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Researchers Discover First Use of Fertilizer

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  • Fertilizer... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ackthpt (218170) on Monday July 15, 2013 @07:48PM (#44290517) Homepage Journal

    Even native americans knew burying a fish next to a corn plant helped it grow faster (assuming a raccoon didn't dig up the fish first)

    • Yeah, the native americans that white people met when they arrived in the 16th century.

      We have no idea what the native americans did or didn't know 8000 years ago.

      • by icebike (68054)

        Yeah, the native americans that white people met when they arrived in the 16th century.

        We have no idea what the native americans did or didn't know 8000 years ago.

        We have the same source of knowledge of 8000 year old Americans as we do for 8000 year old Europeans.

        And much more of it is preserved and undisturbed by 12 thousand years of European warfare and constant reworking of the land.

        • Re:Fertilizer... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by ebno-10db (1459097) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:31PM (#44290885)

          And much more of it is preserved and undisturbed by 12 thousand years of European warfare and constant reworking of the land.

          Instead it was disturbed by 12000 years of warfare and reworking of the land in the Americas. It is a shame though that most of the Amerindians didn't have writing. There are so many things we could learn, for example, about the Mississippian culture, the spread of maize agriculture northward and its effect on how people lived, ecological problems they encountered in say the Southwest and Ohio Valley, etc. etc., etc. Not to mention the eternal riddle of why they tolerated those hairy smelly invaders from across the Atlantic.

          P.S. Great book on the pre-Columbian Americas is 1491 [wikipedia.org] (there's also a good "sequel" called 1493).

          • Re:Fertilizer... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by icebike (68054) on Monday July 15, 2013 @09:00PM (#44291205)

            Instead it was disturbed by 12000 years of warfare and reworking of the land in the Americas. It is a shame though that most of the Amerindians didn't have writing. There are so many things we could learn, for example, about the Mississippian culture, the spread of maize agriculture northward and its effect on how people lived, ecological problems they encountered in say the Southwest and Ohio Valley, etc. etc., etc. Not to mention the eternal riddle of why they tolerated those hairy smelly invaders from across the Atlantic.

            P.S. Great book on the pre-Columbian Americas is 1491 [wikipedia.org] (there's also a good "sequel" called 1493).

            Well, actually no. There were no major wars on North America prior to the arrival of Europeans. Minor tribal skirmishes, but no enduring structures overlaying prior structures. In fact the only enduring structures of any kind were in the desert southwest. Natives did not heavily work the land, and practiced slash and burn for their agriculture more than anything else. This is why early viking settlements stand out so obviously.

            The net result is that many (thousands) of native north american settlements were discovered in undisturbed state, even in heavily populated areas of the north eastern states. Even Clovis and pre-Clovis sites, when found, don't show the heavy disturbance of plows, later civilizations, or buildings. Mound builder's mounds are virtually always intact. The history of the land was very different.

            Middle american indigenous people did build extensive structures which were also more or less abandoned intact after the Spanish.

            • Your response seems more to do with South America. Spanish never touched most of North America which makes me think you're off-track in the response to the GP.

              I'm not vetting his claims, but there was warfare among the native North Americans a few hundred years before colonization. The result was the Five Nation confederacy and the indoctrination of The Great Tree.

              • by icebike (68054)

                Really? I mentioned the Spanish in passing, as the very last word, and that's all you saw?

                • Really sorry that I misread, I was gung-ho. Been drinking. :D

                  There was enough warfare to establish the Five Nation confederacy (know 7, or is it 6 again?) Insight on that would be great if you got it.

            • Sorry, friend, I misread. Though I think it's necessary to counter this western line of thinking, despite it being a direct response to the racists (or at least generalists) above.

              Perhaps I can plow through and cover all claims with some simple brevity....

              • The native North Americans had the oldest democracy.
              • They had a confederacy, a republic
              • Their languages comprised of at least six written languages; we can at least count for two today but have identified several others and their approximate origins
              • They liv
              • by Anonymous Coward

                The native North Americans had the oldest democracy.

                - The oldest extant democracy maybe, with the Six Nations, but Classical Mediterannean democracy pre-dated this by 2000 years

                They had a confederacy, a republic

                - a tribal confederacy yes, but nothing resembling a republic in a modern sense

                Their languages comprised of at least six written languages; we can at least count for two today but have identified several others and their approximate origins

                - Unless you include the Nahuatl speakers of Mesoamerica as North American, no written language systems existed before European Conquest

                They lived in harmony with the land.

