say, and now again, this goes back to George Santayana, those who don’t study the past are doomed to repeat it. If we see the same sorts of things that are happening, drought and famine, and we’ve even got earthquakes and tsunamis and all that sort, if we see the same sorts of things happening today, then might you not want to look at the ancient world and see what happened to them?
HH: I agree, but I come back to what, then? And you say it’s not your field, but having called attention to a period prior, 1177BC, what ought they to have done to have staved off disaster, because I could even go further back. I could go to Yellowstone exploding every 660,000 years, and basically ending civilization around, not merely disrupting or causing collapse, but ending civilization if Yellowstone goes again, and it’s over schedule, as you well know. So what do you think we should do? One of the things I think about your op-ed that I found so intriguing is it sort of adds to Senator Inhofe’s argument, which is this is a publicity stunt in pursuit of getting people to do things which really wouldn’t be particularly availing to ward off civilizational collapse.
EC: Well, the difference, I would argue, is that we are well aware of it today. We are now in a position that again, as I was saying, if we see the same sorts of things happening today that we know led to the collapse in 1200BC, and we then ignore it or we don’t make steps, we’re in a position where we can actually make some changes. Now here’s my major point, because I’m not a climate change scientist or anything. I would simply say if we do try to prepare for what may be coming, I mean, who knows, famines, droughts, all that stuff, if you prepare and it doesn’t happen, what have you lost? But if you don’t prepare and it does happen, you know, you go the way of the Mycenaeans, who last time I checked, they’re not around today.
EC: So I don’t have an answer for what to do. I’m simply pointing this out. But I would also make one final point, which I make in the book. The book does not say that climate changed caused it by itself. In fact, I’m at great pains to say people have survived climate change. You know, just look at the drought bowl in the 1930s. And people have survived earthquakes. And people have survived this, and they’ve survived that. But what happens if everything happens pretty much at the same time? What happens if you have a perfect storm?
HH: Agreed, and that leads me perfectly to this observation. At the time of 1177BC, I’m talking with Professor Eric Cline of George Washington University, very distinguished Biblical archaeologist, ancient world archaeologist, the late Bronze Age, and the author of a new and interesting, fascinatingly-titled book, 1177BC: When Civilization Collapsed, and you mentioned earlier maybe the Hittites and the Mycenaeans, they didn’t quite know what was going on, and they might have sacrificed to the wrong gods, right? They might have gone off and done a whole bunch of things. They might have been worried about famine and drought, and sacrificed a bunch of maidens or cut out some hearts or cut open pigeons. They did the wrong stuff, because there really wasn’t anything you could do about it. It’s the history of the globe. So do you worry at all that what we’re seeing is the modern, in the demand for Tom Steyer against coal, or stop the Keystone Pipeline, I mean, it’s silly in the worldwide order of things to think that would have any consequence. Are we doing the same thing now, just sacrificing to different gods which are favored by the opinion pages of the New York Times?
EC: Well, some might argue that. Some would not argue that. Again, I’m not in a position, I’m staying firmly back in the ancient world, thank you very much. But one thing that I would point out is that in the book, the conclusion I come to is that we’re looking at basically complexity theory, namely that when you have a finely-tuned machine, when one little part of it goes wrong, the whole thing’s destroyed. I mean, think of a race car and you’ve got a rod thrown from its engine, and all of a sudden, your nice race car is a bunch of junk. That’s what we’re talking about here. They were that complex back then, we are that complex now. You don’t know what it’s going to take to throw it all out of kilter and have everybody go down the drain in a century.
HH: And we really don’t know how to prevent it, either, do we?
