Humans do it quickly


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Marshall Islands

A team of scientists from Japan have found evidence that the human settlement of the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific Ocean occurred almost immediately after those islands emerged from beneath the sea. Though it had been previously believed that a thousand years had to pass until these newly emerged islands had developed sufficient vegetation for humans to occupy them, the evidence from this study shows that humans not only showed up almost immediately, they acted to vegetate the island themselves in order to make it habitable.

The scientists drilled four cores just off the western shore of Laura Island, the largest island of Majuro Atoll, as well as thirteen trenches on that same island, in order to determine when the island first emerged from under the sea. They also excavated a well-preserved bank at the center of Laura Island to study the human occupation of the island.

What they found was that the Atoll emerged from underwater approximately 2000 years ago, triggered by a fall in sea level. More surprising, the first evidence of human settlement appeared to occur at almost the same time.

Majuro Atoll

Based on carbon dating of charcoal fragments produced by earth ovens, the first human activity occurred less than 100 years after the island appeared. At that time, however, the island would have had little plant life, with few resources. It would have also been very exposed, with anything on the island easily destroyed by weather or water.

The evidence from the archeology was that “the first settlers did not wait for the natural vegetation succession to provide a favorable habitat; they started to make the land more habitable by themselves.” They planted coconut and pandanus trees. They practiced pit agriculture, the archeologists finding around 200 such pits. The earth ovens also showed evidence of both dolphin and whale bones, suggesting extensive fishing operations.

In a sense, this finding is not surprising. Anywhere we humans go, we immediately act to adapt the environment to make it more liveable. We do this on earth. We will do it in space, once we get there.

In fact, the actions of the early island pioneers in the mid-Pacific are a good if imperfect analogy for space exploration. Their environment was harsh and extremely isolated. It did not have a wide variety of resources from which they could rely. Yet, these early settlers figured out how to make that limited environment work for them so they could live there, even at a time when life would be hard if not impractical, at first glance.

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2 comments

  • Gary Warburton

    It all depends on the environment. The big islands of Canada`s north are not very populous. Take Ellesmere Island 83 degrees north. The island is 75,000 square miles in area. The settlement of Grise Fiord on the southern end of the island has a population of 141 people. On the northern tip of the island at a place called Alert there is 5 more people at a weather station which brings the total population to 146. There is another place called Eureka with a population of 0. It is an encampment for hunters from Griese Fiord on hunts. For comparison, the population of the big island of Britain with an area of 80,000 square miles has a population of 60,000,000. Now I was roundly criticized for pointing out that the Antarctic has no cities with people saying that there were no cities because the of the Antarctic Treaty but no where in that treaty does it say that people can`t go there and start a city and live if they so desire. The treaty says no country can annex the whole or part of the Antartic and no one can have a military base there but I might be wrong I don`t understand legalize. The point I was trying to make was that people like to live in places where the environment is pleasant not in desolate places. I pointed out that people should not expect the great cities on Mars and the Moon depicted in SF novels because people don`t like to live in desolate places. The most that people should expect is a base for scientists and a hotel for adventurers on the Moon and Mars. I can envision a large telescope on the Moon but that`s about it. After a year or two in places as desolate as the Moon or Mars people would be dreaming of lying down in grassy fields and looking up at a blue sky. Remember the Arctic and Antarctic are desolate but at least you can breath the air. I pointed out also, that some people have said well we`ll terra form Mars but that is really just a pipe dream. Mars has an atmospheric pressure equivalent to an altitude of 100,000 feet here on earth and there is a reason why Mars has a thin atmosphere at 4,212 miles in diameters and a mass half of Earth`s it just can`t hang on to an atmosphere for very long. In fact Mars is still losing atmosphere at a prodigious rate today. If Mars was 6,000 miles in diameter you might have a chance of terra forming it but not at its present size.
    Now I`m not trying to discourage anyone`s dreams of settling space, quite the opposite. So what is the point of going to space at all. Well, so we can learn how to live and work in space and build the best, cheapest and fastest ways to get there. Our real destiny is the stars. Just recently we started discovering new worlds out among the stars. One of these days we`ll discover one that is earthlike and that day will change the focus of humanity. Many of you will immediately point out that we are nowhere near able to travel to the stars but you are wrong. What I mean is that we have already invented the way we will get there first ie. the ion drive. If you go to the Ad Astra site ( it means “To The Stars” by the way) you can read all about it. This drive hooked up to a nuclear power source would get us there. Yes it would take 50-100 years to get there but if you read some of Ursula Le Guin`s books it wouldn`t be as bad as it seems. You see the faster you go the more time slows down for you. That`s right relativity determines how long it is for you and your ship. Yes, governments would never agree to finance such a trip but a society would. Thats right, governments might agree to unmanned probes but not a manned one it would take a society dedicated to the task to do it. Yes one day we may have faster than light ships but at the earliest that`s going to take thousands of years.
    This is why we need to find out as much as possible about what`s out there through every possible means ie. though interpherometers, large telescopes and large space telescopes. This is why the James Webb space telescope is so important if the Hubble Telescope is able to image extrasolar planets just what what will James Webb be able to do.

  • Fred Willett

    Nobody wants to build cities in Antarctica, but for some reason lots of people want to build cities on Mars.
    Why is that?
    So Gary may be right. But he may also be wrong. It’s impossible to say at this point.
    Time will tell.

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