Environmental Change and the Holocene

As you already know, our theme for the month is environmental history. This is a subject I have come across not that long ago, and I personally enjoyed it so much I proposed it for the blog! I think considering the times we are living in the environment is something to keep present in our minds. Environmental change is inherent to the nature and dynamics of the world: it influences us in the same way we alter it, so I think that makes it a very interesting historical approach.

Anyway, this post will briefly mention the general environmental conditions of the Holocene, and particularly the Mesolithic. [Why?…Well…why not? Who does not like a bit of pre-history 🙂 ] I find it interesting that most of the data and information we know from the pre-historical period does come mainly from natural sciences like biology and geology. It is true much anthropological work has been done lately, but perhaps we suffer from the lack of big serious archaeological/historical/humanities-social sciences investigations about this subject…Even a greater reason to dedicate this entry to this particular period!

The Holocene is a very interesting geological period as it turned the climate of the Earth. There had been a long Ice Age, one of the multiples our planet has gone through, but with the change in internal geological dynamics the ice started melting and leading the way to new ecological areas: the boreal forest and the tundra. This was quickly followed by the recolonisation of these places by men, who took advantage of the fairly stable climate to find new homes and ways of living. So in this way new habitable zones appeared, mainly moving northwards.

With this revitalised human activity came the technological advances of the Mesolithic, which started to shape their new environment. The development of agriculture produced changes in the soil and water. Open spaces and green areas were alternated, starting in this way the slow but powerful process of deforestation we suffer so strongly these days. In addition, the constant use of fire, and more importantly the techniques developed to control the results of these pyres, started generating a small degree of pollution, damaging both the air and ground. These were further experienced in the Neolithic, when  agricultural exploitations were improved: increasing in number and intensity, while developing new techniques at the same time.

Also, it has to be considered that during the Neolithic animal husbandry became a very important agricultural practice for the survival of mankind. So the accumulation of animals in certain spaces, plus the ways to feed them, on top of their excrements, made a contribution to this changing ecology. An interesting fact is that “between the Neolithic and the 18th century, agriculture was the main cause of culturally driven environmental change”, as it has been argued elsewhere (consult pages for further information).

It is fairly easy to see how human action from an early point in history began to make a difference in the world we live in. However, nature did its own things as well that clearly had an impact in the live of our ancestors and the way things developed. There is a theory that says that various “megatsunamis” happened about 8.000 years ago. One of them might have happened in the Mediterranean sea due to the effects of a volcanic landslide provokes by Mount Etna. A similar scenario is likely to have taken place at the Norwegian sea because of the Storegga slide. Finally, we got another comparative example, which would have occurred at Reunion Island approximately 6.000 years ago.

Finally, here is an interesting video related with the subject that I found:


I hope this brief overview provides us all with an insight to the importance of environmental change and how long this has actually been going on! This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it has both human and natural factors involved in it, but if we can understand this as a long-term process, then I think we will start re-evaluating our thinking about the subject, and perhaps becoming more environmental friendly.

This said, please take a look at the following websites if you want to know some more general details about the subject:


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