March 23, 2010

Norman Yoffee
Dept of Near Eastern Studies
University of Michigan, 202 S. Thayer St., room 4111,
Ann Arbor, MI 48104-1608

Dear Professor Yoffee:
I was delighted to read your chapter “Collapse in Ancient Mesopotamia” in the book Questioning Collapse.  For years I have wished I could communicate with someone who was a professional in Mesopotamian history and was interested in collapse.  Being interested in the global picture is great, too.  Here’s why:  I have looked up the ages of the various Mesopotamian civilizations (regimes, empires, whatever you want to call a whole lot of people spending their lives cooperating) and broken them down into fifty year increments.  Then I graphed at each fifty year mark the likelihood that the civilization would survive the next half century.  Here is the graph.

Information taken from R. H. Carling THE WORLD HISTORY CHART International Timeline Inc. Vienna, VA 1985.  The experience of Southern Mesopotamia.  I broke the Ottoman Empire into two, because their Janissary elite came from two different sources during the early and late empire.

Of course you could do a much better job of putting the data together, but you see the point.  Extrinsic causes of collapse like climate change were they important would give a horizontal line; the climate was not responding to the empire.  Intrinsic causes, such as administrative incompetence, would give a rising line as the older empires, having proved their ability, would be more durable than the average of the younger ones.  There is nothing else I can think of except genetics.  Evidently the genetics of large populations, such as the ruling class of an empire, produce infertility ultimately bringing the empire down.  Little populations like farming villages are just about immortal. 

As for the global picture, here is a graph of birth rates around the world broken down into most, middle and least developed regions.  UN numbers. 

The vertical axis is the average number of children born per woman.  The horizontal axis gives the dates of the surveys.  If you follow the least developed region to 2005 and then go back to the time when the middle had the same birth rate, follow it to the same time and then skip back to follow the most developed, you get this:

Slick, eh?  You’d think both of those curves were out of a physics text.  It seems that fertility is simply the most predictable thing there is about people, and is now a threat.  Look how long it has been since the developed world could replace itself.

There is a lot more evidence, but best bits of which I am sending along in the form of a poster (big type, lots of pictures). 

Despite what is clearly massive evidence for the cause of collapse, this issue is never addressed in Collapse or in Questioning Collapse.  Not a single mechanism entertained in either book comes even close to predicting the first graph.

As an expert in the field you can easily produce a more professional analysis of the history and propose the only obvious answer.  You can expect to be hooted at a great deal, but as you will see from the poster, this is not something that is going to be disproved any time soon.  Sooner or later they must come around.

I am including a short DVD, but there is more information on the poster including, crucially, the physical location of the mechanism that is causing this.  There is also more information along with my letters at

If you would be so kind, let me know what you think.  Meanwhile if I can clarify further or help in any way, do let me know.


M. Linton Herbert MD 

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