Rain-fed agriculture thrived despite climate degradation in the pre-Hispanic arid Andes.
ABSTRACT: Archaeological research suggests significant human occupation in the arid Andean highlands during the 13th to 15th centuries, whereas paleoclimatic studies reveal prolonged drier and colder conditions during that period. Which subsistence strategy supported local societies in this harsh environment? Our field and aerial surveys of archaeological dwelling sites, granaries, and croplands provide the first evidence of extended pre-Hispanic agriculture supporting dense human populations in the arid Andes of Bolivia. This unique agricultural system associated with quinoa cultivation was unirrigated, consisting of simple yet extensive landscape modifications. It relied on highly specific environmental knowledge and a set of water-saving practices, including microterracing and biennial fallowing. This intense agricultural activity developed during a period of unfavorable climatic change on a regional and global scale, illustrative of efficient adaptive strategies to cope with this climatic change.
Project description:The collapse and resilience of political systems in the ancient Near East and their relationship with agricultural development have been of wide interest in archaeology and anthropology. Despite attempts to link the archaeological evidence to local paleoclimate data, the precise role of environmental conditions in ancient agricultural production remains poorly understood. Recently, stable isotope analysis has been used for reconstructing site-specific ancient growing conditions for crop species in semiarid and arid landscapes. To open the discussion of the role of regional diversity in past agricultural production as a factor in societal development, we present 1.037 new stable carbon isotope measurements from 33 archaeological sites and modern fields in the geographic area of the Fertile Crescent, spanning the Aceramic Neolithic [10,000 calibrated years (cal) B.C.] to the later Iron Age (500 cal B.C.), alongside modern data from 13 locations. Our data show that drought stress was an issue in many agricultural settlements in the ancient Near East, particularly in correlation with the major Holocene climatic fluctuations, but its regional impact was diverse and influenced by geographic factors. Although cereals growing in the coastal areas of the northern Levant were relatively unaffected by Holocene climatic fluctuations, farmers of regions further inland had to apply irrigation to cope with increased water stress. However, inland agricultural strategies showed a high degree of variability. Our findings suggest that regional differences in climatic effects led to diversified strategies in ancient subsistence and economy even within spatially limited cultural units.
Project description:History and environment shape crop biodiversity, particularly in areas with vulnerable human communities and ecosystems. Tracing crop biodiversity over time helps understand how rural societies cope with anthropogenic or climatic changes. Exceptionally well preserved ancient DNA of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) from the cold and arid Andes of Argentina has allowed us to track changes and continuities in quinoa diversity over 18 centuries, by coupling genotyping of 157 ancient and modern seeds by 24 SSR markers with cluster and coalescence analyses. Cluster analyses revealed clear population patterns separating modern and ancient quinoas. Coalescence-based analyses revealed that genetic drift within a single population cannot explain genetic differentiation among ancient and modern quinoas. The hypothesis of a genetic bottleneck related to the Spanish Conquest also does not seem to apply at a local scale. Instead, the most likely scenario is the replacement of preexisting quinoa gene pools with new ones of lower genetic diversity. This process occurred at least twice in the last 18 centuries: first, between the 6th and 12th centuries-a time of agricultural intensification well before the Inka and Spanish conquests-and then between the 13th century and today-a period marked by farming marginalization in the late 19th century likely due to a severe multidecadal drought. While these processes of local gene pool replacement do not imply losses of genetic diversity at the metapopulation scale, they support the view that gene pool replacement linked to social and environmental changes can result from opposite agricultural trajectories.
Project description:Marked changes in human dispersal and development during the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition have been attributed to massive volcanic eruption and/or severe climatic deterioration. We test this concept using records of volcanic ash layers of the Campanian Ignimbrite eruption dated to ca. 40,000 y ago (40 ka B.P.). The distribution of the Campanian Ignimbrite has been enhanced by the discovery of cryptotephra deposits (volcanic ash layers that are not visible to the naked eye) in archaeological cave sequences. They enable us to synchronize archaeological and paleoclimatic records through the period of transition from Neanderthal to the earliest anatomically modern human populations in Europe. Our results confirm that the combined effects of a major volcanic eruption and severe climatic cooling failed to have lasting impacts on Neanderthals or early modern humans in Europe. We infer that modern humans proved a greater competitive threat to indigenous populations than natural disasters.
