Humans have been ruining the world since the Stone Age: Study finds farming affected almost HALF of the Earth’s land mass 4,000 years ago

  • A major study looked at global land use between 10,000 and 170 years ago 
  • Farming effected more than 40 per cent of Earth’s land area by 4,000 years ago 
  • Reveals humans cultivated land 1,000 years earlier than previously thought

Humans have been damaging the Earth and leaving an indelible mark on the planet for more than 4,000 years. 

A major study looked at global land use between 10,000 and 170 years ago and discovered the first recorded proof of humans coincided with the advent of farming. 

The findings reveal that hunter-gatherers and farmers made ‘significant alterations’ to the planet and prove the footprint of man goes deeper than the Anthropocene. 

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A total of 255 respondents filled out more than 700 regional questionnaires, providing the information for the study. The global data-set revealed that hunter-gatherers and farmers made 'significant alterations' to the planet

A total of 255 respondents filled out more than 700 regional questionnaires, providing the information for the study. The global data-set revealed that hunter-gatherers and farmers made ‘significant alterations’ to the planet

The findings show that shifting cultivation and pastoralsm had already affected more than 40 per cent of Earth’s land area by 4,000 years ago.

It was found that cultivation of land was common over most of the planet by 2,000 years ago, contradicting previous research and revealing humans were cultivating land 1,000 years earlier than was thought. 

The study, published in the journal Science, relied on a crowdsourcing drive, called the ArchaeoGLOBE Project.

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It sent out a massive survey to archaeologists around the world whose expertise covered all periods of human history. 

A total of 255 respondents filled out more than 700 regional questionnaires, providing the information for the study.

It found the modern mark left on the planet is not unique and stretches back thousands of years.  

Study co-author Professor Michael Barton at Arizona State University, said: ‘Understanding how humans interact with the environment over the long-term past is one of the best things we can do to help us understand how people will deal with this in the future.’ 

‘We’re not starting from zero. We’re starting from a long history.’

Ancient peoples’ actions are recorded in various ways in the Earth and fossil record and Professor Barton explained that studying their environmental successes and failures gives a better idea of how to create positive change in the future.   

He said the study also has implications for models used by scientists to predict how humans will impact the environment in the future. 

Findings of the major study show that shifting cultivation and pastoralism had already affected more than 40 per cent of Earth's land area by 4,000 years ago (pictured)

Findings of the major study show that shifting cultivation and pastoralism had already affected more than 40 per cent of Earth’s land area by 4,000 years ago (pictured)

Accurate predictions rely on comparing the present to the past – and the data currently underestimates human impact,the research found.  

Co-author Dr Nicolas Gauthier, of Arizona State University, said: ‘Our hope is that it will push the field forward in a way that would not have been possible had everyone worked in isolation.’ 

WHAT IS THE ANTHROPOCENE? 

The Anthropocene is the name of a proposed geological epoch that may soon enter the official Geologic Time Scale.

It refers to a time in which human permanently changed the planet.

According to the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), we are officially in the Holocene epoch, which began 11,700 years ago after the last major ice age.

Some experts argue we should now change the name to ‘Anthropocene’. 

This is from from anthropo, for ‘man,’ and cene, for ‘new’.

Experts remain divided on when mankind caused a lasting impact on the Earth’s geology but seem to have settled on a time near 1950.

The atomic bomb is a popular marker. 

Dr Gary Feinman, Curator of Anthropology at the Field Museum in the US, said: ‘Through this crowdsourced data, we can see that there was global environmental impact by land use at least 3,000 years ago.

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‘And that means that the idea of seeing human impact on the environment as a newer phenomenon is too focused on the recent past.

‘About 12,000 years ago, humans were mainly foraging, meaning they didn’t interact with their environments as intensively as farmers generally do.

‘And now we see that 3,000 years ago, we have people doing really invasive farming in many parts of the globe.’

He added: ‘There’s such a focus on how the present is different from the past in contemporary science.

‘I think this study provides a check, a counter-weight to that, by showing that yes, there have been more accelerated changes in land use recently, but humans have been doing this for a long time. And the patterns start 3,000 years ago.

‘It shows that the problems we face today are very deep-rooted, and they are going to take more than simple solutions to solve. They cannot be ignored.’





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