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Mapping past human land use using archaeological data: A new classification for global land use synthesis and data harmonization

Morrison, Kathleen D.; Hammer, Emily; Boles, Oliver; Madella, Marco; Whitehouse, Nicola; Gaillard, Marie-Jose; Bates, Jennifer; Vander Linden, Marc; Merlo, Stefania; Yao, Alice; Popova, Laura; Hill, Austin Chad; Antolin, Ferran; Bauer, Andrew; Biagetti, Stefano; Bishop, Rosie R.; Buckland, Phillip; Cruz, Pablo; Dreslerová, Dagmar; Dusseldorp, Gerrit; Ellis, Erle; Filipovic, Dragana; Foster, Thomas; Hannaford, Matthew J.; Harrison, Sandy P.; Hazarika, Manjil; Herold, Hajnalka; Hilpert, Johanna; Kaplan, Jed O.; Kay, Andrea; Klein Goldewijk, Kees; Kolář, Jan; Kyazike, Elizabeth; Laabs, Julian; Lancelotti, Carla; Lane, Paul; Lawrence, Dan; Lewis, Krista; Lombardo, Umberto; Lucarini, Giulio; Arroyo-Kalin, Manuel; Marchant, Rob; Mayle, Francis; McClatchie, Meriel; McLeester, Madeleine; Mooney, Scott; Moskal-del Hoyo, Magdalena; Navarrete, Vanessa; Ndiema, Emmanuel; Góes Neves, Eduardo; Nowak, Marek; Out, Welmoed A.; Petrie, Cameron; Phelps, Leanne N.; Pinke, Zsolt; Rostain, Stéphen; Russell,...

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Kathleen D. Morrison

Emily Hammer

Oliver Boles

Marco Madella

Nicola Whitehouse

Marie-Jose Gaillard

Jennifer Bates

Marc Vander Linden

Stefania Merlo

Alice Yao

Laura Popova

Austin Chad Hill

Ferran Antolin

Andrew Bauer

Stefano Biagetti

Rosie R. Bishop

Phillip Buckland

Pablo Cruz

Dagmar Dreslerová

Gerrit Dusseldorp

Erle Ellis

Dragana Filipovic

Thomas Foster

Matthew J. Hannaford

Sandy P. Harrison

Manjil Hazarika

Hajnalka Herold

Johanna Hilpert

Jed O. Kaplan

Andrea Kay

Kees Klein Goldewijk

Jan Kolář

Elizabeth Kyazike

Julian Laabs

Carla Lancelotti

Paul Lane

Krista Lewis

Umberto Lombardo

Giulio Lucarini

Manuel Arroyo-Kalin

Rob Marchant

Francis Mayle

Meriel McClatchie

Madeleine McLeester

Scott Mooney

Magdalena Moskal-del Hoyo

Vanessa Navarrete

Emmanuel Ndiema

Eduardo Góes Neves

Marek Nowak

Welmoed A. Out

Cameron Petrie

Leanne N. Phelps

Zsolt Pinke

Stéphen Rostain

Thembi Russell

Andrew Sluyter

Amy K. Styring

Eduardo Tamanaha

Evert Thomas

Selvakumar Veerasamy

Lynn Welton

Marco Zanon


In the 12,000 years preceding the Industrial Revolution, human activities led to significant changes in land cover, plant and animal distributions, surface hydrology, and biochemical cycles. Earth system models suggest that this anthropogenic land cover change influenced regional and global climate. However, the representation of past land use in earth system models is currently oversimplified. As a result, there are large uncertainties in the current understanding of the past and current state of the earth system. In order to improve representation of the variety and scale of impacts that past land use had on the earth system, a global effort is underway to aggregate and synthesize archaeological and historical evidence of land use systems. Here we present a simple, hierarchical classification of land use systems designed to be used with archaeological and historical data at a global scale and a schema of codes that identify land use practices common to a range of systems, both implemented in a geospatial database. The classification scheme and database resulted from an extensive process of consultation with researchers worldwide. Our scheme is designed to deliver consistent, empirically robust data for the improvement of land use models, while simultaneously allowing for a comparative, detailed mapping of land use relevant to the needs of historical scholars. To illustrate the benefits of the classification scheme and methods for mapping historical land use, we apply it to Mesopotamia and Arabia at 6 kya (c. 4000 BCE). The scheme will be used to describe land use by the Past Global Changes (PAGES) LandCover6k working group, an international project comprised of archaeologists, historians, geographers, paleoecologists, and modelers. Beyond this, the scheme has a wide utility for creating a common language between research and policy communities, linking archaeologists with climate modelers, biodiversity conservation workers and initiatives.


Morrison, K. D., Hammer, E., Boles, O., Madella, M., Whitehouse, N., Gaillard, M., …Zanon, M. (2021). Mapping past human land use using archaeological data: A new classification for global land use synthesis and data harmonization. PLoS ONE, 16(4), Article e0246662.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 24, 2021
Online Publication Date Apr 14, 2021
Publication Date 2021
Deposit Date Apr 16, 2021
Publicly Available Date Nov 11, 2021
Journal PLoS ONE
Publisher Public Library of Science
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 16
Issue 4
Article Number e0246662


Published Journal Article (4.9 Mb)

Publisher Licence URL

Copyright Statement
© 2021 Morrison et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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