News Release

Archaeological assessment reveals Earth's early transformation through land use

A synthetic history of human land use

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Maryland Baltimore County


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Credit: UMBC

BALTIMORE, Md . - Humans have been transforming Earth's ecology for thousands of years; far longer than previously known by Earth scientists. In work published on August 30, 2019 in Science , a global collaboration among more than 250 archaeologists, the ArchaeoGLOBE project, reveals the deep roots of Earth's reshaping into the human planet of the Anthropocene.

By hunting and foraging, farming and urbanizing Earth's land over the past 10,000 years, human societies drove species extinct, deforested the planet, tilled up Earth's soils, and released carbon into the atmosphere, creating the planet as we know it today. The earlier start times for land use revealed by this study have profound implications for understanding and modelling contemporary global changes in land use, climate and biodiversity around the world.

The project was developed as an extension of UMBC's NSF-funded GLOBE project towards the goal of engaging the local expertise of archaeologists around the world to create a global assessment of land use changes since the last ice age. Led by Erle C. Ellis, Professor of Geography and Environmental Systems at UMBC and Lucas Stephens together with archaeologists at Max Planck in Jena , the Smithsonian , University College London , University of Washington , Arizona State University , and many other institutions, the work represents the first global assessment of land use by archaeologists; a collaborative achievement in itself. Three undergraduate research interns at UMBC - Alexa Thornton (Environmental Science and Geography - BS Cum Laude 2018), Santiago Munevar Garcia (Environmental Science and Geography - BS Magna Cum Laude 2018) and Jeremy Powell (Geography - BS 2018) provided critical assistance in with geospatial analysis and mapping the data set.

"Archaeologists have unrivaled tools for investigating human changes in environments over the long term. The ArchaeoGLOBE project brought this expertise together at global scale to understand the global environmental changes caused by humans. Our hope is that this is only the first achievement of what will become a new, "massively collaborative" scientific approach to understanding the global environmental changes caused by humans over the long term."


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