This ancient Gujarati city has stood strong against climate change for 2,500 years! Here's how they did it

This ancient Gujarati city has stood strong against climate change for 2,500 years! Here's how they did it
The Indian monsoon, often referred to as life-giving because of how dependent our country’s agrarian population is on these seasonal rains, is also notorious for its inconsistency. Its boom-and-bust cycles consist of periods of heavy rainfall that can bring floods and devastation alternating with droughts brought on by durations of no rainfall.

This inherent variability has posed a constant challenge for civilisations throughout history, forcing them to adapt and innovate to survive. Today, as climate change turns the already moody monsoon more unpredictable, we may have to do a little time-travelling to learn how our ancestors dealt with the temperamental rains.

It could be hard to picture a bustling metropolis in the middle of a semi-arid region battling centuries of unpredictable monsoon rains. But this dystopian imagery was the reality of Vadnagar, an ancient city in Gujarat, India. And a recent study has unearthed the secrets of its resilience, offering valuable insights for adapting to climate change today.

A 2500-Year Journey Through Monsoons and Millet

For 2,500 years, the people of Vadnagar navigated fluctuating weather patterns, from the Roman Warm Period to the Little Ice Age. How did they do it? Researchers from the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences meticulously analysed archaeological, botanical and isotopic data, piecing together a timeline of human occupation and crop production.

Their findings paint a vivid picture of Vadnagar navigating changing monsoons and dynastic transitions. The city witnessed periods of both mild and intense rainfall, particularly during the Historic and Mediaeval periods. But it was the post-medieval era, coinciding with the Little Ice Age (1300-1900 CE), that truly tested its mettle.


The Little Ice Age brought a prolonged weakening of the summer monsoon, posing a significant threat to food security. Remarkably, the people of Vadnagar adapted by embracing small-grained, drought-resistant millets as their primary crop. These C4 plants, known for their ability to thrive in harsh conditions, became the bedrock of their agricultural economy.

But the story doesn't end there. This study went beyond plants, incorporating a "multi-proxy" approach that examined everything from tiny seeds to charcoal remains. This revealed a fascinating picture of diversification — not just in crops, but also in social and economic practices.

Learning from the Past: Climate, Institutions, and Sustainable Futures

The study underscores the crucial role of understanding historical climate patterns and human responses to them. It highlights that famines and societal collapses in the past were not solely driven by climate change, but also influenced by factors like governance and social structures.

The lessons from Vadnagar extend far beyond enriching our understanding of the past. They equip us with valuable historical precedents to inform future strategies for sustainable living in the face of climate uncertainty. As we navigate our own changing climate, the resilience and adaptability of ancient civilisations like Vadnagar offer a beacon of hope and inspiration.

By understanding how past societies coped with environmental challenges, we can build more resilient communities and create a more sustainable future for all.

The findings of this study have been detailed in Quaternary Science Advances