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17th century climate change doomed Tibet’s Guge kingdom?

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(TibetanReview.net, May15’22) – Scientists believe that the collapse of a Tibetan kingdom in western Himalayas, which has long been a mystery, was caused by environmental factors led by falling temperature, reported the scmp.com May 15. The Guge kingdom was founded in western Tibet at the end of the 10th century and flourished for about 700 years before collapsing in the 1630s. It was a period when Tibet as a united kingdom and an imperial power had fragmented after the assassination of the last Yarlung Dynasty king Langdarma.

While Guge’s defeat by the neighbouring Ladakh kingdom ended its existence as an independent state, this does not explain the subsequent collapse of its population and society.

Previous researchers have blamed large-scale loss of life during the war and looked at changes in crop yields and droughts in the region to seek explanations for the kingdom’s disappearance. But no evidence about changing temperatures was available during those studies.

Researchers from China, the United States and the Netherlands have now collected and analysed sediment samples from lakes in Tibet to understand the historical temperature change in the study, which was published in the journal Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology last month, the report said.

The latest study is stated to have found evidence that the local temperature fell by about 4 degrees Celsius between the 14th and 17th centuries, contributing to diminished crop production and the kingdom’s downfall.

“We found that it was warm during the heyday of the kingdom, but temperatures dropped from 2 degrees Celsius to –2 degrees Celsius at the end of Guge,” Liang Jie, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral research associate at the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (ITPCAS), has said.

“Don’t underestimate the change from the declining temperature. It will lead to the reduction of crop production in Guge due to low temperatures and reduced glacier meltwater for agricultural irrigation.”

The report noted that the world had experienced a period of cooling in this time, which is sometimes referred to as a mini ice age, and the impact of climate change has previously been linked to a series of conflicts and disasters around the globe, from the Thirty Years’ War in Germany to the collapse of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) in China.

“This study is not only to improve our understanding of the Guge kingdom, but also advance our knowledge of how climate change will impact our lives in future,” Xie has said.

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