Owing to the problems of calibrating radio-carbon dates and securing accurate details from ice cores, the precise date at which glacial conditions can only said to have fell between 22,000 and 21,000 Bc. However the world around 20,000 BC the period when human culture started to evolve fairly rapidly and our research starts, was a inhospitable, a cold, dry and windy planet with frequent storms and a dust-laden atmosphere.

The lower sea level has joined some land masses together and created extensive coastal plains. Tasmania, Australia and New Guinea are one; so are Borneo, Java and Thailand which form mountain chains within the largest extent of rainforest on planet earth. The Sahara, Gobi and other sandy deserts are greatly expanded in extent. Britain is no more than a peninsula of Europe, its north buried below the ice, its south a polar desert. Much of North America is smothered by a giant dome of ice.

Human communities have been forced, to abandon many regions they had inhabited before the last glacial maximum, or LGM; others are amenable for settlement but remain unoccupied because any routes for colonisation have been blocked by dry desert and walls of ice. People survive wherever they can, struggling with freezing temperatures and persistent drought. Consider, for instance, those living at a location in modern-day Ukraine known to archaeologists as Pushkari.

At this period of time five dwellings form a rough circle on the tundra. They face south, away from the biting icy wind and close to the meander of a semi-frozen river. The dwellings are igloo-like but built from mammoth bone and hide rather than blocks of ice. Each has an imposing entrance formed by two tusks, up-ended to form an arch. The walls use massive leg bones as vertical supports, between which jawbones have been stacked chin-down to create a thick barrier to the cold and wind. Further tusks are used on the roof to weigh down hides and sods of turf that are supported on a framework of bones and branches. Smoke seeps gently from the roof of one dwelling; the cries of a baby pierce the thick hide of another.

Beyond the village a sledge loaded with massive bones is being hauled from the river. The faces of those working are misted in clouds of hot breath, behind which thick beards and long hair leave little flesh exposed. They are wrapped in fur-lined clothes. No simple draping of hides but artfully stitched clothing. It is the middle of winter and this village is no more than 250 kilometres south of the glaciers. Temperatures can fall to minus 3o0C and there are nine months of it to endure. The river supplies building -materials: bones from animals that have died in the north and had their carcasses washed downstream.

Life is tough: hauling the bones, building and repairing dwellings, cutting and breaking tusks into sections so that the village craftsmen can -hake utensils, weapons and jewellery. Daylight is precious - just a few hours of it each day, and then long hours in the darkness, telling stories around their fires. A small fire is already burning between the huts, its flame provided by a single knotted log. This provides a focus for half a dozen men and women who sit close together, knees drawn up and arms folded, minimising their exposure to the wind while stitching new clothes.

Near the fire an animal is being butchered and the air stinks of flesh and Blood. It was a reindeer found wandering in isolation from its herd – a welcome surprise for a party who had gone to collect stone from a nearby outcrop. They killed it and can now eat meat without depleting that stored within their freezer - a hole in the ground. None of the carcass will be wasted. The meat will be shared between the five families who are living at Pushkari this winter. Knife handles and harpoons will be made from the antlers, clothing and bags from the hide, the ligaments and sinews will Provide thread and cord. The heart, lungs, liver and other organs will be eaten as delicacies, the teeth drilled to make decorative pendants, the bone saved for fuel.

One of the dwellings has its interior lit by the small flame of an animal fat lamp. It is warm an stuffy, inside. The floor is soft, carpeted with hides and furs that surround a central ash-filled hearth. Mammoth skulls and leg bones provide furniture; an assortment of leather bags, bone and wooden bowls, antler and stone tools are scattered by the walls and hung from the rafters - a scene of Stone Age domestic clutter. The flickering light exposes a man's face. He looks old, but skin and bone must age rapidly in the ice-age world. This man wears his hair in plaits, has pendants of ivory and pierced teeth around his neck. His fingers work quickly with a needle and sinew thread.

Outside the dwelling, a man and some women and children sit together, while striking nodules of stone that rest upon their knees. Flakes of stone are detached, the largest carefully laid to one side; others are left where they all or casually tossed into the scatter of surrounding flakes. There is chatter and occasional laughter; some cursing as a thumb rather than a stone is struck.

