Crowdsourced archaeology shows how humans have influenced Earth for thousands of years

Crowdsourced archaeology shows how humans have influenced Earth for thousands of years
Gordion, Sakarya Valley, Yassıhüyük, Turkey. Credit: Lucas Stephens

Humans' ability to transform the natural environment is often considered a modern phenomenon, from increasing deforestation, soil erosion and greenhouse gas emissions. This year, an international group of geologists deemed the start of the Anthropocene—the time of humans' most far-reaching effects on the Earth—to be the middle of the 20th century.

But what constitutes transformation, or even significant human activity, is still debated, and many researchers challenge the relatively recent frame placed around history.

A new map synthesized from more than 250 archaeologists worldwide argues that the human imprint on our planet's soil goes back much earlier than the nuclear age. A core group of those researchers, including the University of Washington, the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, illustrate in an Aug. 30 study in Science how foragers and, eventually, farmers fundamentally altered the land on the planet by 3,000 years ago.

The ArchaeoGLOBE project analyzes land use from roughly 10,000 years ago, the time of hunters and gatherers, to the year 1850, after the Industrial Revolution. The new study adds an archaeological perspective to existing models of historical land use. Based on researchers' expertise of land use on six continents, the crowdsourced map shows that agriculture—an extraction of environmental resources that leaves a complex mark on the landscape—began earlier, and in more parts of the world, than more recent studies have reported.

Crowdsourced archaeology shows how humans have influenced Earth for thousands of years
Feedback cycles. Credit: Andrea Kay

"There are archaeologists working all over the world, but they aggregate data differently, and it can be difficult to find larger patterns," said co-author Ben Marwick, an associate professor of anthropology at the UW. "By asking archaeologists a series of questions rather than combining datasets, we've created a brilliant workaround—essentially, what were people doing, and how much, in different parts of the world?"

Commonly cited recent studies have used statistics and maps to estimate human behavior and prior to modern times. For the ArchaeoGLOBE project, the research team spent months developing the survey and considering how to divide up the Earth into analytical regions, said Lucas Stephens, who led the global collaboration of archaeologists while a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. In the end, the team split up the Earth (excluding Antarctica) into 146 regions and sought archaeologists' input on human activity in those regions at 10 different points in time. Some 700 responses came in.

Animation showing the spread of intensive agriculture across the globe over the past 10,000 years, based on ArchaeoGLOBE Project results. Credit: Nicolas Gauthier, 2019, licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Among their findings:

  • Foraging, defined as hunting, gathering and fishing, was common in most parts of the world 10,000 years ago, but was declining in more than half the world's regions by 3,000 years ago.
  • Pastoralism—the raising of livestock—by 8,000 years ago had spread from some of its origin areas in Southwest Asia to arid environments like North Africa and Eurasia, where it was common by 4,000 years ago.
  • By 6,000 years ago, some form of agriculture was being practiced in nearly half of the world's regions, and by 3,000 years ago, was widespread.
  • Farming is generally thought to "replace" hunting and gathering as a means of food production, but in some areas, agriculture occurred simultaneously with, or as a complement to, foraging.
Animation showing the decline of foraging/hunting/gathering across the globe over the past 10,000 years, based on ArchaeoGLOBE Project results. Credit: Nicolas Gauthier, 2019, licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0

"This type of work causes us to rethink the role of humans in environmental systems, particularly in the way we understand 'natural' environments," said Stephens, now a research analyst with the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago and an affiliate at the Max Planck Institute. "Many people have realized for some time now that the study of long-term human-environment interactions must include archaeological knowledge, but our research and dataset really open the door to this sort of collaboration at global scale for the first time."

"Many people have realized for some time now that the study of long-term human-environment interactions must include archaeological knowledge, but our research and dataset really open the door to this sort of collaboration at global scale for the first time."

Animation showing the spread of pastoralism across the globe over the past 10,000 years, based on ArchaeoGLOBE Project results. Credit: Nicolas Gauthier, 2019, licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Understanding the history of human impact on the environment has implications for addressing climate change, the authors say. With the release in early August of a report on land use from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it's clear that human impact is a critical issue for the future of the Earth, Stephens said. "But there is also a deep history of anthropogenic changes to the planet that has yet to be meaningfully incorporated in these discussions."

"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 co-author Erle Ellis of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, who initially proposed and helped design the study.

Animation showing the spread of dense urban centers across the globe over the past 10,000 years, based on ArchaeoGLOBE Project results. Credit: Nicolas Gauthier, 2019, licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0

The ArchaeoGLOBE maps contain more information about some regions of the world than others, reflective of where much archaeological attention has been directed, researchers point out. That's due partly to the expertise of the archaeologists who participated in the current study, as well as the availability of resources and support for study in various locations. While extensive data was available from the Western and Northern hemispheres, study authors say, less-investigated regions clearly warrant more research.

Animation showing the spread of extensive agriculture across the globe over the past 10,000 years, based on ArchaeoGLOBE Project results. Credit: Nicolas Gauthier, 2019, licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0

"That can be facilitated by making information available," said Marwick, "who contributed expertise on Southeast Asia and assisted with putting all of ArchaeoGLOBE's materials online, accessible to anyone."

