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


You might have heard of what some people referred to as the anther seen seen the recent interval and time where humans have been altering the environment in a profound way but our early ancestors talking thousands of years ago were also so transforming the world around them. I'm megan campbell. I'm here to talk with earl ellis about his research published in science this week where he and his team at the arco glow project used used archaeology to assess how early humans transformed the world with land use. Thanks so much for joining mural mega. How exactly were early humans means transforming the world around them. We're talking about the first transformation of landscapes both by hunter gatherers using fire and social hunting that <hes> caused the extinction of mega-fauna and other major ecological changes so that's the very earliest and the other major focus of course is the dawn of agriculture in the beginning of off widespread deforestation tillage of soils the growing of crops livestock and all these transformative effect on earth. What exactly is the time period where in early humans started noticeably transforming the world around them while the earliest emergence is around the end of the last ice age so a little more than ten thousand thousand years ago but just in a few places. Your team wanted to aggregate all this archaeological knowledge from that time period to the industrial revolution. How did you go about it. The goal was to capture the expertise of archaeologists which is very very deep in time and has a very robust understanding any of the material record of human transformations of environments but usually archaeologists are working more locally so our goal was to engage this very deep expertise in understanding long-term human transformation of environments at a global scale and we did that more or less by what popular popularly be called a crowdsourcing approach so we we asked more than one thousand three hundred archaeologists we had identified as having expertise with this <hes> and about two hundred and fifty of them responded through our questionnaire that gave a detailed account of each region of the world and detailed account of how landed changed over the past ten thousand years. What kind of questions were on this survey what we started off with questions about levels of of knowledge how how many excavations had been done in a region and what was their level of expertise in that region and the different times so we're really looking at first i we interviewed about one hundred gatherers and then we went to different forms of agriculture. Is this approach different from past attempts to reconstruct land usage usage prior to present. Yes it's the first time that archaeological expertise across the whole community archaeologists or at least the community that we could reach it has been pulled together in a standardized way to produce data that is shared and ready to use by her scientists. What did you data suggested just about trends of land use over the past thousand years very simply. Put the trends that were observed. Were a much earlier onset of intensive agriculture. The is typically represented in the models that are used to represent land use in the earth system models that are used for climate change and the other land use that was interesting is that we i saw the decline of the hunter gatherer usa land which is unsurprising but it was interesting to see quantified over time when we think about yemen transformation of the earth another important concept. Is this idea that it's not all at once all at one time everywhere it's kind of a gradual acceleration and coming together refusals from around the world. Why do you think this is that those past models didn't have show as intense transformation of the land. There's been a bias among under scientists only looking at the more recent data. There's been a narrative that the anthrocene represents an industrial revolution activity. This is not actually actually something that emerged from data. It's is just a paradigm. We tried to look deeper than the other reason that scientists haven't been able to incorporate. This deeper understanding of land use change is that it's ever been presented in a form that they can use you know a lot of our scientists aren't familiar with that earlier history. Some of our co authors are are scientists who are working with these models. They will incorporate this knowledge to improve the accuracy of their early onset of human transformation transformation of the earth lies important to have a better model for this. There's two obvious examples. One is with climate change modeling. It makes a huge difference in the predictions of even contemporary climate models when you have much earlier changes in say forest cover and the tillage of soils and irrigation all these things affect predictions even a future climate the other one that i am more active in is understanding biodiversity patterns ecologists have tended to research it an area as if it didn't have a very deep history of human occupation. There's a saying for this the pristine in myth that a lot of people participate in they go and look at a landscape. There's no people there right at this moment so it must be a wild pattern but the deeper history of land use enables is people understand that a lot of the patterns of biodiversity that we think of as natural or pristine are actually been managed in modified by human societies thousands sounds of years

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