The interior of another dwelling lacks any signs of domestic life. Its floor covered in thick furs; a particularly large mammoth skull dominates the room, painted with red stripes. Adjacent to it are drumsticks and flutes made from bird bone. Two ivory figurines, each no more than a few centimeters long, rest upon a stone slab. Otherwise the dwelling is quite empty, this is where special gatherings take place; when visitors arrive, almost the entire village meets inside so that their news can be heard and gifts temperatures were plummeting; droughts were persisting; glaciers, ice sheets and deserts were expanding; sea level was falling. Plants, animals and people either had to adjust where and how they lived, or become extinct.

How many people were alive on planet earth at the LGM? Taking into account the large areas of uninhabitable regions, the harsh climatic conditions that induced early mortality, and the fact that modern genetics has suggested that only l0,000  modern humans were alive 130,000 years ago, we can guess at a figure of around one million. But this really is a guess; trying to estimate past population sizes is one of the most difficult tasks that archaeologists face.

While the Pushkari hunters build their dwellings and chip their stone, a mammoth herd forages on the other side of the world in North America, in a vicinity that will become known as Hot Springs, South Dakota. It is a winter's afternoon and the sunlight is fading while the great beasts rhythmically sweep the snow away with their tusks to find the grass below. They head towards longer grasses and small shrubs that surround the steaming waters of a nearby pond. At 20,000 BC the Americas remain quite devoid of human settlement, even though its landscapes are rich with game, so these animals have no fear of human hunters.

The forthcoming global warming will not only condition the human history that John Lubbock will experience but that of all other species, some of which - such as the mammoths - will have become extinct before his travels are complete. Unlike the global warming we face today, that which came after 20,000 BC was entirely natural. It was just the most recent switch from a `warm and wet' to a `cold and dry' period in the earth's history - from a `glacial' to an `interglacial' state. The ultimate cause of such climatic change lies in regular alterations in the earth's orbit around the sun.

The Serbian scientist Milutin Milankovitch first appreciated the significance of such orbital change in the 1920s. By building on his theories, scientists have established that every 95,800 years the earth's orbit changes from being roughly circular to elliptical. As this happens, the Northern Hemisphere develops greater seasonality, while the converse happens in the south. This sparks off the growth of northern ice sheets. When a circular orbit returns, the north-south contrasts in seasonality are reduced, global warming occurs and the ice sheets melt.

Alterations in the earth's tilt during its orbit also have climatic implications. Every 41,000 years, the inclination of the earth changes from 21.39 to 24.36 degrees and back. As this angle increases, the seasons become more intense: hotter summers, colder winters. The earth also has a regular wobble on its axis of rotation, which has its own cycle of 21,700 years. This influences the point on its orbit around the sun at which the earth is tilted with its Northern Hemisphere directed towards the sun. If this happens when the earth is relatively close to the sun, the winters will be short and warm; conversely, if the earth is relatively distant from the sun when tilted in this fashion, winters will be longer and colder.

While these changes in the shape, the tilt and the wobble of the earth's orbit will alter the earth's climate, scientists think that they are insufficient in themselves to account for the immense magnitude and speed of past climate change. Processes happening on the planet itself must have substantially amplified the slight changes they induced. Several of these are known: changes in ocean and atmospheric currents, the build-up of greenhouse gases (principally carbon dioxide) and the growth of the ice sheets themselves (which reflect increasing amounts of solar radiation as they increase in size). The combined impact of orbital change and amplifying mechanisms has been the see-sawing of climate from glacial to interglacial and back every 100,000 years, often with an extraordinarily rapid switch from one state to another. One of the most dramatic of these switches came about in 9600 BC, following on from l0,000 years of ups and downs of rainfall and temperature since the climatic extreme of the LGM.

From a low point between 22,000 and 21,000 Bc, until around 12,700 BC, it shoots upward, marking the start of a period of relative warmth and wetness known as the late-glacial interstadial. There are several small peaks within this period, but the big dip that follows is called the Younger Dryas.

While the people of Pushkari stitch their clothes and the artist paints within Pech Merle, others are stalking wallabies on the grasslands of Tasmania, ambushing antelopes on East African savannahs, fishing in the Mediterranean and the Nile. This history will visit these and other hunter-gatherers, and then examine how global warming changed the lives of their descendants. It begins, however, in the Fertile Crescent - an arc of rolling hills, rivers valleys and lake basins that is today covered by Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Syria, southeast Turkey and Iraq. This is where the first farmers, towns of civilizations of ‘Antiquity’ will arise.

