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Erosion of Civilizations

Several writers have documented the decline of civilizations throughout history in parallel with the destruction of their soil. Their stories are stark reminders not to take soil and soil stewardship for granted.

Below are some accounts of the links between soil erosion and the strength of societies.

Conquest of the Land Through 7,000 Years. 1999. W.C. Lowdermilk. USDA Agricultural Information Bulletin No. 99. Originally issued in 1953, this publication is based on studies Lowdermilk made in 1938 and 1939. For more, go to Conquest of the Land.

Topsoil and civilization. 1974. Vernon Gill Carter and Tom Dale. rev. ed. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press. A more thorough discussion of man's relationship to topsoil. Originally published in 1955.

Soil and civilization. 1976. Edward Hyams. New York: Harper & Row. Originally published in 1952, this is an account of the relationship between people and soil. Each has shaped the other. Hyams describes people as "parasites" on the soil, noting that some soils/hosts remain healthy despite the parasites.

Shifting ground: the changing agricultural soils of China and Indonesia. 2000. Peter H. Lindert. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. The author evaluates environmental concerns about soil degradation in two very large countries - China and Indonesia - where anecdotal evidence has suggested serious problems.

Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. 2007. David R. Montgomery. University of California Press. Dirt, soil, call it what you want--it's everywhere we go. It is the root of our existence, supporting our feet, our farms, our cities. This fascinating yet disquieting book finds, however, that we are running out of dirt, and it's no laughing matter. An engaging natural and cultural history of soil that sweeps from ancient civilizations to modern times, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations explores the compelling idea that we are--and have long been--using up Earth's soil.