Daily Archives: June 11, 2016

Soils, Climate and Society: Archaeological Investigations in Ancient America: John D. Wingard, Sue Eileen Hayes

Much recent archaeological research focuses on social forces as the impetus for cultural change. Soils, Climate and Society, however, focuses on the complex relationship between human populations and the physical environment, particularly the land–the foundation of agricultural production and, by extension, of agricultural peoples.

The volume traces the origins of agriculture, the transition to agrarian societies, the sociocultural implications of agriculture, agriculture’s effects on population, and the theory of carrying capacity, considering the relation of agriculture to the profound social changes that it wrought in the New World. Soil science plays a significant, though varied, role in each case study, and is the common component of each analysis. Soil chemistry is also of particular importance to several of the studies, as it determines the amount of food that can be produced in a particular soil and the effects of occupation or cultivation on that soil, thus having consequences for future cultivators.

Soils, Climate and Society demonstrates that renewed investigation of agricultural production and demography can answer questions about the past, as well as stimulate further research. It will be of interest to scholars of archaeology, historical ecology and geography, and agricultural history.

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Soil Science History Bibliography | Soil Science Society of America

This bibliography is arranged by year and contains materials on the history of soil science. Titles that are hyperlinked are available on the internet, click on the link to access the article. New additions to this bibliography are always welcome, e-mail such additions to Eric.Brevik. I extend my gratitude to Christian Feller, John Tandarich, Verena Winiwarter, Dan Yaalon, and all others who have sent me references for their assistance in preparing this bibliography.

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SOILS IN ARCHAEOLOGY PB by HOLLIDAY VANCE

Foreword

The papers in this collection represent the proceedings of a symposium sponsored by the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) at the annual meetings in Phoenix in April 1988—the First Annual Fryxell Symposium. I was invited by the Fryxell Committee of the SAA to organize and chair this symposium within the broad area of “Earth Sciences in Archaeology,” to complement the general theme of the 1988 Fryxell Award (given to David M. Hopkins). The topic I selected for the symposium was “Soils, Landscape Evolution, and Human Occupation”; the title has been changed only slightly for this volume.

To my knowledge, there are no edited volumes that deal with the broad spectrum of soil science applications in archaeology. There are some single-author books on soil science in archaeology (Cornwall 1958; Limbrey 1975) and a coauthored volume on soil micromorphology and archaeology (Courty et al. 1989). In addition, volumes on soil resistivity and archaeology (Carr 1982) and chemical analyses in archaeology include soil chemistry (e.g., Brothwell and Higgs 1970; Lambert 1984) and artificially modified soils (e.g., Eidt 1984; Groenman-van Waateringe and Robinson 1988). Indeed, soil chemistry and the study of human-influenced soils are probably the best-known applications of soil science in archaeological research.

For the Fryxell Symposium, however, I wanted to cover a broader spectrum of soil science applications. This includes soil chemistry, which remains an important area of research, particularly for determining the presence or absence of human occupation and detecting agricultural practices. But another important area of soil science I also include is pedology (the study of soil genesis and morphology) and specifically soil geomorphology (the study of relationships between soils and landscapes). In addition to supporting and recording human occupations, soils are integral parts of the landscape and reflect the passage of time for stable surfaces.

This consideration of soils—as intimate components of the landscape—is an approach less commonly employed or understood in archaeological contexts. In my view, however, such an approach can make significant contributions to archaeological research. The collection of essays presented here makes clear that other geoarchaeologists share this view. Moreover, it is encouraging to see that talented individuals with training and academic ties in a variety of disciplines (archaeology, physical geography, Quaternary geology, and pedology) are contributing to such studies.

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Human Impact on Ancient Environments: Charles L. Redman

Threats to biodiversity, food shortages, urban sprawl . . . lessons for environmental problems that confront us today may well be found in the past. The archaeological record contains hundreds of situations in which societies developed long-term sustainable relationships with their environments—and thousands in which the relationships were destructive.

Charles Redman demonstrates that much can be learned from an improved understanding of peoples who, through seemingly rational decisions, degraded their environments and threatened their own survival. By discussing archaeological case studies from around the world—from the deforestation of the Mayan lowlands to soil erosion in ancient Greece to the almost total depletion of resources on Easter Island—Redman reveals the long-range coevolution of culture and environment and clearly shows the impact that ancient peoples had on their world.

These case studies focus on four themes: habitat transformation and animal extinctions, agricultural practices, urban growth, and the forces that accompany complex society. They show that humankind’s commitment to agriculture has had cultural consequences that have conditioned our perception of the environment and reveal that societies before European contact did not necessarily live the utopian existences that have been popularly supposed. Whereas most books on this topic tend to treat human societies as mere reactors to environmental stimuli, Redman’s volume shows them to be active participants in complex and evolving ecological relationships. Human Impact on Ancient Environments demonstrates how archaeological research can provide unique insights into the nature of human stewardship of the Earth and can permanently alter the way we think about humans and the environment.

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Environmental Archaeology: Principles and Practice: Dena F. Dincauze

Archaeologists today need a wide range of scientific approaches in order to delineate and interpret the ecology of their sites. But borrowing concepts from other disciplines demands a critical understanding, and the methods must be appropriate to particular sets of data. This book is an authoritative and essential guide to methods, ranging from techniques for measuring time with isotopes and magnetism to the sciences of climate reconstruction, geomorphology, sedimentology, soil science, paleobotany and faunal paleoecology. Their applications are illustrated by examples from the Paleolithic, through classical civilizations, to urban archaeology.

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A Forest Journey: The Story of Wood and Civilization: John Perlin

Until the ascendancy of fossil fuels, wood has been the principal fuel and building material from the dawn of civilization. Its abundance or scarcity greatly shaped, as A Forest Journey ably relates, the culture, demographics, economy, internal and external politics, and technology of successive societies over the millennia.

The book’s comprehensive coverage of the major role forests have played in human life–told with grace, fluency, imagination, and humor―gained it recognition as a Harvard Classic in Science and World History and as one of Harvard’s “One-Hundred Great Books.” Others receiving the honor include such luminaries as Stephen Jay Gould and E. O. Wilson. This new paperback edition will add a prologue and an epilogue to reflect the current situation in which forests have become imperative for humanity’s survival.

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Africa, the Devastated Continent?: Man’s impact on the ecology of Africa A. de Vos

Africa is not known as one of the more densely populated continents. Yet, the damaging marks of man’s activities may be seen there dramatically. Many of Africa’s ecological zones are fragile. Large scale soil erosion, resul­ tant cycles of drought and flash floods, downgrading of fauna and flora are well-known to many in general ways, as well as from detailed examination of a few areas.

But large parts of Africa remain inaccessible. Very few students of Africa have the opportunity – or the tenacity – to travel over these vast areas or into the hidden corners that lie beyond the well-known routes of Africa. As FAO’s Regional Wildlife and National Parks Officer for Africa, Antoon De Vos had the opportunity of travelling widely and studying and reporting on the acceleration of man-made changes in much of the continent. As an experienced practitioner of an important and difficult science, ecology, he has made a significant professional contribution with this book. It is our hope that those who read it will be encouraged to carry on the important work and the concern with this subject to which Dr. De Vos has devoted so much of his knowledge, energy and personal commitments.

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