Research ArticleANTHROPOLOGY

Anthropogenic changes to the Holocene nitrogen cycle in Ireland

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Science Advances  13 Jun 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 6, eaas9383
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aas9383

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Humans have always affected their ecosystems, but finding evidence for significant and lasting changes to preindustrial landscapes is rare. We report on human-caused changes to the nitrogen cycle in Ireland in the Bronze Age, associated with intensification of agriculture and animal husbandry that resulted in long-term changes to the nitrogen isotope values of animals (wild and domesticates) during the Holocene. Major changes to inputs and cycling of soil nitrogen occurred through deforestation, land clearance and management, and more intensive animal husbandry and cereal crop cultivation in the later Bronze Age; after this time, the Irish landscape took on its current form. Within the debate concerning the onset of the Anthropocene, our data suggest that human activity in Ireland was significant enough in the Bronze Age to have long-term impact, thereby marking a profound shift in the relationship between humans and their environment.

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