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Archaeology in the age of the Anthropocene: A critical assessment of its scope and societal contributions


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Recent decades have witnessed heightened public and governmental awareness of the nature and scale of environmental challenges likely to face the planet over the course of the next fifty to one hundred years. Scholars from across a broad range of disciplines have been drawn into these debates and have begun to reorient their research towards finding solutions to some of the most pressing problems and to devising more sustainable and resilient livelihoods. Archaeologists, with their conventional orientation toward past events and processes have been rather slower to engage with these issues. Recently, however, there has been a steady shift within the discipline so as to incorporate more future-oriented perspectives, and 'the use of the past to plan for a better future' is rapidly becoming a common theme within archaeological research projects and publications. While welcoming some of these developments, this paper offers a critical assessment of the various claims that are now being made of archaeology's potential to help overcome current environmental challenges and its contributions to defining and understanding 'the Anthropocene.'
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Archaeology in the age of the Anthropocene:
A critical assessment of its scope and societal
Paul J. Lane
Department of Archaeology & Ancient History, Uppsala University,
School of Geography, Archaeology and
Environmental Science, Witwatersrand University
Recent decades have witnessed heightened public and governmental awareness of the nature and scale
of environmental challenges likely to face the planet over the course of the next fifty to one hundred years.
Scholars from across a broad range of disciplines have been drawn into these debates and have begun to
reorient their research towards finding solutions to some of the most pressing problems and to devising
more sustainable and resilient livelihoods. Archaeologists, with their conventional orientation toward past
events and processes have been rather slower to engage with these issues. Recently, however, there
has been a steady shift within the discipline so as to incorporate more future-oriented perspectives, and
‘the use of the past to plan for a better future’ is rapidly becoming a common theme within archaeological
research projects and publications. While welcoming some of these developments, this paper offers a criti-
cal assessment of the various claims that are now being made of archaeology’s potential to help overcome
current environmental challenges and its contributions to defining and understanding ‘the Anthropocene.’
Keywords: Anthropocene, climate change archaeology, East Africa, historical ecology
‘The Anthropocene is not just an era of anthropo-
genic change’ (Ogden et al. 2013: 345).
We live in an era of heightened environmental
awareness. Terms such as ‘global warming,’ ‘green-
house gasses,’ ‘carbon foot-prints’ and ‘climate
change’ have entered the public sphere and our
everyday lexicons; their effects and causes are
debated by our politicians and hotly contested in
the blogosphere. Anxieties over environmental cata-
strophe have displaced the fear of a nuclear winter
that circulated during the years of the Cold War.
Dystopian visions increasingly dominate the enter-
tainment industry’s imaginings of the future, and
we are all encouraged on a daily basis to recycle,
down-scale, be green and think globally while
acting locally. That this last notion was first popular-
ized over four decades ago has inevitably prompted
many to argue that all this hand wringing is too
little too late—the future of our species on this
planet is bleak.
Recent extreme weather events serve to heighten
such concerns—such as those that in early 2014 left
one side of the United States coping with Arctic tem-
peratures and paralyzed under feet of snow, while the
farming industry on the other side of the continent
was struggling to deal with an acute shortage of
water for livestock and irrigation. Or those, also in
early 2014, that left up to a quarter of England and
Wales inundated by flood waters for weeks, and in
some areas months, at a time. In response to such
events, our political leaders are often blamed for
their lack of foresight and environmental planning
while they are simultaneously exhorted to act as if
they, unlike King Canute, have the power to control
the elements. Individual members of the public are
likewise on the one hand castigated for their environ-
mental foolishness, as evinced by their apparent
addiction to unbridled consumerism, while they are
also praised for their fortitude, public minded actions
and ‘natural’ instinct toward selfless acts of generos-
ity following major ‘environmental disasters,’
especially those that impact parts of the Global
South—such as the typhoons that flattened parts of
the Philippines in 2013, or the extended drought
across eastern and north-eastern Africa during
2010–11 that devastated livestock herds and pastoral-
ist communities.
