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"The potential of climate change to substantially alter human history is a pressing concern, but the specific effects of different types of climate change remain unknown. This question can be addressed using palaeoclimatic and archaeological data. For instance, a 300-year, low-frequency shift to drier, cooler climate conditions around 1200 BC is frequently associated with the collapse of several ancient civilizations in the Eastern Mediterranean and Near East1,2,3,4. However, the precise details of synchronized climate and human-history-scale associations are lacking. The archaeological–historical record contains multiple instances of human societies successfully adapting to low-frequency climate change5,6,7. It is likely that consecutive multi-year occurrences of rare, unexpected extreme climatic events may push a population beyond adaptation and centuries-old resilience practices5,7,8,9,10. Here we examine the collapse of the Hittite Empire around 1200 BC. The Hittites were one of the great powers in the ancient world across five centuries11,12,13,14, with an empire centred in a semi-arid region in Anatolia with political and socioeconomic interconnections throughout the ancient Near East and Eastern Mediterranean, which for a long time proved resilient despite facing regular and intersecting sociopolitical, economic and environmental challenges. Examination of ring width and stable isotope records obtained from contemporary juniper trees in central Anatolia provides a high-resolution dryness record. This analysis identifies an unusually severe continuous dry period from around 1198 to 1196 (±3) BC, potentially indicating a tipping point, and signals the type of episode that can overwhelm contemporary risk-buffering practices."