One of the most recognizable man-made structures in the world, the Great Wall of China has long been a testament to human effort and ingenuity. Now, it’s also an invaluable resource in understanding environmental change. Research conducted by Lecturer of Biological and Biomedical Sciences Robert Patalano, Dr. Charles J. Smiley Chair Professor of Science and Technology and Vice President for International Affairs Hong Yang, and Professor of Biological and Biomedical Sciences Qin Leng, alongside an international team of collaborators, provides a window back in time to a much different planet — and a glimpse into what we might learn in the future.
Recently published in Scientific Reports, part of the Nature portfolio and the 5th most-cited journal in the world, the study performed by the Bryant professors in conjunction with Jing Hu, Weiguo Liu, Huanye Wang, Patrick Roberts, Michael Storozum, and Lin Yang examined plant remains from some of the earliest Great Wall segments to investigate climate and environmental changes across northwestern China since the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.). Their work is the first attempt to use organic remains preserved in segments of the Great Wall to reconstruct the source of its building materials and learn from the climate and environmental information they contain.
In addition to presenting direct evidence for localized environmental and ecological conditions at specific historical points along the Great Wall and ancient Silk Road, the team’s findings reveal the wealth of environmental and climate information obtainable from the site’s organic building materials and establishes the foundation for further applications of advanced molecular, biochemical, and isotopic technologies to study these common and widely distributed organic archaeological findings. It also emphasizes that their technique can be applied to any ancient ruin with preserved organic building materials.