EC: Well, no, I don’t think so. I think that’s why the argument’s all around us. Some people say they do, some people say they don’t. I’m going to leave it to them to figure it out. My job here was to simply point out that this has happened before. Even if climate change was through Mother Nature, it still has happened, and we might want to look and see what happened then, and realize that they couldn’t act to fix it, but we can. So I’m just saying you know, get our heads out of the sand and maybe think about perhaps we might want to do something. And again, if we do something and it doesn’t happen, we’re fine. If we don’t do something…
HH: Is it irrational, though, to conclude it happened before, it’s happening again, and there isn’t anything anyone with a human brain can do about it, because the level of complexity is so high that in fact we are just as likely to sacrifice to the false gods as they did then. In other words, the reason I found your piece so ironic today, I don’t think the New York Times op-ed editor understood that you were making a great case, I am not myself a climate change denier. I believe we’ve got up about a degree over a century, mankind’s contributed some, we don’t know how much, there’s not much we can do about it anyway, and besides, we don’t know what the long term consequences are, we live in an age of great unknowns. That’s what I think. But I think the op-ed editor at the New York Times wants us to adopt like carbon rationing or something, and they don’t realize your op-ed is equally powerful on the side of doing nothing as it is on the side of doing something for which there is no proven consequence, correct?
EC: Well, I think some would make that argument. I would not. I would say that’s probably quite pessimistic in a way. I would like to think that we are more advanced than the Hittites and the Mycenaeans, and that we are able maybe to do something about it before it’s too late. And I see the argument going on and on and on, and I just, you know, wish somebody would say wait, just in case, let’s do something just in case.
HH: But that’s sacrificing to the false gods, if they’re wrong. If I really think, and I really do believe it’s absurd for America to adopt carbon rationing because China’s not going to adopt carbon rationing, and India isn’t going to adopt carbon rationing, so it’s crazy for us to do it and cripple ourselves economically, if I really believe that, and I do, then your piece is wonderful salve to that, because I just say to the lefties, don’t you just realize you just picked a different pyramid to build? You built a pyramid out of global climate change, and it’s not really going to change anything. Why don’t you build your house on solid rock or on a higher foundation?
EC: Right, right, so my piece, you know, everybody can use it to their heart’s content, just as long as they don’t forget the ancient history, that we have been there before, and we can see what happened, and we don’t have foresight, but we do have hindsight. So simply saying, we’ve been there, we’ve done that, and we didn’t do so well last time.
HH: I get it. I have one last unrelated question, but it comes out of your great work in Israel.
HH: You know, there are not only climate change deniers out there, there are Temple deniers. There are people who say that Solomon’s Temple never existed on the Temple Mount.
HH: To what would you reply to them?
EC: I would say excuse me, of course it was there. Absolutely, it was there, but that mound has been, you know, the Temple Mount has been built and rebuilt, and built and rebuilt for so many hundreds of years, yeah, no, it was there. There’s no question about that.
HH: Doesn’t the archaeologist in you, just the pure archaeologist, want to go into the tunnel that runs along the Western Wall and cut a right angle in?
EC: Absolutely. I’ve been in that tunnel, and yes, I would love to do that. But that would start World War III.
HH: You and me, both. Well, it would, but so interestingly, though, that does occur. What do you think is in there?
EC: Oh, I have no idea. I have no idea. I have no idea. What is probably not under there is the Ark of the Covenant.
HH: Oh, no, I get that. But don’t you think we would find astonishing things there?
EC: Well, we might, or no, actually, probably not. We’d probably find bedrock. But who knows? Who knows? What…I’m going in a couple of weeks to Megiddo, which is Biblical Armageddon.
EC: And there, we know what’s there. We’ve got 20 cities, one on top of another from early Bronze Age right through the time of David and Solomon and into the Persian period. And for me, that’s good enough. I love, I’ve been digging at Armageddon for 20 years taking probably more than a hundred GW students and anybody else. Anybody wants to come dig? Wow, we take retired doctors, lawyers, nurses…
HH: You don’t take lawyers, do you? Oh, if you take lawyers, you won’t get anything done.
EC: But it’s the experience of a lifetime. So for me, I’m happy to be digging at Biblical Armageddon.
HH: How do they find that, Dr. Cline? And by the way, the book is 1177BC. You can to go Amazon and just type in 1177BC. How do they find you if they want to go dig at Armageddon?
EC: Oh, just type in Megiddo and actually either Tel Aviv University or George Washington University, and the website will come up.
HH: You’re a wonderful good sport. Thank you for joining me this afternoon, very interesting piece today, and I compliment you on it. Good digging this summer, stay away from that Western Wall tunnel. We don’t want World War III. We’ve been there before, and we’ve done that before as well.
End of interview.