A hunter-gatherer campsite is flourishing on the western shore of Lake Tiberias, otherwise known as the Sea of Galilee. When excavated by archaeologists, the campsite will be called Ohalo and recognised as one of the best-preserved settlements from the LGM.

Being located far from the ice sheets and tundra landscapes, oak woodland is not far away. Its dwellings are made from brushwood, its people wear garments of hide and vegetable fibres. A new hut is under construction: cut saplings have been forced into the ground and are being woven together to make a dome. Piles of leafy branches and animal skins have been prepared to use as material for the roof. Such building work involves far less effort than that required at Pushkari; indeed, life at Ohalo seems far more attractive in every way.

There are many people scattered along the lakeshore: some sitting in groups chatting, children playing games, old men sleeping in the afternoon sun. A woman approaches the huts from the water's edge bearing a basket of freshly caught fish, while others hang nets across coracles to dry. She beckons her children to follow her into their dwelling where the fish will be threaded on to twine and hung to dry.

Two women emerge from the woodland draped with freshly killed fox and hare. Several men follow with a trussed-up gazelle supported on a pole. More women and then children appear with bags and baskets carried in every way imaginable - on their heads, hauled along the ground, slung across shoulders, tied around the waist. The carcasses are placed close to a hearth and the bags and baskets emptied on to hides. Piles of fruits, seeds, leaves, roots, bark and stems have tumbled forth. There will be a feast tonight. A young man stands amidst this busy village scene, quite unnoticed by those at work and play…  

The Continents

In the world at 20,000 Bc between 15,000 years one could say it was a time of global economic equality when everyone lived as hunter-gatherers in a world of extensive ice sheets, tundra and desert. By the end of that period, many people were living as farmers.

Some people grew wheat and barley, others rice, taro or squash. Some lived by herding animals, some by trade and others by making crafts. A world of temporary campsites had been replaced by one with villages and towns, a world with mammoths had been transformed into one with domesticated sheep and cattle. The path towards the huge global disparities of wealth with which we live today had been set.

Many hunter-gatherers survived but their fate had been sealed when agriculture began. The farmers, eager for land and trade, continued to disrupt hunter-gatherer lives. They were followed by warlords and then nation-states building empires in every corner of the world. Some hunter-gatherers survived until recent times by living in those places where farmers could not go: the Inuit, the Kalahari Bushmen and the Desert Aborigines. But even these communities are no more, effectively killed off by the twentieth century.

It is no coincidence that human history reached a turning point during a period of global warming. All communities were faced with the impact at environmental change - sudden catastrophic floods, the gradual loss of coastal lands, the failure of migratory herds, the spread of thick and often unproductive forest. And along with the problems, all communities faced new opportunities to develop, discover, explore and colonise.

The consequences were different on each continent. Western Asia. for example, happened to have a suite of wild plants suited to cultivation. North America had wild animals that were liable to extinction once human hunting combined with climate change. Africa was so well endowed w edible wild plants that this cultivation had not even begun there by 5000 B.C.Australia likewise.

Europe lacked its own potential cultivars but it had the soils and climate in which the cereals and animals domesticated elsewhere would thrive. South America had its vicuna and North Africa its wild cattle; Mexico its squash and teosinte, the Yangtze valley its wild rice.

Continents, and regions within continents, also had their own particular environmental history, defined by their size, shape and place within the world. The people who lived in Europe and western Asia had the most challenging roller-coaster ride of environmental change. Those living in the central Australian desert and the Amazonian forest had the least. The type of woodland that spread in northern Europe favoured human settlement, while that in Tasmania caused the abandonment of its valleys. The melting of the northern ice sheets caused the loss of coastal plains throughout the world with the exception of the far north, where precisely the opposite occurred when the land, freed from its burden of ice, rose faster than the sea.

Although the history of any region was conditioned by the type of wild resources it possessed and the specific character of its environmental change, neither of these determined the historical events that occurred. People always had choices and made decisions from day to day, albeit with little thought or knowledge of what consequences might follow. No one planting wild seed in the vicinity of Jericho or Pengtoushan, tending squash close to Guilâ Naquitz or digging ditches at Kuk Swamp, anticipated the type of world that farming would create.

Human history arose from accident as much as by design, and the paths of historical change were many and varied. In western Asia, hunter-gatherers settled down to live in permanent villages before they began to farm, just as they did in Japan and on the Ganges plain. Conversely, plant cultivation in Mexico and New Guinea led to domesticated plants and farming long before permanent settlement appeared. In North Africa, cattle came before crops, just as vicuna came before quinua in the Andes. In Japan and the Sahara the invention of pottery preceded the start of farming, whereas it occurred simultaneously with the origin of rice farming in China; its invention in western Asia came about long after farming towns had begun to flourish.

