Silhouette of young woman walking on Dead Sea salt shore at sunrise towards the sun. Silhouette of young woman walking on Dead Sea salt shore at sunrise towards the sun. The Dead Sea holds some pretty amazing environmental mysteries. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Scientists just found out how far back climate change goes

Turns out humans have been harming the planet for a very, very long time.

Long before industrialization and fossil fuels and ocean acidification, humans were undergoing an epic transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture and settlement, the result of which was a massive increase in population.

It was 11,500 years ago, according to Israeli researchers who just conducted a major geological study of the Dead Sea and found erosion rates that they call "dramatically incompatible with known tectonic and climatic regimes of the period recorded."

In other words, humans have been destroying the environment a whole heckuva lot longer than we thought.

Dead SeaSaline deposits line the shore of the Dead Sea. (Photo: Nickolay Vinokurov/Shutterstock)

"Natural vegetation was replaced by crops, animals were domesticated, grazing reduced the natural plant cover, and deforestation provided more area for grazing," said Professor Shmuel Marco, head of Tel Aviv University's School of Geosciences and leader of the research team. "All these resulted in the intensified erosion of the surface and increased sedimentation, which we discovered in the Dead Sea core sample."

The research was conducted by scientists from both Tel Aviv University and the University of Haifa, both in Israel. Their findings were published in the journal Global and Planetary Change.

Calling their discovery the earliest known geological indications of human-made climate change, the researchers said the erosion occurred during the Neolithic Revolution, when humans began adopting farming lifestyles. There was a sharp increase in the amount of sand that was carried into the Dead Sea, Marco said, indicating that there were seasonal floods and other environmental events that were not happening prior to that period.

growing foodThe advent of agriculture as a human lifestyle triggered some unfortunate environmental changes. (Photo: SChompoongam/Shutterstock)

"This intensified erosion is incompatible with tectonic and climatic regimes during the Holocene, the geological epoch that began after the Pleistocene some 11,700 years ago," Marco said.

In addition to the erosion evidence, scientists also are using this research to construct what they say is "the most extensive earthquake record in the world." From the same core samples, they're able to see disturbances in the sediment that were triggered by shaking going back about 220,000 years.

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