PerspectiveEnvironmental Science

How humans changed the face of Earth

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Science  30 Aug 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6456, pp. 865-866
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay4627

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Summary

Scientists across disciplines have been debating potential dates for the beginning of the Anthropocene—the period during which human activity has become a dominant influence on climate change and the global environment (1, 2). Recorded history has provided information with which to chart Earth's environmental changes during recent centuries. But how can it be determined if and when human activities transformed Earth during the time before written records? This question is prompted in part by the hypothesis that prehistoric deforestation and rice farming might explain the preindustrial upturn in atmospheric methane and carbon dioxide concentrations after ∼7000 years ago (3). On page 897 of this issue, Stephens et al. (4) describe efforts by the ArchaeoGLOBE Project to crowdsource information from the global archaeological community, synthesize the data, and generate semiquantitative estimates of how various types of land use have altered Earth during the past ten millennia.

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