By J. Donald Hughes

This paintings offers a concise background, from historical to fashionable occasions, of the interactions among human societies and the opposite sorts of lifestyles that inhabit our planet. It investigates the ways that environmental alterations, usually the results of human activities, have prompted ancient has a tendency in human societies.

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Extra resources for An Environmental History of the World: Humankind's Changing Role in the Community of Life (Routledge Studies in Physical Geography and Environment)

Sample text

If the primal hunters and gatherers made a major impact on natural systems, however, they usually intended and managed to maintain a balance with them. Of course, they had little choice, because if they did upset the balance within their own territory, the ecology might restore a balance by failing to provide enough food to support human numbers. The group could try to move, but the available land would probably already be occupied by similar groups and conflict would occur. A group might drive out its rivals, but would find its original task intact: how to survive within the ecological requirements of the environment it inhabited.

The australopithecines in East Africa began the technology of making hand axes from stones. Later, Homo erectus (“Man the Upright”), a species even more like us that lived across much of the Old World, knew the use of fire in cooking and keeping warm, and possibly in hunting as well. Our own species presently surviving is called Homo sapiens (“Man the Wise”), and may or may not actually have been wise, but was certainly technologically cunning, from the start. Our clever forebears made grinding stones for wild seeds.

They moved regularly to the highlands in summer and the lowlands in winter; to call them “nomads,” implying aimless wandering, is misleading. Sheep’s wool and goats’ hair provided ample fiber for weaving, another technological achievement of this age. With animal domestication, the human ability to change the natural environment increased. Herders became a force that could destroy vegetation, setting fires in order to open forested areas for their animals and overgrazing some hillsides. Indeed, when numbers of sheep increased the danger of overgrazing appeared, since they eat grasses and herbs, roots and all, and their sharp hooves tear up the sod.

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