6 Man-Made Things You Totally Thought Were 'Natural'
People instinctively like the concept of "natural" almost as much as we dislike things that are "artificial" or "genetically engineered" or "monstrosities of science." Well, hold on to your learnin' hats, because almost everything that we traditionally file in the "natural" folder has been tampered with well beyond recognition.
The Entire Amazon Basin
The Amazon is one of the last wild frontiers, running through deep rainforests where piranhas and anacondas roam free to consume C-list starlets in subpar monster movies. If there's one place on Earth that absolutely, positively isn't shaped by humanity, it's this majestic river. R-right?
Nope! As we've mentioned in the past, Native Americans could be ecologically rapacious with the best of them. Despite the stereotype that they were harmonious one-with-nature types, indigenous peoples were masters at modifying the environment to suit their needs.
When European settlers stumbled upon the lush Amazonian wonderlands, they had no idea that the natural cornucopia about them had been meticulously landscaped by mysterious peoples not long gone who had been devastated by disease and internecine wars. These "savages" were the very architects of the Earth. They dug out terraces across the mountains of Peru and seeded the Amazon basin with fruit trees that sustained massive populations.
All the older civilizations discovered in the Amazon have one thing in common: They changed the land like no one's business. Researchers have found the remains of ancient agriculture, moats, canals, dams, artificial ponds for fishing, and even a Jamba Juice ... probably! Those sumbitches are everywhere.
Indigenous peoples in Bolivia even managed to divert entire fuckin' rivers. And the soil itself was not safe from human dabbling, although in this case, our actions were in fact beneficial. Large patches of rainforest are covered in a man-made fertilizer called terra preta -- an extremely nutrient-rich "superdirt," the precise recipe of which we're still trying to figure out.
Terra preta is believed to cover at least 10 percent of the Amazon area -- a swath the size of France. This dark, rich soil breeds communities of microbes and fungi that hold onto nutrients in the face of constant rainfall and can keep the land fertile for a hundred years (much like your mother), making farming the area far more sustainable than anything we have today.
Most Fruits And Vegetables
Since childhood, we've been instructed to eat fruits and vegetables because they're natural and healthy, and also because mom insisted that monsters would steal our organs if we didn't. That's why there's really no way to sugarcoat this: Every fruit and vegetable you've ever eaten was a filthy, filthy lie.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. Take corn, the staple grain which kept Native Americans alive and current Americans comfortably overweight. Here's how it has evolved over time:
Yeah, those tiny pine cone things are what O.G. corn looked like. Corn was once nothing more than a lowly grass called teosinte, endemic to Mexico's Central Balsas River Valley. Somewhere around 10,000 years ago, our ancestors lucked out when a small genetic mutation saw the kernels emerge. Sensing that future buckets of oil-drenched movie theater popcorn was on the line, ancient farmers added kernel by kernel through a slow, painstaking process of artificial selection.
It's not just corn, either. The banana was little more than an inedible pod of nasty-ass seeds until it was domesticated in New Guinea around 6,500 years ago:
Another common staple, the tomato, used to be ridiculously small before domestication. Tomatoes only started becoming larger thanks to a cancer-like cell growth, to which we reacted not with horror, but by doing everything we could to foster it.
Oh, and don't even get us started on wild cucumbers, which look like testicles designed by H.P. Lovecraft.
The progenitor of modern almonds was super toxic; a handful of wild almonds are as effective a murder weapon as any blade or bullet. The exact intricacies of domesticating straight-up poison are unknown, but the mere fact that at some point humanity thought fucking almonds were worth the deadly trial-and-error hassle this involved should pay testament to how much we all love putting nuts in our mouth.
What? What did we say? Oh grow up, guys.
Yellowstone National Park's Morning Glory Hot Spring
The Morning Glory hot spring at Yellowstone is the ultimate example of nature's whimsical majesty.
The multicolored spring draws scores of slack-jawed tourists who want to snap a few pictures for social media before honoring nature's majesty with half-eaten chili dogs and assorted trash.
Yeah, about said trash ...
Here's how Morning Glory looked in 1958, when men drove station wagons and pregnant women polished off a pack a day:
That's kind of ... entirely blue, isn't it? Maybe there are some other colors deeper below the surface?
Nope! See, that's the real color of Morning Glory; a uniform dusky cobalt shade. That is, before it unwittingly volunteered as makeshift trash pit.