Taking a broader view, the heightened environ-
mental concerns of our age, and the cumulative
Correspondence to: Paul J. Lane, Department of Archaeology & Ancient
History, Uppsala University, Box 626, 751 26 Uppsala, Sweden. Email:
ßTrustees of Boston University 2015
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DOI 10.1179/2042458215Y.0000000022 Journal of Field Archaeology 2015 VOL.00 NO.00 1
events that triggered them, are seen by many in the
scientific community as attributable to, or at least
symptomatic of, the commencement of a new geo-
logical epoch—the Anthropocene (Dryzek 2013;
Ellis and Trachtenberg 2014; Wapner 2014), identifi-
able through distinct stratigraphic indicators includ-
ing marked increases in percentages of atmospheric
carbon dioxide and methane as recorded in polar
ice cores alongside broadly coeval changes in biologi-
cal assemblages. More recent work (e.g., Waters et al.
2014), has expanded the number of additional poten-
tial stratigraphic markers to include, among others,
certain types of anthropogenic soils, the intensifica-
tion of processes of anthroturbation, changes in
reef system ecological functioning and signals, the
globalization of biological transfers, and the radio-
genic fallout from testing nuclear weapons. As
awareness of the concept has grown, and as public
and political concern over the future of our planet
has stimulated an upscaling in the amount of
research funding available for studying the causes,
drivers and consequences of climate change, archae-
ologists have been increasingly drawn into debates
over the concept of an Anthropocene and wider
human-nature interactions (e.g., Solli 2011; Edge-
worth 2014). Of course, climate change research in
archaeology is not a new field—there is a long tra-
dition of archaeologists exploring human-environ-
ment relationships from different theoretical
perspectives and through the study and analysis of
a broad range of material, biological and geochem-
ical proxies (for reviews of this intellectual history,
see e.g., Sandweiss and Kelley 2012; Davies and
M’Mbogori 2013; Van de Noort 2013: 19–43). How-
ever, what has changed over the last decade is that
this tradition of research is now frequently mobilized
in support of the argument that archaeologists have a
central role to play in addressing the challenges
posed by future climate change (see e.g., Hudson
et al. 2012), rather than solely offering backward-
looking perspectives on past climate cycles and
human responses and contributions to earlier
phases of environmental change. Thus, Marcy Rock-
man (2012: 194), while acknowledging that ‘‘archae-
ology cannot provide all the answers,’’ has argued:
‘Without the data, information, ideas and interpret-
ations that the field of archaeology can provide,
there is much less of a chance of developing appro-
priate, workable, and durable means of addressing
mitigation and adaptation issues.’’
Robert van der Noort (2011: 1046) has put this more
‘By offering long-term perspectives on human inter-
relationships with climate change, archaeology is
well placed to enhance an understanding of the
socio-ecological resilience of communities and
their adaptive capacity. This would appear to be
archaeology’s chief contribution to the climate
change debate.’
The logical extension of such arguments is that
archaeological data, as repository of adaptive path-
ways, when set within long-term perspectives, offer
insights into how past societies responded to earlier
phases of climate change, and so have the potential
to help build the social resilience of contemporary
communities in the face of rapid climate change
(e.g., Guttmann-Bond 2010; Brown et al. 2011; Van
der Noort 2013). The growing use of archaeological
data as environmental proxies by climate change
researchers also signals this increased prominence
of archaeology in current climate change discourse
(for discussions of this trend see Sandweiss and
Kelley 2012; Brooke 2014).
Welcome though such developments are, there
remain several underpinning assumptions and unexa-
mined philosophical questions that need to be
addressed before archaeologists can claim that their
research on past human-environment interactions,
the historical ecology of ancient landscapes, and the
resilience of past societies can provide actual sol-
utions to the environmental challenges of our time.
