When did human societies first transform Earth?
On August 30, 2017, the GLOBE project received a supplement from NSF to collaborate with archaeologists in PAGES to find new ways to synthesize the local knowledge of archaeologists at global scale. Exactly two years later, on August 30, 2019, the ArchaeoGLOBE project based on this support published its results in Science magazine.
By employing a ”massively collaborative” approach led by archaeologist Lucas Stephens and a group of leading archaeologists, our project recruited 255 archaeologists to share and assess expert knowledge on land use over the past 10,000 years across 146 regions spanning all continents except Antarctica. What we found is that people began reshaping this planet thousands of years ago.
Based on the evidence we gathered, the consensus among archaeologists is that human use of land has been transforming Earth globally for at least 3,000 years, and even back to 10,000 years ago, far earlier than Earth scientists have known, depending on the degree of environmental transformation caused by hunter-gatherer land use practices (clearing land using fire, propagating favored species, etc). One central finding is that land use change trajectories are diverse around the world, with some areas changing much earlier than others and with different transitions among hunter-gatherers, farmers, pastoralists and urbanized societies. Archaeological knowledge was also diverse across space and time – with some regions showing high demand for future research.
One of our key goals was to exemplify a culture of open data sharing and incentivized collaboration, so we shared data as we collected it, long before we submitted our work for publication, and also gave enhanced positioning in our author list for all authors who volunteered to help with writing or data analysis. Three UMBC undergraduate researchers also helped get the data cleaned up and analyzed. Our volunteer archaeological data analysts, Nick Gauthier and Ben Marwick did fantastic work with this: all of our figures, including the cool animations above and below, are reproducible directly using shared R code and opendata.
Our work also generated substantial media attention, including a wide array of news stories – selected media coverage is aggregated on this page.
Thanks to everyone involved for a truly uplifting collaboration – with exciting ideas for more to come!
All data, results, figures, code, and publications are available for free download on the ArchaeoGLOBE Harvard DataVerse