Friday, 9 August 2013

Egyptian ancient art tells of ecological history

Ivory knife handle in the Brooklyn Museum - Nature




"Ancient Egyptian rock inscriptions and carvings on pharaonic tombs chronicle hartebeest and oryx — horned beasts that thrived in the region more than 6,000 years ago. Researchers have now shown that those mammal populations became unstable in concert with significant shifts in Egypt’s climate.
The finding is based on a fresh interpretation of an archaeological and palaeontological record of ancient Egyptian mammals pieced together more than a decade ago by the zoologist Dale Osborn1. Thirty-eight large-bodied mammals existed in Egypt roughly six millennia ago, compared to just eight species today.
“There are interesting stories buried in the data — at the congruence of the artistic and written record,” says Justin Yeakel, an ecologist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, who presented the research this week at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For example, the philosopher Aristotle said 2,300 years ago that lions were present, though rare, in Greece; shortly thereafter, the beasts appeared in the local art record for the last time, Yeakel says.
Overlaying records of climate and species occurrences over time, his team found that three dramatic declines in Egypt’s ratio of predators to prey coincided with abrupt climate shifts to more arid conditions. The timing of these aridification events also corresponds to major shifts in human populations at the end of the African Humid Period, about 5,500 years ago; during the Akkadian collapse, about 4,140 years ago in what is now Iraq; and about 3,100 years ago, when the Ugaritic civilization collapsed in what is now Syria.' - Nature

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