In what follows I explore these with reference to
the concept of the Anthropocene and especially
debates over its origins. My perspective is that of
someone specializing in the later Holocene archaeol-
ogy of Africa and with interests in landscape histori-
cal ecology and the production of useable pasts
aimed at addressing contemporary societal challenges
(Lane 2010, 2011). I argue in particular, that while it
is important that archaeologists explore the potential
contributions their knowledge and data sets may
have toward addressing current and predicted
future environmental challenges, it remains reason-
able to ask: ‘Just how much contemporary public
good can such a deep-time perspective provide?’’
Put another way, some of the claims that some
archaeologists have made in recent years that our dis-
cipline can help us navigate the hazards of the
Anthropocene—whether this is in terms of providing
evidence of the resilience of many non-Western
societies or on past responses to climate change,
need to be substantiated rather than simply asserted.
The Anthropocene
The notion of ‘the Anthropocene’ was introduced to
the scholarly community in its current guise in 2000,
by the Nobel-prize winning atmospheric chemist Paul
Crutzen and the ecologist Eugene Stoermer (Crutzen
and Stoermer 2000; Crutzen 2002). Their coining of
this term was intended to convey the idea that the
environmental impacts of human activities since the
Industrial Revolution no longer have consequences
Lane Archaeology in the age of the Anthropocene
2Journal of Field Archaeology 2015 VOL.00 NO.00
solely at the local or regional scale, but do so at a
global scale. In this sense, human activities, collec-
tively, are now equivalent to those of geological pro-
cesses, and for proponents of the concept of an
Anthropocene, the term suggests that the Earth is
moving, or has already moved, out of the current
geological epoch, the Holocene, into a new one. Cri-
tically, advocates in favor of this argument also
believe that unlike any other point in Earth’s history,
it is the cumulative effects of human activity that is
triggering this exit from the Holocene. In other
words, humanity has become a global geological
force in its own right (Steffen et al. 2007: 614).
Crutzen and Stoermer (2000) acknowledged that
humans have long shaped their environments and
that their activities have had environmental conse-
quences. They noted that over the entire course of
the Holocene there is evidence indicating increasing
levels of human influence, including diverse biotic
and sedimentary signals, such as pollen of weeds
and cultivars following land clearance for agricul-
ture, and sediment pulses from deforested regions.
They also recognized that atmospheric lead pollution
arising from human activities begins to be registered
in polar ice cores and in sediments around the world
from Greco-Roman times onward. Nonetheless, they
saw the commencement of the Industrial Revolution
around A.D. 1750 as initiating a step change in terms
of the scale of such impacts. Subsequently, with Will
Steffen and John McNeill, Crutzen extended these
arguments with reference to a larger body of indices
and proxies (Steffen et al. 2007), to argue that since
A.D. 1800 there had been two broad stages to the
Anthropocene. These comprised an initial stage,
which they termed ‘The Industrial era,’ lasting to
ca. A.D. 1945, characterized by a dramatic and
increasingly global rise in the burning of fossil fuels
and associated production of greenhouse gases com-
pared with all pre-Industrial Revolution epochs, and
a more recent ongoing phase, which they termed ‘The
Great Acceleration,’ commencing after the end of
World War II up to the present day characterized
by the almost exponential acceleration of ‘the
human enterprise’ across the globe.
As evidence for these stages, they cited a wide
selection of different proxies, of which changes in
atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO
) concentrations
were considered to be the most significant bench-
mark. Based on available data, global carbon dioxide
atmospheric concentrations are over a third higher
than in pre-industrial times, and higher than they
have ever been at any time in the past 0.8 million
years, as are those of methane and nitrous oxide
(IPCC 2014: SYR-9). In 1850, CO
were still within the range recorded for interglacial
periods during the late Quaternary at around
285 ppm. By the end of the ‘Industrial Era’ stage
they had risen by around 25 ppm, beyond any
recorded upper limits of ‘natural variation,’ and by
2005 had reached 379 ppm (Steffen et al. 2007:
616). If human population growth, agriculture and
industrial activities continue to accelerate at more
or less the same pace as witnessed since 1945, the
concentration of global greenhouse gases (GHGs)
are predicted to double by the end of the twenty-
first century (IPCC 2014: SYR-9-11).
