Environment, Science

Climate, culture and development

Climate change and its effects on human society have been at the forefront of numerous discussions and scientific research in the last decades.

While the perceived changes in climate and their impact on society have been regarded almost unanimously as negative in modern times, human history now appears to paint a very different picture of what climatic change could mean for the development of human society.

Around 7000 years ago, the Chinchorro community of hunter-gatherers on the Atacama coastline witnessed changes in the climate which helped rather than hindered the development of their society.

Regional climate records for the time indicate that the Atacama coastline saw a significant surge in rainfall which changed a usually dry desert into a land with significant water sources. This environmental development aided a primarily fishing population to thrive. Its population increased drastically and spread as hunter-gatherer communities throughout the region.

Along with their substantial increase in numbers they also became a more complex technological society. One such example of Chinchorro technological innovation is the development of complicated and ritualistic mummification procedures.

One of the world’s earliest examples of mummification, this practice is believed to have been the result of an increasing population encountering naturally mummified corpses in the desert. This is thought to have inspired elaborate mummification styles among the Chinchorro, such as the painting of the skin with red ochre or black manganese as well as disassembling the body.

While the exact birth-point of these techniques remains theoretical, the link between environmental change and the development of the Chinchorro society is strong. Instead of climate change leading to their collapse, it actually acted as a positive creative force towards the formation of a wide-spread, technologically complex society.

06/11/2012

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