The alliance between science and history builds mirrors in which humanity can look. Ariadna Nieto-Espinet and Silvia Valenzuela Lamas from the Centro Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) archaeologists, based on research on farm animal remains over 1,700 years, have been able to determine the impact of the economic systems of almost two millennia and how these were not always the most sustainable in the long term or resilient to crises. The study details how the Roman Empire altered domestic sizes and species to favor intensive farms. But its fall, returned society to more remote times. The remains of livestock are key indicators of a civilization catastrophe that affected all aspects of life, from kitchen utensils (the usual ceramics at that time disappeared) to forms of construction. "Going over the ecological limitations meant a setback of centuries", warns Valenzuela. "There is a parallel with the present time," adds Nieto-Espinet.
Historians, such as Peter Brown in his work Through the Eye of a Needle , have established similarities between episodes such as Roman decadence and the present. But the two Catalan researchers have not only broadened this focus over almost two millennia, but have also endorsed their conclusions with archaeozoological analyzes of the remains of domestic animals, a basic element of the economies of those times.
The study, published In the scientific journal PLOS ONE , he explains how the size and species of farm animals are related to the socioeconomic options of each era. “The periods of less economic integration – with a more fragmented political and territorial system and with a production more focused on supplying local and neighboring markets (Late Bronze Age, Early Iron Age and Late Antiquity) – showed breeding strategies closely related to the ecological conditions of each area, thus maintaining a better balance between the carrying capacity of the local environment and the needs of the population ”, according to the research. The farming systems focused on the extensive grazing of sheep and goats, species more adapted to environmental constraints.
“In contrast, this link between livestock farming and the environment is less evident during Roman times, when production was it returned to a Mediterranean market economy ”, according to the work. At that time, the animals gain size and the rearing of cattle and pigs prevails. "Our results show that human communities adapted livestock to their social, political and economic environment, as well as to the physical landscape", concludes the research.
In this way, the research shows how the alterations of animals respond to a "choice cultural "and to radical changes in demand and production, which goes from being conditioned by regional environmental differences to responding to" a large Mediterranean market with access to a variety of productive environments. "
With the breakdown of the economic system, not only what you eat disappears but also how you eat it. Even the way of building changesSilvia Valenzuela Lamas, archaeologist
“The impact is greater and it goes beyond the ecological limitations. It changes not only the size of the animals, which are larger, but also what is produced. The most profitable is now prevailing, taking advantage of technical capacities and driven by demographic conditions and political systems, "explains Nieto-Espinet.
But those first" globalized systems on a Mediterranean scale "suffer crises for which they are not prepared. The fall of the Roman Empire takes humanity back centuries and is reflected again in the size of domestic animals and in breeding patterns, but also in all aspects of life.
“Sigillata [sealed] pottery, which It was like Ikea tableware today, it declines with the breakdown of the economic system. Not only what you eat disappears but also how you eat it. It even changes the way of building, which goes back to models from the Bronze Age ”, explains Valenzuela.
The most sustainable livestock systems are those that are most balanced in terms of local ecology and technological advances. Either we change or we face a food crisis Ariadna Nieto-Espinet, archaeologist
The research demonstrates the importance of zooarchaeology in explaining and characterizing political and social changes over time. But also that it is a tool to glimpse the current challenges of humanity.
“Today's domestic animals are enormous due to the importation of food, which allows us to overcome ecological circumstances such as a drought. But, what would happen if the climate or economic crisis prevented this possibility? We would not be able to maintain the current system ", says Valenzuela.
" The most sustainable livestock systems are those that are more balanced in terms of local ecology and technological advances. Either we change or we face a food crisis ”, adds Nieto-Espinet.
The effect of human withdrawal
Just as human intervention is fundamental in the changes of species and sizes of domestic animals, the withdrawal and concentration of population in urban areas gives certain wild species a natural habitat that allows them to grow
A team made up of research centers from 11 European countries, including the Doñana Biological Station (EBD-CSIC), has analyzed how Changes in land use, human population density and protected status have influenced the expansion of large carnivores in Europe over the last 24 years. The study, coordinated by Marta Cimatti, from the University of Rome La Sapienza (Italy), who carried out her research during her stay at the University of Radboud (Netherlands), has been published in the journal Diversity and Distributions , according to the CSIC .
According to this study, wolves, lynxes and brown bears, after approaching extinction at the end of the last century, are returning and occupying their former habitat areas. Some of the factors that benefit the recovery of these large carnivores are not so much the protection policy as agricultural abandonment, the exodus of the human population from rural areas to urban areas and the decrease in hunting.
Luca Santini , from the National Research Council of Italy and co-author of the study, argues that a major conservation challenge in Europe will be to take advantage of socio-economic and landscape changes to create new opportunities that allow species to recover, as well as promote active education, in addition of adequate forms of legislation and management to mitigate conflicts between humans and wildlife in recolonized areas.
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