Professor David Montgomery.

Discover why dirt holds the key to survival

Dirt is everywhere we go; it is the root of our existence, supporting our feet, our farms, our cities.

US academic Professor David Montgomery has produced a history of humanity told through the land.

He believes that we are running out of fertile soil and it's no laughing matter.

Now, for the first time, Professor Montgomery will share his unique take on the Earth’s history with a UK audience in a free public talk at the University of Exeter. On Wednesday 6 May, local people are invited to find out how the plough led to the demise of past civilisations, and how we can save ourselves from the same fate. Professor Montgomery describes the erosion of our soil as “the quiet environmental issue” that it is as significant a threat as global warming and the decline of oil supplies.

Signed copies of Professor Montgomery’s book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations will be available to buy at the talk. Dirt is a natural and cultural history of soil that sweeps from ancient civilisations to modern times explores the idea that we are using up Earth's soil. Once bare of protective vegetation and exposed to wind and rain, cultivated soils erode slowly enough to be ignored in a single lifetime but fast enough over centuries to limit the lifespan of civilizations. A mix of history, archaeology and geology, Dirt traces the role of soil use and abuse in the history of Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, China, European colonialism, Central America, and the American push westward. It explains how soil has shaped us and we have shaped soil as society after society has risen, prospered, and ploughed through a natural endowment of fertile dirt. Professor Montgomery sees in the recent rise of organic and no-till farming the hope for a new agricultural revolution that might help us avoid the fate of previous civilizations.

Professor David Montgomery said: “It’s been fantastic to see the support for sustainable farming and local food here in southwest England, and I’m looking forward to the chance to learn more about the region during my stay in Exeter.”

A Macarthur Fellow, Professor Montgomery studies geomorphology, the evolution of landscapes. He graduated from Stanford University with a B.S. in geology and from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in geomorphology. He is a professor in the Department of Earth & Space Sciences at the University of Washington. His research interests range from the co-evolution of the Pacific salmon and the topography of the Pacific Northwest to the environmental history of Puget Sound rivers, interactions among climate, tectonics, and erosion in shaping mountain ranges, giant glacial floods in eastern Tibet and northeastern India, and the role of agricultural soil erosion in the longevity of human societies. He has published over 200 papers in the scientific literature and is the author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations and King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon.

Professor Montgomery is currently on sabbatical at the University of Exeter, where he is working on his next book.  In his spare time, he is lead guitarist in Seattle-based rock band Big Dirt.

Event details
Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations – a talk by Professor David Montgomery
Wednesday 6 May 2009, 6.30pm
Parker Moot Room, Amory Building, University of Exeter – Streatham Campus
A FREE event. No booking required
For further info: or 01392 263310

Date: 6 May 2009

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