Our anthropogenic earth – the last 3,000 years
Below I have posted a portion of a recent article from Scientific American, which briefly explores some of the history of human-induced transformation of the earth. The article, titled “3,000 Years of Abusing the Earth on a Global Scale”, is interesting and offers an overview of current research related to the long history of environmental impact humans have had on the globe however the focus seems to be steeped in the history of “abusive human impact” and does not give mention to any examples potentially non-abusive land management methods employed by humans in pre-Colombian times.
The domestication of landscapes through traditional swidden-fallow forest farming has long been a subject of great interest to me. Here is a link to an article I wrote on Complex agroforestry and the anthropogenic forests / landscapes of pre-Colombian S. America. And if you’re interested, two more related articles on Chinampa: Raised-Bed Hydrological Agriculture and The Domesticated Landscapes of Los Llanos de Moxos, Bolivia.
And below, a portion of the article from Scientific American followed by a link to the full article…
3,000 Years of Abusing the Earth on a Global Scale
A new perspective emanating from archaeology and ecology suggests that humanity has spent thousands of years making widespread and profound changes to the “natural” world
By David Biello
“Wherever you go on this blue, green and white globe of ours, odds are some person has been there before you—and left a mark. That’s because the hunting, farming or burning practices of our most distant ancestors have shaped most land areas on the planet, argues an interdisciplinary team of archaeologists and ecologists in Proceedings of the National Academyof Sciences. If we are indeed living in the Anthropocene—a new geologic epoch brought on by the outsized environmental effects of the human species—then this new interval isn’t just a few hundred years old, it is older than the industrial revolution.
The researchers set out to investigate just how long human being have been profoundly changing the environment on land. “This is a super important question for the identity of humanity,” argues ecologist Erle Ellis of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, a co-author. “Are we the people who transformed the planet for hundreds of generations, or the people who just recently started destroying things?”
To answer that outstanding question the researchers started with a vast spread of archaeological and ecological data from around the world, particularly micro charcoal records from sediment cores. The charcoal delivers a long-term record of human burning, whether intentional or accidental, that coincides with the arrival of modern humans in a particular area. That arrival also often coincides with the extinction of large predators and large animals, generally.
But how exactly do humans impact a new environment? Scientists have used computer models that aim to estimate how quickly and how profoundly Homo sapiens change the landscape. One option estimates land use simply based on the number of humans around, assuming a minimum acreage required to support a person. The other model has humans relatively quickly sprawl through an entire area, but then contract to intensify land use in support of a larger but denser population. This might be dubbed the laziness principle—humans invest the least amount of work, technology or any other resource as possible to survive and even thrive, these researchers argue. “People are doing the easiest thing, knocking out top predators early on,” Ellis explains. “There’s a pretty big impact per person to make a living, [because people are] burning big swathes of forest just to make it easier to get some game.””