  • Humans were changing the environment much earlier than believed
    A) Generalized additive mixed model trends for the extent of each land-use type across all regions, with 95% confidence intervals. B) Cumulative summary of regions per land-use category based on consensus assessments (Common > 1% to 20% regional land area; Widespread > 20% regional land area), with presence or absence of urban centers. Categories are non-exclusive, resulting in plot values >100% of all regions. Credit: Reprinted with permission from: ArchaeoGLOBE Project, SCIENCE, August 30 2019 (DOI: 10.1126/science.aax1192)
  • Humans were changing the environment much earlier than believed
    A) Onsets represent the earliest time step assessed at the "common" prevalence level (1-20% land area) for extensive agriculture, intensive agriculture, and pastoralism; the earliest time step assessed as "present" for urbanism. B) Decline represents the latest time step assessed at the "common" prevalence level for foraging. Credit: Reprinted with permission from: ArchaeoGLOBE Project, SCIENCE, August 30 2019 (DOI: 10.1126/science.aax1192)

"A global dataset like this invites lots of interesting follow-up investigations that have not been possible before now. With all our data openly available, anyone anywhere can freely dig in and test out new ideas on a global scale," Marwick said.


Explore further

Humans used northern migration routes to reach eastern Asia

More information: L. Stephens el al., "Archaeological assessment reveals Earth's early transformation through land use," Science (2019). science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi … 1126/science.aax1192

C. Roberts at University of Plymouth in Plymouth, UK el al., "How humans changed the face of Earth," Science (2019). science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi … 1126/science.aay4627

Journal information: Science

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Aug 29, 2019
Just look at a map. A vast swath from the Sahel to the gobi and beyond stripped, deforested, desertified. The world was being ruined. And then along came a Tribe with a Plan.

"There was a time when the countless tribes of men, though wide-dispersed, oppressed the surface of the deep-bosomed earth, and Zeus saw it and had pity and in his wise heart resolved to relieve the all-nurturing earth of men by causing the great struggle of the Ilian war, that the load of death might empty the world. And so the heroes were slain in Troy, and the plan of Zeus came to pass." cypria

-A Tribe of Leaders emerged. Leaders who realized early on that the people were the real enemies of rulers everywhere, and set out to subdue them and save the earth by dividing them up and setting them against one another in manageable and constructive ways.
cont>

Aug 29, 2019
" 9. And to Gabriel said the Lord: 'Proceed against the bastards and the reprobates, and against the children of fornication: and destroy [the children of fornication and] the children of the Watchers from amongst men [and cause them to go forth]: send them one against the other that they may destroy each other in battle: for length of days shall they not have." book of enoch chap 10

-And the Plan of the Tribe of Leaders came to pass, and the earth was saved from the people upon it.

"16 For God so loved the WORLD that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the WORLD, but to save the WORLD through him." John3

IOW they would promise the people absolutely anything and everything they could possibly ever want, up to and including eternal life in paradise, if only they would participate in this process of self delusion and self destruction.

It has worked like a charm.

Aug 29, 2019
"Climate Change"; the Holy Grail of Socialism. Destroy the United States by crippling it's manufacturing base. Don't pay attention to the fact that "scientists" have to falsify data...

Aug 29, 2019
And just how do you Plan, Stage, and execute world events to achieve a predetermined Result? Easy. Just make sure Leaders on both sides, are in fact on the same Side.

The people are the true enemies of rulers everywhere. Ever since early humans became able to hunt the predators that had been keeping their numbers in check, overpopulation has always been the norm.

And so as their numbers would swell and they were no longer able to feed themselves, the people would blame whoever was in charge no matter how benevolent or well-meaning these rulers tried to be. And this inevitability would be painfully obvious to any ruler with a modicum of experience.

Priestly diplomats spread the Word worldwide from the americas to the islands of japan. In only a few centuries, dynasties and empires emerged, dedicated to this new system of rule. Monuments were built, ritual wars were fought, famines and plagues were staged, economies were constructed, all to ensure a future for the one true Tribe.

Aug 29, 2019
Hail Empire.

Aug 29, 2019
well, we've heard from pimp putin's whores in the preceding comments

so sz what are your qualifications?
& laboratory evidence?
to disagree with the publicly available data
& multitude of supporting verifications
comprehensible for anyone with even a modest high school science education?

& sz, those comicbooks you are relying upon for your knowledge base?
do not count

ah, otto of 1923bc (before credibility) is still babbling on

lots of noise, no coherence

he is still tediously repeating the same crapulous he learned in cuneiform school

Aug 29, 2019
Also check out Ruddiman, who's been looking at this for many years, e.g. https://www.chris...2003.pdf

Aug 30, 2019
Humans are Ecto-Ecological, we live outside of nature. No human endeavor is on an ecologically benign or sustainable path. We're good at exploiting and lousy at managing resources. We're so rational, that 2018 was the worst year ever for human CO2 emissions.
We'll be extinct (inevitably) by 2100 AD. Be happier, don't have children!

Aug 30, 2019

We'll be extinct (inevitably) by 2100 AD. Be happier, don't have children!

Uh huh, don't have children, that will save us from extinction.
IDIOT.

Here's an idea. Make the world happier.....STOP BREATHING. After all, you are just a waste of CO2 emissions.
NOPE, can't do that. Can you?
Since you fall just shy of your contempt for humanity.

Aug 30, 2019
LOL talking about human breathing when only one fossil fuel establishment's Co2 generation dwarfs human exhalation of co2 for as long as human existed.

Here's an idea, use those 2 peas to focus on the mountain of evidence for human induced climate change, not babble and bark, i know the overwhelming evidence and the complexity for you is too much to grasp though ;)

Aug 30, 2019
"Climate Change"; the Holy Grail of Socialism. Destroy the United States by crippling it's manufacturing base. Don't pay attention to the fact that "scientists" have to falsify data...
Not falsified, manipulated, twisted, and cherrypicked by Deniers, what an idiot post you just posted.

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