Archaeological assessment reveals Earth’s early transformation through land use

Related Articles

Related Articles

Land use by early farmers, pastoralists and even hunter-gatherer societies was extensive enough to have created significant global landcover change by 3,000-4,000 years ago.

This is much earlier than has been recognised, and challenges prevailing opinions concerning a mid-20th century start date for the Anthropocene. These are the findings of a new study published this week in Science, by a large international team of archaeologists and environmental scientists.

This study brought together several hundred archaeologists from around the world, who pooled extensive datasets summarising decades of archaeological research. Nicole Boivin, Director of the Department of Archaeology at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and a lead author on the study, notes that “archaeologists possess critical datasets for assessing long-term human impacts to the natural world, but these remain largely untapped in terms of global-scale assessments”. She observes that “this novel crowd-sourcing approach to pooling archaeological data is extremely innovative, and has provided researchers with a unique perspective”.

 

Unique collaboration allows for creation of large database of archaeological data to study past environmental change

The ArchaeoGLOBE project was coordinated by an international team of researchers who developed an online survey to gather past land-use estimates from archaeologists with regional expertise. The current study offers a novel way to assess archaeological knowledge on human land use across the globe over the past 10,000 years. By incorporating online archaeological crowdsourcing, the study was able to incorporate the local expertise of 255 archaeologists to reach an unprecedented level of global coverage. This global archaeological assessment, and the collaborative approach it represents, will help stimulate and support future efforts towards the common goal of understanding early land use as a driver of long-term global environmental changes across the Earth system, including changes in climate.

“This type of work causes us to rethink the role of humans in environmental systems, particularly in the way we understand ‘natural’ environments,” said Lucas Stephens of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, University of Pennsylvania and Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, who led the global collaboration of archaeologists that produced the study. “It also allows us to identify patterns in the distribution of our data and prioritize future collection areas to improve the reliability of global datasets.”

Study of archaeological data reveals huge impact of humans over thousands of years

“While modern rates and scales of anthropogenic global change are far greater than those of the deep past, the long-term cumulative changes wrought by early food producers are greater than many realize,” said Andrea Kay of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and The University of Queensland, a lead author on the study. “Even small-scale or shifting agriculture can cause global change when considered at large scales and over long time-periods,” she adds.

By acknowledging the deep time impact of humans on this planet and better understanding human-environment interactions over the long term, the researchers believe we can better plan for future climate scenarios and possibly find ways of mitigating negative impacts on soils, vegetation, and climate. “It’s time to get beyond the mostly recent paradigm of the Anthropocene and recognize that the long-term changes of the deep past have transformed the ecology of this planet, and produced the social-ecological infrastructures – agricultural and urban – that made the contemporary global changes possible,” said Erle Ellis of University of Maryland Baltimore County, a senior author who initially proposed and helped design the study. “These past changes produced the social-ecological infrastructures – agricultural and urban – that made the contemporary global changes possible.”

MAX PLANCK INSTITUTE FOR THE SCIENCE OF HUMAN HISTORY

Header Image – Human transformation of slopes for rice farming, Ubud, Bali. Credit : Andrea Kay

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Some Dinosaurs Could Fly Before They Were Birds

New research using the most comprehensive study of feathered dinosaurs and early birds has revised the evolutionary relationships of dinosaurs at the origin of birds.

Searching the Ancient Depths of a Reptilian Genome Yields Insight into all Vertebrates

Scientists searching the most ancient corners of the genome of a reptile native to New Zealand found patterns that help explain how the genomes of all vertebrates took shape, according to a recently published study.

Researchers Unlock Secrets of the Past With New International Carbon Dating Standard

Radiocarbon dating is set to become more accurate than ever after an international team of scientists improved the technique for assessing the age of historical objects.

New Findings Dispel the View That Australia’s First Peoples Were ‘Only Hunter Gatherers’

Archaeologists at The Australian National University (ANU) have found the earliest evidence of Indigenous communities cultivating bananas in Australia.

Bones Recently Found on the Isle of Wight Belong to a New Species of Theropod Dinosaur

A new study by Palaeontologists at the University of Southampton suggests four bones recently found on the Isle of Wight belong to new species of theropod dinosaur, the group that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and modern-day birds.

Cremation in the Middle-East Dates as Far Back as 7,000 B.C.

The gender of the human remains found inside a cremation pyre pit in Beisamoun, Israel remains unknown. What is known is that the individual was a young adult injured by a flint projectile several months prior to their death in spring some 9,000 years ago.

Academics Develop New Method to Determine the Origin of Stardust in Meteorites

Meteorites are critical to understanding the beginning of our solar system and how it has evolved over time.

Primate Voice Boxes are Evolving at a Rapid Pace

Scientists have discovered that the larynx, or voice box, of primates is significantly larger relative to body size, has greater variation, and is under faster rates of evolution than in other mammals.

Popular stories

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.

Did Corn Fuel Cahokia’s Rise?

A new study suggests that corn was the staple subsistence crop that allowed the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia to rise to prominence and flourish for nearly 300 years.

The Real Dracula?

“Dracula”, published in 1897 by the Irish Author Bram Stoker, introduced audiences to the infamous Count and his dark world of sired vampiric minions.