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Deltas and HumansA Long Relationship now Threatened by Global Change$
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Thomas S. Bianchi

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199764174

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199764174.001.0001

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Changes in the Hinterland and Floodplain

Changes in the Hinterland and Floodplain

(p.62) 4 Changes in the Hinterland and Floodplain
Deltas and Humans

Thomas S. Bianchi

Oxford University Press

As human populations have increased on the planet, so have their effects on the natural landscape. When human-engineered changes in the movement of soils and rocks occur in the vast watersheds of major rivers, they can have dramatic consequences with respect to the amount of sediment needed to “feed” and support large river deltas at the coast. Many of the largest effects of human activity on the surface of the earth have occurred recently—in the past 200 or so years—and they have been so dramatic it has been argued it is time to create a new epoch in the Geologic Time Scale, one called the Anthropocene. That suggestion is being considered seriously. Nevertheless, the first alterations of the landscape began as early as the Paleolithic, approximately 400,000 to 500,000 years ago, when our human-like ancestors Homo erectus are believed to have begun altering the natural landscape with simple dwelling structures. As humans evolved, so did the tools they used, from sticks and animal antlers to wood and iron plows. Although modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) had developed in East Africa by about 200,000 years ago, their ability to extensively modify the landscape through agricultural activities did not likely happen for another 120,000 years. Incredibly, there was a rise in agricultural communities about five millennia ago that seems to have occurred simultaneously, yet independently, in six different regions of world (see Chapters 1 and 2 for linkages among human civilizations, deltas, and stabilization of climate in the Holocene). After the invention of the wheel in the middle Holocene, it became much easier to perform earth-moving activities. This was followed by the Iron Age, around 2,500 years ago, during which iron replaced earlier, less efficient copper and bronze tools for moving earth. Amazingly, the first man-made canal, connecting the Mediterranean and Red seas, was constructed before the Iron Age, around 3,600 years ago. Today, humans are the most effective animals on the planet with respect to altering Earth’s surface, and the use of machinery enables earth-moving activities, such as strip- mining, for extraction of valuable mineral resources like copper and silver.

Keywords:   Aggradation, Beijing, Climate refugees, Droughts, Homo erectus, Iron Age, Kaiapo tribe, Land clearance, Mao Tse-tung, Mesopotamia

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