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Climate anomaly 1628/1627 BC, the Kaali meteorite ca. 1500 BC and their possible influence on settlement and economy

2000/1750 - 1500/1250 eKr
  • Culture
    Early Bronze Age
  • Population
  • Genes
  • Language
  • Climate
    Continental, winters colder than modern ones
  • Flora
    Birch, alder, spruce
  • Fauna
    Domestic animals such as goats, sheep, cattle, pigs and dogs; wild animals still known today

Reasons for the reduction of population density and collapse of the level of culture during the Early Bronze Age can be, in addition to hostile activities from neighbours and lethal diseases, also natural disasters.

Such a clear anomaly was found in the fossilised growth rings of wood (pine) from North Finland, Siberia and Ireland, that were dated to 1628 and 1627 BC and reflected extremely unfavourable living conditions during two summers. The general impression was similar to that of the  climate anomaly of 536-537 AD that is connected to an ash cloud explosion from a volcanic eruption which blocked the sunlight and brought about an extremely cold summer temperature. It can be deduced that both climate anomalies caused extensive crop failures and famine, itself causing a greater mortality rate. Early Bronze Age crop failures during two consecutive summers, resulting in the depletion of reserves, must have been catastrophic to early farming as it was at the time in the Baltic region and Finland.

The Kaali crater impact event has been in light of recent studies dated to the time frame between 1530-1450 BC. The ensuing explosion has been compared to the atomic bomb explosion in Hiroshima, its blast wave having desolated a large part of Saaremaa. However, its impact did not likely reach further than that.

Both natural disasters are too late to explain the decline of the population in Estonia that began already in the beginning of the second millennium BC. The climate anomaly of 1628-1627 BC, however, must surely be taken into account in finding explanations for the decline during the Early Bronze Age.

Kaali metorite crater seen from above.
Figure 1. Kaali meteorite crater

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Losiak, A., Wild, E. M., Geppert, W. D., Huber, M. S., Jõeleht, A., Kriiska, A., Kulkov, A., Paavel, K., Pirkovic, I., Plado, J., Steier, P., Välja, R., Wilk, J., Wisniowski, T. Zanetti, M. 2016. Dating a small impact crater: An age of Kaali crater (Estonia) based on charcoal emplaced within proximal ejecta. – Meteoritics & Planetary Science, 1–15.

Plado, J. 2018. Kaali. Meteoriidid, süsi ja vanus. – Sirp. Eesti kultuurileht.

Veski, S., Heinsalu, A. & Kirsimäe, K. 2002. Kaali meteoriidi vanus ja mõju looduskeskkonnale Saaremaa Piila raba turbaläbilõike uuringu põhjal. – Estonian Journal of Archaeology, 6/2, 91–108.



Helama, S., Saranpää, P., Pearson, C. L., Arppe, L., Holopainen, J., Mäkinen, H., Mielikäinen, K., Nöjd, P., Sutinen, R., Taavitsainen, J.-P., Timonen, M., Uusitalo, J. & Oinonen, M. 2018. Frost rings in 1627 BC and AD 536 in subfossil pinewood from Finnish Lapland. – Quaternary Science Reviews.

Lang, V. 2020. Some additions to the study of transition to farming subsistence in the Eastern Baltic region and Finland. – Karhunhammas, 19, 45–61.