Who could have predicted the course that history would take? At 20,000 BC, Southwest Europe set the cultural pace with its ice-age art, by 8000 BC it was an entirely undistinguished region. At 7500 BC, western Asia had towns housing more than a thousand people, but within a millennium itinerant pastoralists were making campsites within their ruins.

It was the mind of humans enabled people to colonise, to invent, to solve problems, and to create new religious beliefs and styles of art (see our next article about ‘culture’). Without it, there would have been no human history but merely a continuous cycle of the adaptation and readaptation to environmental change that had begun several million years ago when our genus first evolved. Instead, all of these common factors combined, engaging with each continent's unique conditions and a succession of historical contingencies and events, to create a world that included farmers, towns, craftsmen and traders.

When At 12,500 BC southern England had been an ice-age tundra frequented by reindeer, snowy owl and arctic hare; by 8000 BC it was smothered in lush woodland within which red deer browsed and wild boar rooted on the forest floor. Even in 1950 it had been a richly textured landscape of woods and fields, of ponds, paths and pastures. But in 2003, there are vast expanses of southern England where hardly a tree or bush exists, from which wild animals and birds have been almost entirely expelled by the industry of modern farming. There are very few hills from which traffic below and aeroplanes above cannot be heard.

Its polluted air requires one to ponder the circularity of history. Farming and industry were products of a history brought about by global warming. Now they themselves are the cause of renewed global warming that has already had a sizeable impact upon the world and will condition the future history of humankind. Mass deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels have increased the level of greenhouse gases and planet earth is becoming warmer than nature intends. During the last few decades, glaciers on all continents have receded, snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has reduced dramatically, and the Antarctic ice shelf is on the verge of collapse.

Just as in prehistoric times, the natural world is undergoing change. The flowering dates of many plants have already advanced, birds are breeding earlier and changing their habitats. Once again insects have been some of the first species to respond: flights of aphids are arriving earlier in the United Kingdom while the butterflies in North America and Britain are being found at higher altitudes and further north.

The next century of human-made global warming is predicted to be far less extreme than that which occurred at 9600 BC. At the end of the Younger Dryas, mean global temperature had risen by 70C in fifty years, whereas the predicted rise for the next hundred years is less than 3°C; the end of the last ice age led to a120-metre increase in sea level, whereas that predicted for the next fifty years is a paltry 32 centimetres at most, rising to 88 centimetres by AD 2100.

However, while future global warming may be less extreme than that of 9600 BC, the modern world is in a far more fragile state owing to environmental pollution and the resource requirements of six billion people. As a consequence, the threats to human communities and natural ecosystems are far more severe than those of prehistoric times. When the vast low-lying regions of the ice-age world were flooded, many were uninhabited; those settlements that did exist - such as the 7000-BC town of Atlit-Yam on the Israeli coast - housed a few hundred people at most. Today, 12o million people live in the delta regions of Bangladesh, six million of them on land less than one metre above current sea level, and 30 million below three metres. Rising sea level will be accompanied by devastating storms and the penetration of salt into their freshwater supplies?

When global warming made the Tasmanian valleys uninhabitable after 14,000 Bc and the Sahara Desert after 5000 BC, their people found other places to live - the world was still quite empty of human settlement. But where will the new displaced populations be able to go? Those from the flooded delta regions; those from inundated low-lying islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans'; those from Sub-Saharan Africa where the frequency and intensity of drought will become too severe to be relieved by any amount of international aid?

The global warming that brought the ice age to its close created localities of abundant resource which people claimed as their own and were prepared to fight for, such as in the Nile valley at 14,000 Bc, northern Australia at 6000 Bc and southern Scandinavia at 5000 BC. Such conflicts were trivial affairs in comparison to those that we know today; but our modern world seems destined to become yet more violent as the impacts of renewed global warming are felt.

Shortage of fresh water will become a major source of conflict. Its supplies are already under pressure owing to the demands of modern farming and daily human need. Such pressure will become severe with the predicted reductions of rainfall and increased evaporation in the key catchments of the world. Water will eclipse land, politics and even religion as the source of dispute between Middle Eastern states - a development that has already begun.

