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Breaking the Sod: Humankind, History, and Soil

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Science  11 Jun 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5677, pp. 1627-1629
DOI: 10.1126/science.1099893

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For most of history, few things have mattered more to human communities than their relations with soil, because soil provided most of their food and nutrients. Accordingly, some of the earliest written documents were agricultural manuals intended to organize, preserve, and impart soil knowledge. Indeed, ancient civilizations often worshipped the soil as the foundry of life itself. For the past century or two, nothing has mattered more for soils than their relations with human communities, because human action inadvertently ratcheted up rates of soil erosion and, both intentionally and unintentionally, rerouted nutrient flows.

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