WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 (Xinhua) -- A huge international collaborative study revealed that early humans across the entire globe had made significant transformations to the planet at least 3,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought.
The study published online on Thursday in the journal Science is a part of a larger project called ArchaeoGLOBE in which over 250 scientists analyzed land use from roughly 10,000 years ago to the year 1850 in 146 different areas around the world to identify human imprint on the planet's soil.
Humans' ability to alter the natural environment is often considered a modern phenomenon, but the new study showed that many of the ways ancient people used the land were not "leave-no-trace" as many have imagined.
"About 12,000 years ago, humans were mainly foraging, meaning they didn't interact with their environments as intensively as farmers generally do," said the paper's co-author Gary Feinman, anthropologist at the Field Museum.
"Now we see that 3,000 years ago, we have people doing really invasive farming in many parts of the globe," said Feinman.
By 6,000 years ago, some form of agriculture was being practiced in nearly half of the world's regions, and by 3,000 years ago, was widespread, according to the study.
Also, the raising of livestock had spread by 8,000 years ago from some of its origin areas in Southwest Asia to arid environments like North Africa and Eurasia, where it was common by 4,000 years ago.
Studying their environmental successes and failures can give a better idea of how to create positive change as humans continue to reshape the planet.
"Understanding how humans interact with the environment over the long-term past is one of the best things we can do to help us understand how people will deal with this in the future," said Michael Barton, the paper's co-author and a professor at Arizona State University. "We're not starting from zero. We're starting from a long history."
Researchers can look for evidence of whether ancient people's actions benefited or harmed biodiversity and allowed them to reside sustainably or not in an area for a long amount of time.