One of biggest fossils we have found at Meadowcreek looks like a huge snake, but it’s the trunk of a tropical tree. Meadowcreek once had a tropical climate. Average temperature was probably around 90 F.
More recently, Meadowcreek has been arctic tundra. It had no trees and was snow covered most of the year. Glaciers didn’t come as far South as Meadowcreek, but glacial ice more than a mile thick covered much of northern North America, northern Europe and Russia, and Siberia. The vast amount of water frozen in these glaciers lowered sea levels by as much as 300 feet.
That lower sea level enabled North America and Asia to be connected and the first humans to arrive at Meadowcreek. By the time these bands wandered into Meadow Creek Valley, grassland had started to take over from the tundra. There were few plant foods man could digest, but plenty of grass for large Ice Age mammals. A unique feature of Ice Age environments is that there were no marked seasonal changes – it was mostly cold and wet the year-round. Water from melting glaciers was too cold and turbulent to support fish or shellfish.
The first Arkansans, the Clovis people, hunted the mastodon, mammoth, horse, tapir, ground sloth, giant bison, giant beaver, giant tortoise, American lion, short-faced bear, and saber-toothed tiger. Over-hunting caused the mass extinction of these animals as the Ice Age ended. More than thirty species of large animals became extinct. By about 10,500 years ago, megafauna no longer roamed North America.
Clovis people lived in scattered groups consisting of perhaps two dozen or so members following their huge prey. There may have been only one hundred to one-hundred-fifty people in all of what is now Arkansas. They lived in portable structures, such as lean-tos or simple wood frame structures covered with bark, grass, or hides. They never developed agriculture. All their possessions were light enough to be personally carried or towed by dogs.
After the megafauna were eliminated, the Ice Age ended, the climate gradually warmed, and deciduous forests appeared at Meadowcreek. The Clovis folk developed better tools and became more settled, roaming only specific territories around their villages to hunt for deer, rabbit and squirrel. Around 1000 BC they were run out by the more sophisticated Hopewell tribes who had ceramics and agriculture.
As the climate warmed even more, more advanced tribes invaded beginning about 500 AD. These Mississippian tribes brought mound building and a variety of crops including corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and gourds from what is now Mexico.
About the time that the Spanish arrived in the early 1500s, the Little Ice Age began. Average temperatures dropped as much as 4 degrees F. Frequent cold winters and cool, wet summers led to crop failures and famines over much of northern and central Europe. Probably the same occurred in Meadow Creek Valley.
By the time permanent European settlers arrived in the early 1800s, the Mississippian tribes had abandoned their mounds, cities and farmlands throughout Arkansas. Osage Indians, buffalo hunters thanks to Spanish horses, had taken control of Meadow Creek.
Since then temperatures have very gradually been increasing in Arkansas.
If you take a short view of thousands of years, we are in a warm phase between Ice Ages. If you take a longer view, we are in a cool phase between tropical periods.
No matter which perspective you take, Earth’s climate is inherently unstable. There is no normal temperature or climate. Conditions have and will continue to change. Farmers, as shown by the Indians’ experience, will adapt and improve or disappear.
Inherent climate instability is the reality ignored in the climate change debate. In their absolute certainty that man’s activities will warm the earth, advocates for climate change legislation ignore the powerful and mysterious forces which have made the Earth far warmer and far cooler than any of their models can predict.
Climate change deniers are making an even bigger mistake. Our climate is changing and will always be changing. That is the undeniable lesson from all we know of the Earth’s history. Climate change deniers can’t benefit from the lessons to be learned from this history. The deniers are also providing cover for those who wish to continue to pollute the earth with greenhouse gases–the worst being the Chinese–but that’s a story for another day.
One conclusion should be clear to those on both sides of the debate: those who thrive in the future will develop systems which are resilient in the face of all sorts of variable climates.
That’s what we are trying to do at Meadowcreek.
For ideas on how you, your farm and your community can become more resilient, see our free on-line book available at this link.