To find a scientific basis behind the color change, a squad of optical phenomena researchers from Montana State University probed the spring's depths and simulated its history via mathematical models. As it turns out, the water temperature was significantly higher throughout the spring's mid-millennium heyday. But accumulating detritus from fifty years of indiscriminate littering has overwhelmed the subterranean piping, leading to lower temperatures, which have allowed a proliferation of pigment-producing microbial mats, thus tinting the spring that wonderful "basement carpet in a '70s rec room" tone.
So Very Many Earthquakes
We know for a fact that natural energy extraction can cause serious earthquakes, thanks to the clusterfuck that is the Gazli oil field in Uzbekistan. Previously tremor-free, this region was rocked by three 7.0-magnitude earthquakes in an eight-year span after drilling began in 1962. Luckily for oil conglomerates, the political winds of the era were blowing in a direction that rendered the West all but indifferent to the troubles experienced by any country whose name ends in "stan." However, this isn't only a problem for poor countries; similar operations have been suspected of causing at least three earthquakes in California -- yes, the "Holy shit, we're right on top of the San Andreas Fault and it's on a hair trigger" California -- ranging from 5.9 to 6.5 on the Richter scale.
And it's not just drilling. Dams have been implicated in crimes against nature as well. The vast reservoirs of water exert a high pressure on the surrounding strata, forcing liquids into porous subterranean pockets. This has caused at least two notable earthquakes: a 6.1 in California and a much more severe 6.5 created by India's Koyna Dam -- a disaster which claimed 177 lives and left 50,000 others without a home.
Recently, most man-made earthquakes have been the result of waste water disposal from fracking, including a 5.6 rattler which hit Oklahoma in 2011 and demolished several homes. And that's not the only incident; smaller quakes are becoming more and more common in areas where fracking is happening. Apparently, pumping dirty water into the ground at unholy pressures to loosen bedrock can have detrimental effects. Who could have known?! If only we'd heeded the warnings of Captain Planet, or at least Captain Common Fucking Sense.
Man-made quakes have gotten so bad that seismologists have had to create a new set of hazard maps to account for all the tremors caused by humanity not minding its goddamn business.
And it's getting worse. In the US alone, central and eastern portions of the country are becoming more and more seismically unstable. In a four-year span, from 2010 to 2013, these regions were hit by 450 earthquakes measuring at least 3.0 in magnitude, for an average of over 100 a year. Annual average between 1970 and 2000: fewer than 20.
Basically All Of Our Domestic Animals
Ever since we left the hunter-gatherer stage behind, we've been treating the traits of our fellow animals like Legos, reconstructing them to best suit our needs and occasionally giving them absurd structural flaws in the process. Take cows, for instance. The dopiest of all barnyard animals used to be massive, belligerent monsters called aurochs -- giant, grumpy muscle tanks with horns custom-made to gore you, and a disposition to do precisely that.
Eventually, mankind's love for steak and hatred of getting stabbed in the belly caused us to breed the docile ones together until a cow came out. That's why the vast majority of modern cattle descend from 80 females who lived 10,500 years ago. Chickens have been massively mutated, too. They have quadrupled in size since the 1950s, gaining many unsavory consequences of induced gigantism, like a predisposition to heart attacks and an urge to fight Godzilla, in the process.
Turkeys have also joined the man-induced growth party, having grown over twice as massive since 1929. Their breasts have also been artificially boosted to rich housewife dimensions, and the poor animals can no longer copulate naturally because their gigantic chest-meat gets in the way. We've heard that The Rock suffers from a similar but opposite problem.
Oh God, Not Spiders Too!
It's not all turkey burgers and flank steak. We've also been inadvertently creating bigger, better spiders with our pesky "civilization" thing. A study based on over 200 golden orb weaver spiders collected in (of course) Sydney, Australia shows that spiders are growing larger and larger, and reproducing faster, all thanks to a little thing called cities. An abundance of hard surfaces (such as roads) and a scarcity of vegetation are the best things an aspiring giant spider horde could hope for. Say, would you like a comparison picture between a tiny rural orb weaver spider and its fat, slick, city-dwelling counterpart? Neither would we, but here's one anyway:
Excuse us, but we just got an urge to go hide in the desert. On another planet.
Ryan Menezes is an editor and interviewer here at Cracked. Follow him on Twitter for stuff cut from articles, and other things no one should see.
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