An­cient agri­cul­ture caused last­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal changes

StarMetro Vancouver - - VANCOUVER - ME­LANIE GREEN

An­cient agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­ity more than 2,000 years ago is the tip­ping point where hu­man­ity first be­gan to cause en­vi­ron­men­tal change, ac­cord­ing to a new study.

The find­ings — dis­cov­ered by a team of in­ter­na­tional re­searchers led by the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia — point to in­creased in­ten­sity of de­for­esta­tion and farm­ing prac­tices dur­ing the Bronze Age in Ire­land. This af­fected the world’s ni­tro­gen cy­cle, which is a process that keeps the es­sen­tial el­e­ment cir­cu­lat­ing be­tween the at­mos­phere, land and oceans.

“That’s the turn­ing point where hu­man­ity goes to be­ing a part of the en­vi­ron­ment to be­ing a dom­i­nant driver in key pro­cesses,” said Eric Guiry, lead au­thor and post-doc­toral fel­low at UBC’S depart­ment of an­thro­pol­ogy.

“Sci­en­tists are in­creas­ingly Re­searchers stud­ied bones to iden­tify when an­cient agri­cul­ture be­gan to have an im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment. rec­og­niz­ing that hu­mans have al­ways im­pacted their ecosys­tems, but find­ing early ev­i­dence of sig­nif­i­cant and last­ing changes is rare.”

Re­searchers per­formed sta­ble iso­tope analy­ses — or chem­i­cal sig­na­tures — on 712 an­i­mal bones col­lected from 90 arche­o­log­i­cal sites in Ire­land and found “star­tling” changes to the ni­tro­gen com­po­si­tion of soil nutri­ents — which en­tered the plants that made up the an­i­mals’ diet.

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