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Natural Resources & Energy

Wyoming Researchers Contribute To Study Of Human Populations

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Two researchers at the University of Wyoming have contributed to a study that paints a picture of human population over the last 10,000 years.

The study shows that humans have increased energy consumption in waves over the course of history – and not just ‘fuel’ energy, but food, fire, and farming. Societies with no direct contact have exhibited the same patterns of growth and collapse, including within modern times. Even hunter-gatherer and farming communities in different parts of the world have increased energy consumption at the same time.

Postdoctoral researcher Erik Robinson said this is because societies synchronize and come to rely on the same fundamental properties.

The study uses radiocarbon dating to collect information on energy consumption. Radiocarbon dating reveals the date of archeological materials. Looking at the amount of materials present in different eras can show the population size throughout history.

The paper, titled “The Synchronization of Energy Consumption by Human Societies throughout the Holocene,” was published September 17 at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Robinson said that the paper shows how seemingly disconnected communities interact.

“We know, in comparison of our radiocarbon data to historical records, what we are actually seeing is a more ancient version of what we now call globalization. The connectivity that we have in trade networks across countries,” Robinson said.

He said that when societies globalize and come to rely on the same resources for energy consumption, they are at a higher risk of collapse. He uses the 2008 economic collapse as an example. Because the economy was deeply connected to the real estate industry, the American housing collapse brought the whole world into a recession.

Robinson said he hopes the research can help us learn how to create a more sustainable world by understanding our patterns in the past.

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