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Environmental archaeology

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Title: Environmental archaeology  
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Subject: Anthropology, Archaeology, Don Brothwell, Archaeological science, Linguistic anthropology
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Environmental archaeology

Environmental archaeology is a sub-field of archaeology and is the science of reconstructing the relationship between ancient peoples and the environments they lived in.[1] The field is an archaeological-palaeoecological approach to examining the paleoenvironment.[2] This field aims to understand whether the environment of ancient peoples was a driving force in cultural change or merely a factor in its development. Reconstructing past environments gives archaeologists insight as to what adaptations past peoples needed to undergo in order to survive, and what environmental changes may have played a role in their disappearance.[3]

Environmental archaeology is commonly divided into three sub-fields:

  • archaeobotany (the study of plant remains) [4]
  • zooarchaeology (the study of faunal remains)[5]
  • archaeopedology (The study of soil, especially the creation, characteristics, distribution, and uses of the soil)[6]

Various sub-disciplines are involved to document and interpret this relationship, including:

Environmental archaeology often involves studying paleoenvironmental remains to see what species were present at the time, as well as how people interacted with and utilized them. It also may involve examining the physical environment and what resources would have been available to people and how they could be used. This field is also useful when human made artifacts may be absent from the site, or in cases of earth movement, such as erosion, which may have buried artifacts and features of sites.[2] While related subfields such as bioarchaeology and geoarchaeology are defined by the material that they study, 'environmental' is used to describe a theme that should be considered across archaeology as a whole.[7]

Environmental Archaeology has emerged as a named discipline only in the last 30 years. Environmental archaeology has seen a surge of interest in recent years, as it is one of the few disciplines that is able to provide empirical evidence to show how humans have responded to rapid climate change in the past. It has rapidly grown in significance and is now seen as a major component to most excavation projects. Due to its relative newness as a field, there is still a lot of improvement that needs to happen for environmental archaeology to be a stronger tool. There is a need for new technology to be developed for the field and existing technologies to be adapted to allow for more use of environmental archaeology. Another improvement that has been discussed is opening the field up to be more multidisciplinary, and recruiting environmental scientists to work with archaeologists and anthropologists to determine when humans adapt to the environment, but also when the environment was adapted to humans.[8]

A prominent figure in this field is Karl Butzer, who has contributed to 275 papers and 15 books on environmental archaeology and related fields. [9] Many universities teach the subject as a standard course component and also as a separate degree. One leading university in this field is Royal Holloway University of London where the discipline is taught as part of an Environmental Archaeology degree.

See also

External links

  • Association for Environmental Archaeology
  • Royal Holloway Geography Undergraduate Programme


  1. ^ Environmental Archaeology
  2. ^ a b Guido, M. , Menozzi, B. , Bellini, C. , Placereani, S. , & Montanari, C. (2013). A palynological contribution to the environmental archaeology of a mediterranean mountain wetland (north west apennines, italy). Holocene, 23(11), 1517-1527.
  3. ^ Branch et al. 2005. Environmental Archaeology: Theoretical and Practical Approaches. Hodder Arnold education.
  4. ^ Archaeobotany
  5. ^ Zooarchaeology
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Archaeopedology
  7. ^ Butzer, K.W. (2012). Collapse, environment, and society. "PNAS, 109"(10), 3632-3639. doi:10.1073/pnas.1114845109.
  8. ^ Zong, Y. , Chen, Z. , & Yu, Z. (2012). Multidisciplinary studies in environmental archaeology with particular reference to china: An introduction to the special issue. The Holocene, 22(6), 609-611.
  9. ^ UT Department of Geography and the Environment [1]
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