12,000 years of Anthrome Culture

Ever since Navin Ramankutty and I introduced anthromes in our 2008 paper, “Putting people in the map”, I’ve been working to shift global thinking on people and nature. Today, our PNAS paper “People have shaped most of terrestrial nature for at least 12,000 years” presents evidence supporting a new paradigm for global ecology and conservation.

Our work confirms, through a global reconstruction of anthrome history for the last 12,000 years and a statistical comparison with current patterns of biodiversity and conservation priorities, that most of nature as we know it has been reshaped and sustained by human societies for at least 12,000 years. It is true that much of what our global reconstruction and statistical analysis merely backs up what has been known by Indigenous peoples and archaeologists for generations. Our work is just the first to map it all out globally and link the global history of land use to the biodiversity that exists today.

Depicting human use of nature as a recent disturbance of an otherwise natural world not only inaccurate, it has real-world implications, including failed policies of fire suppression, wildlife management, ecological restoration and the repression and removal of Indigenous peoples from parks and conservation areas. In an increasingly human planet, the classic paradigm, of a “balance of nature, disturbed by humans”, must be rendered obsolete. Anthroecology offers a new paradigm for ecology and conservation of “cultures of natures, entangled with human societies”.

For at least 12,000 years, life on land has been a long-sustained, transformative, and evolving entanglement of human societies with the nonhuman world. It is time to decolonize the natural sciences and “put people in the paradigm” of what nature is and what nature will be, for the foreseeable future.