This is a somewhat outdated term used to refer to a sub-interval of the Holocene period from 5000-7000 years ago during which it was once thought that the earth was warmer than today. We now know that conditions at this time were probably warmer than today, but only in summer and only in the extratropics of the Northern Hemisphere. This summer warming appears to have been due to astronomical factors that favoured warmer Northern summers, but colder Northern winters and colder tropics, than today (see Hewitt and Mitchell, 1998; Ganopolski et al, 1998). The best available evidence from recent peer-reviewed studies suggests that annual, global mean warmth was probably similar to pre-20th century warmth, but less than late 20th century warmth, at this time (see Kitoh and Murakami, 2002).
More information about the so-called “Mid-Holocene Optimum” can be found here.
Ganopolski, A., C. Kubatzki, M. Claussen, V. Brovkin, and V. Petoukhov, The Influence of Vegetation-Atmosphere-Ocean Interaction on Climate During the Mid-Holocene, Science, 280, 1916-1919, 1998.
Hewitt, C.D. and J.F.B. Mitchell, A Fully Coupled GCM Simulation of the Climate of the Mid-Holocene, Geophys. Res. Lett., 25, 361-364, 1998.
Kitoh, A., and S. Murakami, Tropical Pacific Climate at the mid-Holocene and the Last Glacial Maximum simulated by a coupled ocean-atmosphere general circulation model, Paleoceanography, 17, 1-13, 2002.