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10 December 2010
Climate change - learning from the past

Whilst modern climate change is a contenscious subject, we may be able to learn some lessons from the past. Archaeologists from the University of Ottowa, in Canada, have been studying data from sites ranging from Maine to Pennsylvania, in the USA. They have taken the prehistory of North America and divided it into three main periods, namely Paleoindian (12,500 to 9,250 BCE), Archaic (9,250 to 6,200 BCE) and Woodland (6,200 to 1,000 BCE).
     They have noted, through the study of radiocarbon dates, pollen and charcoal records, that, as the climate changed from cold to warm, so did the flora and fauna and along with this, hunting impliments were modified or abandoned to cope with the changes in the animals being hunted. During these climate changes humans evolved from nomadic hunters in colder spells to semi-nomadic hunters of smaller animals and fishes, to more static farmers as the climate warmed.
     Whilst not stating that there is a direct link between climate change and culture change, the researchers argue that tool kits were modified in response to the changes. The team's findings have been supported by Bryan Shuman, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Wyoming in the USA, who is reported as saying "the major cultural transitions happen right when the major climate and ecological transitions take place". Others, however, are more sceptical, such as Anthony Brown, a paleoenvironmentalist at the University of Southampton, in the UK, who labels the results and correlations as 'problematic'.
     
Edited from ScienceNOW (6 December 2010)

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