The study shows that the surface of our planet was significantly shaped by the land use of hunter-collectors, farmers and livestock farmers as early as 3,000 years ago. This is considerably earlier than natural-scientific models on the history of land use have predicted.
The archaeologists’ empirical assessment was based on a period that started 10,000 years ago and ended in the 1850s.
The emergence of productive industries accelerated man-made environmental impacts, but the extent, timing and effects of these early environmental changes have not been known on the scale of the entire planet.
“In traditional small communities, these changes to the environment have usually been small in scale, but the impacts have increased and accumulated over time,” explains Oula Seitsonen, Post-doctoral Researcher at the University of Oulu.
As examples of these impacts, Seitsonen mentions the clearing of forests and other growth by burning or felling, thus opening the landscape and creating slash-and-burn land, good hunting grounds and settlements. The increase in agriculture depleted the soil, and the vegetation suffered as a result of the grazing of livestock.
The study on global land use history highlights the long history of environmental change and challenges the previous assumption that extensive human-caused environmental change is a relatively recent phenomenon.
In addition, the study indicates that there are significant shortcomings in the volume and quality of archaeological research and data on a global scale. The participants had the highest level of expertise with respect to approximately 2,000 years old sites in richer and traditionally well-studied areas. This emphasises the need for research in poorer regions in the future to fill the gaps in research data.
Oula Seitsonen studies early livestock farming in the Domestication in Action project funded by the Academy of Finland and the European Research Council. Seitsonen’s particular focus area is early reindeer husbandry in Fennoscandia, but he also studies the traces of prehistoric livestock farmers in Mongolia and East Africa.
The article Archaeological assessment reveals Earth’s early transformation through land use was published in the prestigious Science Magazine.
Last updated: 3.9.2019