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Department of Archaeology



Does Climate Really Cause Collapse? Crossing disciplinary boundaries to understand human/environment interaction in times of stability, change and crisis


The TwoRains project is pleased to announce a conference to celebrate the end of the ERC-funded TwoRains project, which has been running since 2015 and is due to finish in August 2021. You can read more about the project here.

Climate change and collapse are major topics at the top of the global agenda. There is increasing recognition that critical lessons can be learned from past instances of success or failure to deal with acute and long-term changes in environmental conditions. The TwoRains project set out to characterize human/environment interaction in times of stability, change and crisis by investigating the environmental and cultural context of the Indus Civilisation. Overall we hope to look across disciplinary boundaries to investigate diversity, change, adaptation, collapse, resilience, and sustainability.

We will consider a range of critical questions, including:

i) How do we differentiate climate variability from climate change and the relationships of the two to crisis?;

ii) Can we characterize transformation and/or collapse in a comparative sense?;

iii) How should we conceptualise resilience and sustainability archaeologically?; and

iv) What parameters dictate success or failure of societies in times of change and crisis?




The conference will be online and free for all attendees; however, registration is mandatory. To register, please click here

Registration has been extended and will close on 28th June 2021.




We had intended to host a multi-day in-person event in Cambridge, but the coronavirus pandemic has encouraged a significant rethink, and we have now decided to host an online conference that uses a seminar-series format.

We'll be hosting 7 sessions across 7 weeks in a seminar-series structure. Each session explores themes that intersect with the climatic and cultural environments of the Indus Civilisation, and how they developed and transformed in periods of stability, change and crisis. 

The sessions will be hosted as a webinar, where presenters will share their screens, and questions will be moderated by a chair to ensure a collegial environment. Each half-day session will be scheduled to start at 11:00am (UTC) to maximise engagement from collaborators and scholars in South Asia, Western Asia, Europe, and North America.



18 May 2021: Considering the 4.2ka BP event in South and Western Asia

This event is now over.

There is perhaps no topic more debated (and more relevant) than climate change, but there is no simple answer to questions about the nature of its impact on human societies. We know that humans have had a major impact upon our planet, but also that our planet undergoes natural cycles of variation that are often used to discount human impact upon climate. Both are active processes. The Holocene era in which we live has now been subdivided into stages that are demarcated by major climate change events, and it has been argued that they had a dramatic impact upon human populations across the globe. In this context, the so-called 4.2 ka BP event and its perceived impact upon the complex societies of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus River basin have been given considerable prominence. However, many archaeologists are not convinced that climate is a "smoking gun" explanation for major socio-economic transformations, and many argue that humans are not helpless in the face of climate change. We are important agents in our own destiny, and our history is marked by instances of both adaptation to complex environments, resilience to change in those environments, and sustainability across extended time periods.

The TwoRains project set out using an integrated interdisciplinary approach to examine the interplay and dynamics of winter and summer rainfall systems, investigate the nature of human adaptation to the ecological conditions created by those systems, and by using the case of the Indus Civilisation, has asked the question “Does climate change really cause collapse?” This seminar session will consider the palaeoclimatic and archaeological evidence for the 4.2 ka BP event as it is attested across large parts of Asia to reconsider the theoretical and practical parameters of this question, and thereby lay the critical foundations for the specialist sessions that will follow.


List of Speakers


The full programme for this session is available here


25 May 2021: Weather, Climate and Palaeoclimate

This event is now over.

The past climate of the Indus region needs to be characterised if we are to assess how it may have impacted the Indus Civilisation. Present-day climatology shows that two distinct weather systems affect the area: the Western Disturbances in winter and the South Asian monsoon in summer. Distinguishing and quantifying the two in climate reconstructions is a challenging goal, but advances in geochemistry are allowing research to move in this direction. Climate simulations offer potential new avenues but also face issues, including proper characterisation of mid-to-late Holocene climate drivers and biases in both mean and variability of the weather systems. The papers in this session will consider the current state of the art when it comes to paleoclimate reconstructions, weather patterns and climate simulations in the Indus River Basin and beyond.


List of Speakers


The full programme for this session is available here


1 June 2021: Indus Civilisation and Ancient Technologies: transformations, continuity, and resilience

This event is now over.

The goal of this session is to present an overview of interdisciplinary and integrated studies of material culture covering various aspects, ranging from reverse engineering of production techniques, tools, and technologies, to the use and processing of raw materials. Methodological developments and new approaches will be offered, including analytical techniques of ancient materials, data processing and nuanced interpretation. 

The session will aim to address the following question: How can technological studies, such as studies of raw materials, production techniques, and operational sequences (chaîne opératoire), be used to explore mechanisms of resilience, continuity, and transformations of societies in the face of major environmental, economic, or socio-political changes?


List of Speakers

The full programme for this session is available here


8 June 2021: Hydrological and Settlement Landscapes

This event is now over.

