Environmentally transformative human use of land accelerated with the emergence of agriculture, but the extent, trajectory, and implications of these early changes are not well understood. An empirical global assessment of land use from 10,000 BP to 1850 CE reveals a planet largely transformed by hunter-gatherers, farmers and pastoralists by 3,000 years ago, significantly earlier than land-use reconstructions commonly used by Earth scientists. Synthesis of knowledge contributed by over 250 archaeologists highlighted gaps in archaeological expertise and data quality, which peaked at 2000 BP and in traditionally studied and wealthier regions. Archaeological reconstruction of global land-use history illuminates the deep roots of Earth's transformation and challenges the emerging Anthropocene paradigm that large-scale anthropogenic global environmental change is mostly a recent phenomenon.One Sentence Summary: A map of synthesized archaeological knowledge on land use reveals a planet largely transformed by hunter-gatherers, farmers and pastoralists by 3,000 years ago.
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T H O M A S H . M c G O V E R N , O R R I VÉ S T E I N S S O N , A D O L F F R I -D R I K S S O N , M I K E C H U R C H , I A N L AW S O N , I A N A . S I M P S O N , A R N I E I N A R S S
The vegetation of Europe has undergone substantial changes during the course of the Holocene epoch, resulting from range expansion of plants following climate amelioration, competition between taxa and disturbance through anthropogenic activities. Much of the detail of this pattern is understood from decades of pollen analytical work across Europe, and this understanding has been used to address questions relating to vegetation-climate feedback, biogeography and human impact. Recent advances in modelling the relationship between pollen and vegetation now make it possible to transform pollen proportions into estimates of vegetation cover at both regional and local spatial scales, using the Landscape Reconstruction Algorithm (LRA), i.e. the REVEALS (Regional Estimates of VEgetation Abundance from Large Sites) and the LOVE (LOcal VEgetation) models. This paper presents the compilation and analysis of 73 pollen stratigraphies from the British Isles, to assess the application of the LRA and describe the pattern of landscape/woodland openness (i.e. the cover of low herb and bushy vegetation) through the Holocene. The results show that multiple small sites can be used as an effective replacement for a single large site for the reconstruction of regional vegetation cover. The REVEALS vegetation estimates imply that the British Isles had a greater degree of landscape/woodland openness at the regional scale than areas on the European mainland. There is considerable spatial bias in the British Isles dataset towards wetland areas and uplands, which may explain higher estimates of landscape openness compared with Europe. Where multiple estimates of regional vegetation are available from within the same region interregional differences are greater than intra-regional differences, supporting the use of the REVEALS model to the estimation of regional vegetation from pollen data.
International audienceWe present pollen-based reconstructions of the spatio-temporal dynamics of northern European regional vegetation abundance through the Holocene. We apply the Regional Estimates of VEgetation Abundance from Large Sites (REVEALS) model using fossil pollen records from eighteen sites within five modern biomes in the region. The eighteen sites are classified into four time-trajectory types on the basis of principal components analysis of both the REVEALS-based vegetation estimates (RVs) and the pollen percentage (PPs). The four trajectory types are more clearly separated for RVs than PPs. Further, the timing of major Holocene shifts, rates of compositional change, and diversity indices (turnover and evenness) differ between RVs and PPs. The differences are due to the reduction by REVEALS of biases in fossil pollen assemblages caused by different basin size, and inter-taxonomic differences in pollen productivity and dispersal properties. For example, in comparison to the PPs, the RVs show an earlier increase in Corylus and Ulmus in the early-Holocene and a more pronounced increase in grassland and deforested areas since the mid-Holocene. The results suggest that the influence of deforestation and agricultural activities on plant composition and abundance from Neolithic times was stronger than previously inferred from PPs. Relative to PPs, RVs show a more rapid compositional change, a largest decrease in turnover, and less variable evenness in most of northern Europe since 5200 cal yr BP. All these changes are primarily related to the strong impact of human activities on the vegetation. This study demonstrates that RV-based estimates of diversity indices, timing of shifts, and rates of change in reconstructed vegetation provide new insights into the timing and magnitude of major humandisturbance on Holocene regional vegetation, features that are critical in the assessment of humanimpact on vegetation, land-cover, biodiversity, and climate in the past
Human impact Land use LPJ-GUESS Europe Pollen REVEALS Vegetation composition based REVEALS estimates with climate-driven dynamic vegetation modelling results. The overall results indicate that climate is the major driver of vegetation when the Holocene is considered as a whole and at the sub-continental scale, although land use is important regionally. Four critical phases of land-use effects on vegetation are identified. The first phase (from 7000 to 6500 BP) corresponds to the early impacts on vegetation of farming and Neolithic forest clearance and to the dominance of climate as a driver of vegetation change. During the second phase (from 4500 to 4000 BP), land use becomes a major control of vegetation. Climate is still the principal driver, although its influence decreases gradually. The third phase (from 2000 to 1500 BP) is characterised by the continued role of climate on vegetation as a consequence of late-Holocene climate shifts and specific climate events that influence vegetation as well as land use. The last phase (from 500 to 350 BP) shows an acceleration of vegetation changes, in particular during the last century, caused by new farming practices and forestry in response to population growth and industrialization. This is a unique signature of anthropogenic impact within the Holocene but European vegetation remains climatically sensitive and thus may continue to respond to ongoing climate change.
The Norse colonisation or landnám of the North Atlantic islands of the Faroes, Iceland, and Greenland from the ninth century AD onwards provides opportunities to examine human environmental impacts on ‘pristine’ landscapes on an environmental gradient from warmer, more maritime conditions in the east to colder, more continental conditions in the west. This paper considers key environmental contrasts across the Atlantic and initial settlement impacts on the biota and landscape. Before landnám, the modes of origin of the biota (which resulted in boreo-temperate affinities), a lack of endemic species, limited diversity, and no grazing mammals on the Faroes or Iceland, were crucial in determining environmental sensitivity to human impact and, in particular, the impact of introduced domestic animals. Gathering new data and understanding their geographical patterns and changes through time are seen as crucial when tackling fundamental questions about human interactions with the environment, which are relevant to both understanding the past and planning for the future.
A volcanic ash-layer in peat from northern Scotland has been identified and coincides exactly with an abrupt decline in Pinus sylvestris L. (Scots pine) pollen frequencies. This provides an isochrone (time-equivalent marker horizon) with which to investigate the timing of the Holocene 'pine-decline'. Furthermore, two possible causes of the southward shift of the range of Pinus in Scotland c. 4000 BP are suggested; a direct effect of acid pollution by chemicals produced by the eruption of Hekla (H-4), or a volcanically-induced climatic perturbation. These possibilities have wider implications for the influence of volcanism on postglacial environmental change.
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