Interesting reading the last couple of days on the British colonists at Roanoke and Jamestown, two groups who arrived on our shores in the late 1500 and early 1600s and were generally thought to have rather bungled things.[1]

The Roanoke settlers landed in 1587. When the resupply ship arrived four years later, the settlers had vanished. The called them ?the lost colony?, and wrote off their deadly misadventure ?to poor planning and inadequate supplies,? as deMenocal put it.

Perhaps paleoclimate ought to be added to the historians? tool kit. When David Stahle and his colleagues several years ago put together a detailed tree ring chronology of the region?s historic climate, they found that the poor bastards had landed at the start of the driest three-year stretch in something like 700 years.

A second group landed in Jamestown in 1607. The Stahle data shows 1606 to 1612 was the other driest stretch in that 700?year period. ?The settlers also suffered greatly,? as deMenocal says.

This doesn?t fit into my usual drought Cassandra theme, in which human societies overdo it during wet times, expanding beyond their means, and then get screwed when it dries out. But it?s an important example of the drought story.

1. deMenocal, P.B., Cultural Responses to Climate Change During the Late Holocene. Science, 2001. 292(5517): p. 667-673.