Once again, humanity might be well served to take heed from a history lesson. When the climate changed, when crops failed and famine threatened, the peoples of ancient Asia responded. They moved. They started growing different crops. They created new trade networks and innovated their way to solutions in other ways too.
So suggests new research by former WSU anthropologist Jade d’Alpoim Guedes and Kyle Bocinsky, an alumnus (PhD ’14) and adjunct faculty member in the Department of Anthropology, a senior researcher with the Village Ecodynamics Project, and the William D. Lipe Chair in Research with the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colorado.
Their paper, published in the journal Science Advances, describes a computer model they developed that shows for the first time when and where in Asia staple crops would have thrived or fared poorly between 5,000 and 1,000 years ago.
When the climate cooled, people moved away or turned to pastoralism—herds can thrive in grassland where food grains can’t. And they turned to trade. These strategies eventually coalesced into the development of the Silk Road, d’Alpoim Guedes and Bocinsky argue. In some areas they also diversified the types of crops they planted.
With their new computer model, the researchers were able to examine in detail how changing climate transformed people’s ability to produce food in particular places, and that enabled them to get at the causes of cultural shift.