                - Native Americans practiced extensive modification of the land and are known from archaeological evidence to have driven many species to extinction

                Native American society

            • tl;dr I am drunk. LOL.
            • No major wars on the pre-invasion American continent?
              1. Have we really looked?
              2. Mesa Verde and Chaco canyon were built for the same reasons folks built castles in early Europe.

              In the Aleutian Islands, archeologists are discovering several periods of raiding and warring between islands, all of which correspond to less food available in the nearby ocean.
              same old same old.
              • by icebike (68054)

                I'm sorry, but you can't equate a tiny part time skirmish between tribes a major war no matter how much you hyperventilate.

                • visit Mesa Verde. Climb the canyon walls with water and food in your arms instead of camping in tipis or wigwams by the streams where it is verdant and lush.

                  If the entire population fights, that is a major war. Unless you wish to define war as involving populations of a large size that would exclude the ancient Greek, Roman, and Babylonian civilizations as well as all the 'wars' mentioned in the Old Testament.
                  • by icebike (68054)

                    I've been to Mesa Verde.

                    Its a tiny tiny place. 100 to 150 people maximum occupation at any given time.
                    It was occupied for 700 years. It was NOT built as a defensive fortress. There is little to suggest it was EVER under attack. Roughly half of the spaces were Kivas (religious buildings).

                    There was no huge war here. It was never conquered, simply abandoned.

                    Have you been anywhere else in north america? Its a big continent. You should get out and see it sometime. Yo

          • by tsa (15680)

            Yeah we definitely learned from that! As soon as the aliens land we'll bomb them to oblivion as fast as we can. Good riddance!

      • You do realize they have a robust written and verbal language composed of multitudes of dialects and languages? We also know they have the oldest and longest sustained democracy history has ever seen.

        The Iroquois's "greatness" rivals that of the Ancient Greek.

        • by niado (1650369)

          You do realize they have a robust written and verbal language composed of multitudes of dialects and languages? We also know they have the oldest and longest sustained democracy history has ever seen.

          The Iroquois's "greatness" rivals that of the Ancient Greek.

          #1 - The Iroquois [wikipedia.org] did not have a written language. Cherokee [wikipedia.org] (which is a southern Iroquois language) has a syllabary developed by Sequoyah [wikipedia.org] in 1821. Other extant Iroquois languages are now written using IPA. [wikipedia.org]
          #2 - The Iroquois league was probably formed after 1450. Democracy in ancient Greece supersedes this date by ~2000 years. It is certainly likely that rule by consensus (a form of democracy) was practiced on a local level before this date, though this would be hardly unique.

          This is not to take away fr

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This entire topic is fishy and full of shit! Heck, animals were the first farmers, they have been spreading the seed and fertilizing them basically since the first existed. Man being an animal did it naturally too at first and more deliberately later. Some animals, like elephants for instance have even cleared areas for new growth. Man see, man do do, how they learned to farm and show off to Bubba. "Hey Bubba, watch this!"

      • by AlecC (512609)

        Which is roughly what TFA said, rather than the contrary as had been assumed up to now.

    • Even native americans knew burying a fish next to a corn plant helped it grow faster

      As far as anyone can tell that was actually a European trick that some Indians had learned. When the Indians taught it to the Pilgrims, the Pilgrims just figured it was an Indian trick.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Even native americans knew burying a fish next to a corn plant helped it grow faster (assuming a raccoon didn't dig up the fish first)

      Yeah, I learned that myth as a kid too. This is a science article [sciencemag.org].

    • by Seumas (6865)

      I just always assumed fertilizer was discovered by a CEO.

      • Naw, it was developers and web designers who co-made the discovery when they promised everything would be better when they used the latest and greatest shiny.

  • Typical... (Score:4, Funny)

    by kd4zqe (587495) on Monday July 15, 2013 @07:49PM (#44290535)
    We find out that we excel at the use of spreading bullshit even earlier than we thought... The joys of being human!
  • No shit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:05PM (#44290637)

    ...is that people were convinced that fertilizer was a modern "invention" in the first place. I'm sure it didn't take the genius of a particle physicist to notice that the grass grew better where the animals took a shit, but then I'm not an archaeologist. Kind of like the conspiracy theorists who claim that there was no way human beings could have build the Pyramids without some kind of advanced technology or alien intervention...people seem to seriously underestimate the wisdom of their ancestors, almost to the point of arrogance.

