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Proxy data give clues about past climate and agriculture

How do we know about past climates and prehistoric civilizations?  Since we don’t have instrumental records or written histories, we have to use clues from the environment to help us decipher what the past was really like.  “Proxy data” are used to try to find a link between something that we can observe, like tree rings or tool patterns, and climate variations or crop growth patterns.  Here are two stories I ran across today on these methods.

The Nature Conservancy published an article in their blog Cool Green Science about how scientists are using ancient tree stumps in Florida to determine how the climate might have varied in the past.  By studying tree growth as shown in the ring patterns, they can determine the frequency of fires and say something about how the environment changed over time.

Modern Farmer posted a story about the rise of agriculture in what is now a stretch of desert in Jordan near the Syrian border.  By looking at patterns of striations on stone tools, scientists from the University of Copenhagen see signs of grain harvesting at one of the earlier permanent settlement sites.  When the site was occupied 14,000 years ago, the climate at that site was much wetter than the current desert state due to changes caused by the end of the last Ice Age.

tree rings