Agriculture has not only been the oldest occupation for individuals to earn their living but it has also thrown a considerable and lasting impact on the environment. A new study conducted by the University of British Columbia-led team of international researchers has been published on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances that revealed the significance of agriculture in bringing environmental changes.
The study "Anthropogenic changes to the Holocene nitrogen cycle in Ireland" has been authored by Eric Guiry with co-authors from Trent University, Queen's University Belfast, Institute of Technology Sligo, the University of Oxford, and Simon Fraser University.
The researchers, during the study, observed that the Bronze Age in Ireland witnessed a huge increase in deforestation and agricultural activity that affected the nitrogen cycle of the Earth. It is the cycle that keeps nitrogen circulating between the atmosphere, land, and oceans. Nitrogen is one of the most critical elements that are necessary for life.
"That's the turning point where humanity goes to being a part of the environment to being a dominant driver in key processes," post-doctoral fellow at UBC department of anthropology, Eric Guiry, said. "Scientists are increasingly recognizing that humans have always impacted their ecosystems, but finding early evidence of significant and lasting changes is rare."
The researchers went to least 90 archaeological sites in Ireland and collected around 712 animal bones to perform stable isotope analyses. They found significant changes in the composition of nitrogen present in the soil nutrients and plants that made up the animal's diet in the Bronze Age. The researchers feel that the changes were the result of the increased deforestation, pastoral farming, and agriculture.
"By looking at when and how ancient societies began to change soil nutrients at a molecular level, we now have a deeper understanding of the turning point at which humans first began to cause environmental change," Guiry added.
Of course, the study was conducted specifically for Ireland but the researchers believe that these findings do have global effects. "The effect of human activities on soil nitrogen composition may be traceable wherever humans have extensively modified landscapes for agriculture," Guiry provided details. "Our findings have significant potential to serve as a model for future research."