Project description:Climatic changes during the late Quaternary have resulted in substantial, often abrupt, rearrangements of terrestrial ecosystems, but the relationship between these environmental changes and prehistoric human culture and population size remains unclear. Using a database of archaeological radiocarbon dates alongside a network of paleoecological records (sedimentary pollen and charcoal) and paleoclimatic reconstructions, we show that periods of cultural and demographic change in the northeastern United States occurred at the same times as the major environmental-climatic transitions of that region. At 11.6, 8.2, 5.4, and 3.0 kyr BP (10(3) calendar years before present), changes in forest composition altered the distribution, availability, and predictability of food resources which triggered technological adjustments manifested in the archaeological record. Human population level has varied in response to these external changes in ecosystems, but the adoption of maize agriculture during the late Holocene also resulted in a substantial population increase. This study demonstrates the long-term interconnectedness of prehistoric human cultures and the ecosystems they inhabited, and provides a consolidated environmental-cultural framework from which more interdisciplinary research and discussion can develop. Moreover, it emphasizes the complex nature of human responses to environmental change in a temperate region.
Project description:While North China is one of the earliest independent centers for cereal domestication in the world, the earliest stages of the long process of agricultural origins remain unclear. While only millets were eventually domesticated in early sedentary societies there, recent archaeobotanical evidence reported here indicates that grasses from the Paniceae (including millets) and Triticeae tribes were exploited together by foraging groups from the Last Glacial Maximum to the mid-Holocene. Here we explore how and why millets were selected for domestication while Triticeae were abandoned. We document the different exploitation and cultivation trajectories of the two tribes employing ancient starch data derived from nine archaeological sites dating from 25,000 to 5500?cal BP (LGM through mid-Holocene) in North China. With this diachronic overview, we can place the trajectories into the context of paleoclimatic reconstructions for this period. Entering the Holocene, climatic changes increased the yield stability, abundance, and availability of the wild progenitors of millets, with growing conditions increasingly favoring millets while becoming more unfavorable for grasses of the Triticeae tribe. We thus hypothesize that climate change played a critical role in the selection of millet species for domestication in North China, with early domestication evidenced by 8700?cal BP.
Project description:The modern Antarctic Dry Valleys are locked in a hyper-arid, polar climate that enables the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) to remain stable, frozen to underlying bedrock. The duration of these dry, cold conditions is a critical prerequisite when modeling the long-term mass balance of the EAIS during past warm climates and is best examined using terrestrial paleoclimatic proxies. Unfortunately, deposits containing such proxies are extremely rare and often difficult to date. Here, we apply a unique dating approach to tundra deposits using concentrations of meteoric beryllium-10 ((10)Be) adhered to paleolake sediments from the Friis Hills, central Dry Valleys. We show that lake sediments were emplaced between 14-17.5 My and have remained untouched by meteoric waters since that time. Our results support the notion that the onset of Dry Valleys aridification occurred ~14 My, precluding the possibility of EAIS collapse during Pliocene warming events. Lake fossils indicate that >14 My ago the Dry Valleys hosted a moist tundra that flourished in elevated atmospheric CO2 (>400 ppm). Thus, Dry Valleys tundra deposits record regional climatic transitions that affect EAIS mass balance, and, in a global paleoclimatic context, these deposits demonstrate how warming induced by 400 ppm CO2 manifests at high latitudes.
Project description:Holocene climate variability in the Mediterranean Basin is often cited as a potential driver of societal change, but the mechanisms of this putative influence are generally little explored. In this paper we integrate two tools-agro-ecosystem modeling of potential agricultural yields and spatial analysis of archaeological settlement pattern data-in order to examine the human consequences of past climatic changes. Focusing on a case study in Provence (France), we adapt an agro-ecosystem model to the modeling of potential agricultural productivity during the Holocene. Calibrating this model for past crops and agricultural practices and using a downscaling approach to produce high spatiotemporal resolution paleoclimate data from a Mediterranean Holocene climate reconstruction, we estimate realistic potential agricultural yields under past climatic conditions. These serve as the basis for spatial analysis of archaeological settlement patterns, in which we examine the changing relationship over time between agricultural productivity and settlement location. Using potential agricultural productivity (PAgP) as a measure of the human consequences of climate changes, we focus on the relative magnitudes of 1) climate-driven shifts in PAgP and 2) the potential increases in productivity realizable through agricultural intensification. Together these offer a means of assessing the scale and mechanisms of the vulnerability and resilience of Holocene inhabitants of Provence to climate change. Our results suggest that settlement patterns were closely tied to PAgP throughout most of the Holocene, with the notable exception of the period from the Middle Bronze Age through the Early Iron Age. This pattern does not appear to be linked to any climatically-driven changes in PAgP, and conversely the most salient changes in PAgP during the Holocene cannot be clearly linked to any changes in settlement pattern. We argue that this constitutes evidence that vulnerability and resilience to climate change are strongly dependent on societal variables.