    The funny part is that essentially nothing has changed beyond our level of technology. People believed in crazy, stupid shit in antiquity, how is that any different from today? Our ancestors had wonderful things like white make-up made from lead, they drank "radium water" to CURE illnesses. I can't imagine that worked out like it said on the tin. We're much more advanced now though. Now we have people drinking homeopathic remedies containing exactly zero molecules of often poisonous compounds like arsenic, we have walking pairs of tits like Jenny McCarthy telling people not to vaccinate their children...and for all of our wondrous technology, even despite "putting man on the moon," we still have people killing each other over what imaginary friend they've bonded with. Just like the good old days.

    • What's really surprising is that people were convinced that fertilizer was a modern "invention" in the first place.

      If by modern you mean 3000 years ago. RTFA. It wasn't an assumption - they just didn't have any evidence to the contrary. Much work has been done on early Middle Eastern agriculture because that's one of the spots where it started, and from whence it spread to Europe. Basically they just started looking more at early European agriculture.

    • I grew up on a farm and it was obvious that around cattle dung the grass was greener due to both the nutrients and that the dung held moisture longer. This would be obvious to any vaguely observant farmer. The bigger question is whether they would gather it or not. This works well when you have stables as the manure builds up. But would you go around picking up dung? That is time consuming. More likely you would let the animals into the fields after harvest to eat the stalks and leave their dung behind

  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:07PM (#44290643) Homepage Journal

    Farmers in the Near East—what is today Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and neighboring countries—began cultivating plants and herding animals about 8000 B.C.E., but there are no signs that they used animal dung for anything other than as fuel for fires.

    Since it's far more arid in the Middle East, the use of dung for fuel was more obvious due to dried dung being a common thing to find laying around. Where as in Europe, which is far wetter, seeing green things sprout up in dung in the Spring was more easily observed.

    • by icebike (68054) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:25PM (#44290803)

      Since it's far more arid in the Middle East, the use of dung for fuel was more obvious due to dried dung being a common thing to find laying around. Where as in Europe, which is far wetter, seeing green things sprout up in dung in the Spring was more easily observed.

      Not true. 8000 years ago was smack dab in the middle of the middle of the ‘African Humid Period’ [allianz.com].

      Much of north Africa and ME countries were much wetter, and much more lush in prior times, beginning 12,000 years ago and lasting until 3,500 years ago. There is no way civilization would have begun in a middle east as arid as it is now, let alone flourished.

    • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Monday July 15, 2013 @08:38PM (#44290973)

      Since it's far more arid in the Middle East

      8000 years ago it wasn't as arid. Once upon a time, what now seems like the ironically named Fertile Crescent really was fertile. A lot of the degradation also has to do with soil exhaustion and erosion, cutting down too many trees, etc.

  • by transporter_ii (986545) on Monday July 15, 2013 @09:12PM (#44291347) Homepage

    It still covers up to 10% of the Amazon basin, is man made, and if we could figure out how they did it:

    If recreated, the engineered soil could feed the hungry and may even help fight global warming, experts suggest.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/11/081119-lost-cities-amazon.html [nationalgeographic.com]

    Imagine if manure spread thousands of years ago still grew crops today. The terra preta —"dark earth" — of the Amazon is still working today.

    • by eriks (31863)

      I agree that terra preta is *awesome* -- and I want some in my garden -- but it's probably only about 2500 years old... Definitely should be possible to create it with charcoal and kitchen waste and a few years of experiments.

  • Also known as moved back the date of when we think fertilizers were first used...
  • by real gumby (11516) on Monday July 15, 2013 @09:19PM (#44291415)

    If they learned to harness bullshit 8,000 years ago, than surely corporate bureaucracy must be that old as well!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      No, but I imagine we will determine the first elections were help about 8,000 years ago pretty soon, too.

  • If the humanity back then had today's ways of organizing and raising awareness, these potentially dangerous means of agriculture — meant solely to enrich the farmers at the expense of the consumers' health — would've been banned long ago.

    Hunting and gathering are the only responsible way to get sustenance. Oh, wait, no — hunting is evil too. Gathering only!

  • Wait, what?

  • Rearrange the words of the headline and the story still makes sense...

    >

    First Researchers Discover Use of Fertilizer

  • After all these years, we can finally put to rest the old question:

    Does the farmer shit in the field?

  • Do bears shit in the woods?

    • Do bears shit in the woods?

      Absolutely.That's why there are trees all over the places there aren't cities.
      Conversely, Popes shit all over civilization which is why there are Catholic churches all over the places there aren't bears.

  • Thousands of years ago farmer raising newly domesticated cows, pigs and chickens said "Hey, what are we going to do with all this manure?"

    Another farmer said, "Sell it at a premium to the organic vegan hippies. They are already used to eating shit."

  • I wonder what the researchers use fertilizer for... making bombs probably. It took them quite a while to figure out what it's really for. :P

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