Moreover, global warming will likely exacerbate the existing extremes of wealth and poverty in the world: agricultural productivity in the developed nations is predicted to increase, while the reverse will happen in the developing world. Global terrorism is bound to thrive.

It is ironic that the continent that became habitable as a consequence of the natural global warming after the LGM, is now the one doing most to make vast areas of the world uninhabitable for others by its excessive contribution to the cause of renewed global warming: America is the main polluter of our skies.

In England, much of the Early Holocene oak woodland had already been cleared in prehistoric times. But this region only took on its now desolate appearance during the last fifty years: ponds were left to silt up and soon disappeared, copses were removed, hedges grubbed-up, small farms replaced by factory-like enterprises that specialised in growing wheat and harvesting subsidies.

Today's prairie-like landscape suffers from soil erosion and has been polluted by an excess of fertiliser and pesticide." As with so much other farmland in the Western world, it produces far more food than we require .12 And yet we live within a world blighted by hunger. Eight hundred million people live close to starvation - a number predicted to increase with the new global warming. Over the next hundred years, an additional 8o million people are likely to become hungry and malnourished because of environmental change.' Some believe that the only way to end world hunger is by genetically engineering existing crops to increase their yields, improve their pest resistance and make them tolerant of salt-ridden soils.

Human-induced genetic modification of plants first arose from the attempts of hunter-gatherers in western Asia to cope with the droughts of the Younger Dryas and to feed the gatherings at Göbekli Tepe and else­where. Their cultivation of wild cereals unknowingly created genetic change and produced the domesticated wheat and barley we grow today. The genetics of other species were also changed by human action, creating domesticated squash, maize and beans, rice, quinua, taro and potatoes. Such plants supported the Early Holocene increase in human population, and now, via plant breeding and crop management, support our vast global population. But a further two billion people will need feeding during the next quarter-century.

Some scientists believe that the genetic engineering of plants at the molecular level - the deliberate insertion of DNA from one species into another - is simply the next step forward in this history of plant manipula­tion for human need.Because new genetic variants solved a food crisis brought about by past climate change, they argue, additional genetic variants might do the same for us today.

This may indeed be the case but archaeology has given us another, and perhaps a far more important, lesson from the past. As soon as farming had begun, the surpluses arising from the new, high-yielding genetic variants had come under centralised control, as is evident from the buildings at Jerf el Ahmar in 9300 Bc, Beidha in 8200 Bc and Kom K in 5000 Bc. From the very start of farming, food had become a commodity, a source of wealth and power for those who controlled its distribution. And so one should suspect that the already existing inequities of global food supply are likely to become enhanced by the creation of yet more genetic variants with even higher yields. Those who guarded the grain silos in prehistoric times are being reincarnated as the biotechnology companies who patent such plants and distribute their seed.

The defiled landscape of southern England, and that of so many other regions of the modern world, poses another question about biotechnology. As has been evident from this history, when archaeologists study a past environment they invariably find a far greater diversity of plants and animals than are known in the same locality today. The flora of the forest steppe in the vicinity of Ohalo at 20,000 Bc and the fauna of North America at 15,000 Bc are just the most obvious examples of a far richer and more varied natural world in prehistoric times. Biodiversity was reduced by climate change - the increasing zonation of vegetation types in northern latitudes favoured the few specialists over the many generalists. But the consequences of farming for biodiversity have been far more severe, as can be appreciated by either imagining the devastated landscape around 'Ain Ghazal in 6500 BC or by looking at that of any intensively farmed region of the world today.

Will the cultivation of new genetic variants, plants unnaturally resistant to pests and disease, take the loss of biodiversity to a new extreme? Will such plants invade and overrun the communities of wild species that still survive? Will the remaining refuges of the natural world, especially the pre­cious wetlands and salt marsh, also be turned into agricultural land, just as happened to the woodlands of southern England when people had the first genetic variants to sow? There are no answers yet, although we will keep an eye on it here on world-news-research.com.

Biotechnology might be the greatest blessing we have and lead to the end of world hunger: disease-resistant, genetically engineered crops might protect biodiversity by reducing the need for chemical sprays. A common need for water might unite the warring factions of the Middle East. The predicted extent and impact of global warming might be quite wrong. Our politicians might devise both the will and the means to curb pollution, to distribute resources fairly throughout the world, to provide new homes for displaced populations, and to preserve the natural world. They might do all these things. But they probably won't, however we will let you know.


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