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Sci Adv. 2018 Jun 13;4(6):eaas9383. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aas9383. eCollection 2018 Jun.

Anthropogenic changes to the Holocene nitrogen cycle in Ireland.

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Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, 303 NW Marine Drive, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z1, Canada.
Centre for Environmental Research Innovation and Sustainability, School of Science, Institute of Technology Sligo, Ash Lane, Sligo, Ireland.
Glenborin, Donegal Town, County Donegal, Ireland.
Department of Anthropology, Trent University, 1600 West Bank Drive, Peterborough, Ontario K9L 0G2, Canada.
School of Archaeology, University of Oxford, 1 South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3TG, UK.
School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen's University Belfast, University Road, Northern Ireland BT7 1NN, UK.
Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, Education Building 9635, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6, Canada.


Humans have always affected their ecosystems, but finding evidence for significant and lasting changes to preindustrial landscapes is rare. We report on human-caused changes to the nitrogen cycle in Ireland in the Bronze Age, associated with intensification of agriculture and animal husbandry that resulted in long-term changes to the nitrogen isotope values of animals (wild and domesticates) during the Holocene. Major changes to inputs and cycling of soil nitrogen occurred through deforestation, land clearance and management, and more intensive animal husbandry and cereal crop cultivation in the later Bronze Age; after this time, the Irish landscape took on its current form. Within the debate concerning the onset of the Anthropocene, our data suggest that human activity in Ireland was significant enough in the Bronze Age to have long-term impact, thereby marking a profound shift in the relationship between humans and their environment.

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