Grazing Enabled Ancient Farmers Face Climate Change With Greater Resilience

We are remarkably adaptable to enable resilience to climate change, and humans over the last 5,000 years have survived challenges such as changing climate. Now, new research allows us to understand how people from that time survived.

Madelynn von Baeyer, Alexia Smith, and Sharon Steadman from renowned institutes published research in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports on how Europeans living in present-day Turkey adapted agricultural practices during droughts in the past.

During von Baeyer’s doctoral research at Cadir Höyük, a site in Turkey that has been continuously occupied for thousands of years, the research was conducted.

“Major reason for my interest in climate change and natural adaptation was that I was fascinated by the fact that plant use changed over time. This fit Steadman’s objectives for the Cadir Höyük very well,” said Baeyer.

According to Smith, the site is situated in the land that sustains generations of agriculture and pasture through time.

Smith says, “People would build houses with mud bricks and then overtime the structure would either collapse or be abandoned, so the people would just build on top of it.” They eventually built villages in the area that looked like they were built high on hills.

“Later, they explored the layers within the tunnels and found ancient plant remains, such as intentionally and/or unintentionally burnt material. Furthermore, the layers also showed traces of human occupation and the changing lives of the inhabitants over millennia,” says Smith.

Regardless of the use of wood, Smith says one can learn a great deal by looking at the remains of fires caused by animal dung: “In the dung, seeds can be found that tell us the foods eaten by those animals.”

In her research purpose, Von Baeyer states the following: “Archaeobotanical research follows three broad stages: data collection, identification, and data analysis.” He further explained that the Data collection takes place on an archaeological dig, collecting soil samples and extracting seeds from the dirt; identification occurs in the lab by identifying each plant you collected, and data analysis to tell a full story is enthralling.

We focused on a period called the Late Chalcolithic, about 3700-3200 years before the common era (BCE). moreover, we used paleoclimatic information and Steadman’s detailed phasing at Çadır Höyük to determine that lifestyles have changed during the transitional phenomena called drought and aridity that ended the fourth millennium before the common era (BCE).

According to Smith, there are many ways in which people can adapt to climate change: “They can intensify, diversify, strengthen, or abandon the region entirely.”

In addition to the bones, zooarchaeologists examined seeds from the dung-fueled fires at the dig site to determine what the animals were eating in the Late Chalcolithic era.

“We know that they used to herd cattle, goats, and sheep but we saw a shift to animals that graze diversifying or maximizing the types of calories that a human can consume,” said Smith.

To further support his hypothesis about the shift to calories, Smith said that as the climate kept progressively became drier, people continued to supply themself and animals with cereal crops, while grazing on plants was not suitable for consumption – maximizing resources and resilience to climate change.

Initially, I did not anticipate making an argument about climate and the environment at the outset of my study. “Often when archaeobotanical talks about shifts in plant use over time, it is over large cultural shifts. This study looks at a shift that lasted only 500 years. Although in many ways the circumstances today are different from 6000 years ago, there are still lessons we can apply today,” claims von Baeyer.

Reference: 

DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2021.102806

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