Ancient civilizations could have benefited, and at times suffered from belonging to an interconnected global economy, according to evidence presented in a newly-published study. The international team behind the research hope that the work could help present-day society learn from the mistakes of early globalism.

It is a sad but unavoidable fact that flourishing civilizations use up vast amounts of raw materials, and, subsequently, produce prodigious amounts of waste. By observing the amount of waste produced by an ancient society, researchers can estimate the amount of energy used, and attempt to track periods of growth, prosperity and decline.

This was the approach used in a new study, which attempted to determine whether historical civilizations ranging back 10,000 years were connected by a global economy. If this were the case, the fortunes of contemporary societies would be observed to rise and fall in tandem. This is known as synchrony.

Joining an interdependent global network can bring significant benefits. This could include an increase in wealth from trade goods, and other resources that allow a society to increase its carrying capacity, or maximum population, beyond the limits of an isolated people.

However, it would also render the societies involved susceptible to the maladies of their partners. For example, open trade and movement of peoples could encourage the spread of disease, and lead to detrimental changes to a nation’s ecosystem and social system.

“The more tightly connected and interdependent we become, the more vulnerable we are to a major social or ecological crisis in another country spreading to our country,” said Rick Robinson, a postdoctoral assistant research scientist at the University of Wyoming, and co-author of the new study. “The more we are synced, the more we put all our eggs in one basket, the less adaptive to unforeseen changes we become.”

In the new study, researchers tracked the energy use of civilizations spread across the world using a combination of radiocarbon dating and historical records. Energy, in this case, refers to the amount of biomass that was converted into work and waste.

To determine the amount of energy used, the team carbon-dated the trash of ancient civilizations, including animal bones, charcoal, wood, and small seeds. The scientists were able to provide energy-use estimates for a diverse range of societies spanning from roughly 10,000 years in the past, to 400 years ago.

The more recent historical records were used to provide a frame of reference for the estimates made by the radiocarbon dating technique.

It was discovered that there were significant levels of long-term synchrony regarding the booms and busts of ancient civilizations. This suggests that there was a greater level of early globalization than had previously been believed.

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