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Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The world’s first farmers and their slash-and-burn agriculture may have set off global warming.

[....and I've always said that our best hope of surviving the next ice age is global warming.......Ed.]

Published January 20, 2016

A new analysis of ice-core climate data, archaeological evidence and ancient pollen samples is being used to suggest farming some 7,000 years ago helped put the brakes on a natural cooling process of the global climate, possibly contributing the warmer climate seen today. 

But the study is expected to raise a few eyebrows, given there were far fewer people on Earth back then and industrialization – and the coal-fired power plants that come with it - was still a long ways off.

A study was the work of an international team led by William Ruddiman, a University of Virginia climate scientist, who first grabbed attention a dozen years ago with a controversial theory that humans altered the climate by burning massive areas of forests to clear the way for crops and livestock grazing. Dubbed the “early anthropogenic hypothesis,” Ruddiman and his colleagues found that that carbon dioxide levels rose beginning 7,000 years ago, and methane began rising 5,000 years ago.

It sparked heated debate back then and continues to be debated among some climate scientists.

In the latest paper, Ruddiman and his 11 co-authors from institutions in the United States and Europe conclude that that accumulating evidence in the past few years, particularly from ice-core records dating back to 800,000 years ago, show that an expected cooling period was halted after the advent of large-scale agriculture. Otherwise, they say, the Earth would have entered the early stages of a natural ice age, or glaciation period.

“Early farming helped keep the planet warm,” Ruddiman said in a statement, regarding the study that appeared in a recent edition of the journal Reviews of Geophysics, published by the American Geophysical Union.

“After 12 years of debate about whether the climate of the last several thousand years has been entirely natural or in considerable part the result of early agriculture, converging evidence from several scientific disciplines points to a major anthropogenic influence,”  he said.

The Earth naturally cycles between cool glacial periods and warmer interglacial periods because of variations in its orbit around the sun. We currently are in an interglacial period, called the Holocene epoch, which began nearly 12,000 years ago.

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Monday, 18 January 2016

"Significant" Viking hoard revealed at the British Museum for launch of Annual Treasure Report

 By Richard Moss | 10 December 2015

A Viking Hoard dating from the time of the ‘Last Kingdom’, when the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex were fighting for their survival against a ‘Great Heathen Army’ of Viking raiders has been revealed at the British Museum.

The valuable hoard, which was discovered by metal detectorist  James Mather in a field in Watlington, Oxfordshire and reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), headed up the launch of the PAS annual treasure report at the museum, which details the thousands of finds reported by detectorists and amateur archaeologists via a network of local museums.

It includes rare coins of King Alfred ‘the Great’ of Wessex (r.871-99) and King Ceolwulf II of  Mercia (874-79), as well as Viking arm-rings and silver ingots, and is said by archaeologists to be nationally significant.

Block lifted in a single slab of earth, the find was excavated at the British Museum. The 186 coins (some fragmentary), seven items of jewellery and 15 ingots were then examined by experts from the museum alongside colleagues from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. 

Experts believe the hoard was buried around the end of the 870s, in the period following Alfred’s decisive defeat of the Vikings at Edington in 878, a victory which lead to the unification of England.

Following their defeat, the Vikings moved north of the Thames and travelled to East Anglia through the kingdom of Mercia. It seems likely that the hoard was buried in the course of these events, although the precise circumstances will never be known.

Recalling the experience of finding the hoard and helping excavate it with archaeologists from the PAS, finder James Mather said it was the “icing on the cake of my 60th birthday”.

“It highlights how responsible metal detecting, supportive landowners and the PAS contribute to national archaeological heritage,” he added. “I hope these amazing artefacts can be displayed by a local museum to be enjoyed by generations to come."

If the Watlington Hoard is declared Treasure, the Ashmolean Museum and Oxfordshire Museums Service will be working in partnership with others, and potential funders, to try to ensure it is displayed for local people to learn about and enjoy.

Since 1997, when the Treasure Act became law, the number of finds reported has increased fivefold from 201 cases in 1998 (the first full year of the Act) to 990 in 2013, and 1008 in 2014.

Of the finds reported as Treasure in 2013 (the last year for which figures are available), 363 were acquired by 91 local museums, so they can be displayed close to where the items were discovered.

This year’s annual report reveals that in addition to reported Treasure, a further 113,784 archaeological finds have been recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme in 2014.

All of them are recorded on the PAS database (, where local people can learn about them and discover more about the archaeology and history of their local area.

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