Human landscape dynamics are one of the most important indicators of profound societal change, including those that arise as a result of climate change. During the last years the increased availability of sources, including but not restricted to satellite imagery, new field methods in understudied regions, and computational power has opened the door to analyses of human-environment interaction that were not possible just a few years ago. In this session, we will focus on landscape data that can help us understand human responses to the 4.2k climate event. The papers that will be presented in this session will make use of geoscientific analysis, which includes GIS, remote sensing, cartographic and historical map analysis, and other spatial approaches to the study of the ancient environments and cultures of South Asia and neighbouring areas.


List of Speakers

The full programme for this session is available here


15 June 2021: Indus Bioarchaeology

This event is now over.

Bioarchaeology is a growing sub-field within Indus archaeology, encompassing specialties such as archaeobotany, zooarchaeology, osteoarchaeology, residue analysis, and stable isotope analysis. These techniques are revealing new insights into human-environment relationships, allowing for more nuanced understandings of past cropping and pastoral strategies, land-use practices, human health, diet, and foodways. Within Indus archaeology, there are numerous questions to which these specialties are being applied, however, there are also challenges that face them as they develop and expand.

In this session, three themed questions have been developed to create a dialogue around the big issues and future directions in Indus bioarchaeology:

i) what is the state of our understanding of Indus agro-pastoral systems and the changing environment?

ii) Can we approach Indus food, foodways, lifeways and health and how does changing climate impact these?

iii)  How do we face the methodological challenges posed by our datasets in Indus bioarchaeology?


List of Speakers

The full programme for this session is available here


22 June 2021: Modelling Ancient Agricultural Societies

This event is now over.

This workshop will bring together the TwoRains project's advances in modelling ancient agricultural societies and those of other ongoing or recently finished projects. Contributions will refer to the design and simulation results of multi-paradigm and holistic agent-based models used to address past agricultural systems worldwide, spanning from Old World Bronze Age (c. third millennium BC) to historical pre-industrial contexts. The workshop will aim at delimiting the common ground of participants' experiences, particularly by focusing on the shared aspects of ancient agricultural systems and their environmental, demographic, and social milieu. Under this objective, participants are encouraged to think about their case studies and models in terms relatable to other contexts.         


List of Speakers

The full programme for this session is available here


29 June 2021: Climate and the Indus Civilisation

The TwoRains project has explored questions about climate change and collapse by investigating South Asia’s Indus Civilisation and the evidence for socio-economic transformation, urban decline, and the local dynamics of the ~4.2 ka event. Human and environment relationships in ancient South Asia are complex and TwoRains has suggested that processes of adaptation and flexibility produced a measure of resilience and sustainability for Indus populations. These are multifaceted research problems and TwoRains is only one project, and its findings must be considered alongside those of other projects that have been active in the Indus River Basin and the surrounding regions. This session will include presentations that consider human and environment relationships in this region and they will make it possible to critically assess the resilience and sustainability of the Indus Civilisation in the face of a diverse and variable climate context.

List of Speakers

The full programme for this session is available here


The TwoRains project is funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

Project home page: 
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do I need to attend all sessions?

You’ll be relieved to know we’re not expecting participants to attend every session -you can attend the sessions of most value to you!  You can choose which sessions you would like to attend when you register. 


If the conference is free, why do I need to register?

Conference participants are required to register in order to access the live sessions. This is a way to minimize disruption and to ensure a safe and secure environment for our participants.


What do I need to access the online event?

Prior to the event, you will need to make sure you have registered and are able to access Zoom on your digital device. We recommend watching on a computer or laptop for the best experience, but the stream will also work on mobile and tablet. On the day of the event, you can join the session by clicking on the link that has been provided to you.


I have registered, but I haven't received the Zoom webinar link, what should I do?

Instructions on how to join the webinar will be sent to you a few days before each session. If you have not received the webinar link 24 hours prior to the day of the conference, please contact the Project Administrator.


I am not available to attend the session I registered for. Will the sessions be recorded and available at a later date? 

This is a live online conference and we encourage everyone to be present during the live sessions. The sessions will be recorded and only registered participants will have free access to these recordings.At present we do not have a timeline for when the recordings will be available. 


I'm attending the conference and I don't want to be recorded.

Attendees are view-only participants in the webinar. This means you will be muted by default and your camera will not be on. You cannot view the other attendees in the session.


I want to ask a question during a presentation, how can I do this?

There is a Q&A button at the bottom of the screen. You can type your question here, and the panel will be notified. They will either type the answer in the Q&A box or will answer the question live.


Can I interact with other attendees during the conference?

Yes, You can use the chatbox in Zoom to message other attendees, the conference organisers, and the speakers. If you wish to ask a question, please use the Q&A feature.

During break times we will use a Wonder room*. A Wonder room is a virtual space where attendees can meet and talk with other participants. You can "move" around this virtual space by clicking, holding, and letting go of your mouse. When your avatar gets close to someone else’s avatar, you'll see the person's video. You can see other participants moving around the room and when they are talking to each other. You cannot hear or see their conversation unless you join their group. You do not need to register to use Wonder, we will share the room link during the webinar. 

*Please Note: Wonder does not function on tablets or mobile devices (this includes iPads, iPhones, or other similar devices) and is optimised exclusively for Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge.


Will the sessions have closed captions?

Yes! Closed captions will be enabled in English during the sessions. 

Contact Us

If you have any questions or would like any further information, please contact the Project Administrator.

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