Project description:Archaeological sites hold important clues to complex climate-human relationships of the past. Human settlements in the peripheral zone of Indus culture (Gujarat, western India) are of considerable importance in the assessment of past monsoon-human-subsistence-culture relationships and their survival thresholds against climatic stress exerted by abrupt changes. During the mature phase of Harappan culture between ~4,600-3,900yrsBP, the ~4,100±100yrsBP time slice is widely recognized as one of the major, abrupt arid-events imprinted innumerous well-dated palaeo records. However, the veracity of this dry event has not been established from any archaeological site representing the Indus (Harappan) culture, and issues concerning timing, changes in subsistence pattern, and the likely causes of eventual abandonment (collapse) continue to be debated. Here we show a significant change in crop-pattern (from barley-wheat based agriculture to 'drought-resistant' millet-based crops) at ~4,200 yrs BP, based on abundant macrobotanical remains and C isotopes of soil organic matter (?13CSOM) in an archaeological site at Khirsara, in the Gujarat state of western India. The crop-change appears to be intentional and was likely used as an adaptation measure in response to deteriorated monsoonal conditions. The ceramic and architectural remains of the site indicate that habitation survived and continued after the ~4,200yrsBP dry climatic phase, but with declined economic prosperity. Switching to millet-based crops initially helped inhabitants to avoid immediate collapse due to climatic stresses, but continued aridity and altered cropping pattern led to a decline in prosperity levels of inhabitants and eventual abandonment of the site at the end of the mature Harappan phase.
Project description:Water scarcity raises major concerns on the sustainable future of humanity and the conservation of important ecosystem functions. To meet the increasing food demand without expanding cultivated areas, agriculture will likely need to introduce irrigation in croplands that are currently rain-fed but where enough water would be available for irrigation. "Agricultural economic water scarcity" is, here, defined as lack of irrigation due to limited institutional and economic capacity instead of hydrologic constraints. To date, the location and productivity potential of economically water scarce croplands remain unknown. We develop a monthly agrohydrological analysis to map agricultural regions affected by agricultural economic water scarcity. We find these regions account for up to 25% of the global croplands, mostly across Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. Sustainable irrigation of economically water scarce croplands could feed an additional 840 million people while preventing further aggravation of blue water scarcity.
Project description:Questions about how archaeological populations obtained basic food supplies are often difficult to answer. The application of specialist techniques from non-archaeological fields typically expands our knowledge base, but can be detrimental to cultural interpretations if employed incorrectly, resulting in problematic datasets and erroneous conclusions not easily caught by the recipient archaeological community. One area where this problem has failed to find resolution is Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, the center of one of the New World's most vibrant ancient civilizations. Discussions of agricultural feasibility and its impact on local population levels at Chaco Canyon have been heavily influenced by studies of soil salinity. A number of researchers have argued that salinized soils severely limited local agricultural production, instead suggesting food was imported from distant sources, specifically the Chuska Mountains. A careful reassessment of existing salinity data as measured by electrical conductivity reveals critical errors in data conversion and presentation that have misrepresented the character of the area's soil and its potential impact on crops. We combine all available electrical conductivity data, including our own, and apply multiple established conversion methods in order to estimate soil salinity values and evaluate their relationship to agricultural productivity potential. Our results show that Chacoan soils display the same salinity ranges and spatial variability as soils in other documented, productive fields in semi-arid areas. Additionally, the proposed large-scale importation of food from the Chuska Mountains region has serious social implications that have not been thoroughly explored. We consider these factors and conclude that the high cost and extreme inflexibility of such a system, in combination with material evidence for local agriculture within Chaco Canyon, make this scenario highly unlikely. Both the soil salinity and archaeological data suggest that there is no justification for precluding the practice of local agriculture within Chaco Canyon.