Compared with GHGs, the rise in global tempera-
ture has been slower, possibly as a result of the
effects of industrially derived sulphate aerosols—the
so-called ‘global dimming’’ effect. Nonetheless,
owing to anthropogenic carbon emissions, tempera-
tures in the past 120 years rose by an estimated aver-
age of 0.85u
C and the rate of increase has accelerated
in the past two decades. In some predictions, mean
average temperatures are expected to rise by
around between 3.0u
and 4.0u
C by the end of this
century (Sherwood et al. 2014). Even modest tem-
perature rises are expected to accelerate ice loss in
the Arctic and Antarctic and increase ocean heat
content, leading to sea-level rise, accentuating the
documented rise in global mean sea level (GMSL)
since the 1860s of around 250 mm (Church
and White 2006), with some scholars suggesting
that this could result in an overall rise in GMSL in
excess of one meter by 2100, potentially resulting in
forced displacement of over 185 million people
(Nicholls et al. 2011). Additionally, relative to pre-
Industrial Revolution oceans, surface ocean
waters are now more acidic by a factor of 0.1 pH
units, due to anthropogenic carbon release, and the
projected effects of future acidification will be
both physical and biological, thereby hindering
carbonate-secreting organisms in building their
skeletons, with potentially severe effects in
both benthic (especially coral reef) and planktonic
For proponents of the Anthropocene, it is recent
changes in the scale and intensity of a host of
human activities that have been the likely drivers of
these changes, which in turn have triggered a wide
range of environmental consequences from depletion
of fisheries to falling aquifers, increased soil erosion,
ecosystem fragmentation and biodiversity loss (e.g.,
Steffen et al. 2007; Rockstro¨m et al. 2009; Ellis
et al. 2010; Hughes et al. 2013). Where debate
remains is often over which sedimentary marker, or
markers, provide the best ‘‘isochronous datum’
indicative of ‘a critical change in the sedimentary
sequence (golden spike)’’ that is also sufficiently uni-
versal that it ‘can be considered the boundary
between two epochs (i.e., the Holocene and the
Anthropocene)’ (Rull 2013: 1198). As Rull (2013)
Lane Archaeology in the age of the Anthropocene
Journal of Field Archaeology 2015 VOL.00 NO.00 3
notes, while agreement on this point is likely essential
for formal recognition of the Anthropocene by the
International Commission of Stratigraphy (ICS)
and its Anthropocene Working Group, the work
done by more informal manifestations of the concept
is likely to be far more important.
In this regard, it is important to note that concepts
similar to that of the Anthropocene have been pro-
posed by previous generations of scholars at times
when public concerns over the future of the planet
and our species were much less heightened than
they are today. In 1778, for example, the French nat-
uralist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon
(1707-1788), observed in his book E
´poques de la
nature, that ‘the entire face of the Earth now bears
the imprint of man’s power’’ (cited in Locher and
Fressoz 2012: 579). A century later, the Italian
Roman Catholic priest and geologist Antonio Stop-
pani similarly acknowledged the increasing influence
of humanity on Earth systems when he used the term
‘Anthropozoic’ in his 1873 Corso di Geologia
(Crutzen 2000). In the 1920s and 1930s, the French
philosopher, geologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teil-
hard de Chadrin and the Russian mineralogist and
naturalist Vladimir I. Vernadsky favoured the term
‘Noosphere.’ Later in the twentieth century, E.O.
Wilson used the ‘Eremozoic’ and Andrew Revkin
that of the ‘Anthrocene’—both proposed in 1992—
to convey many of the same ideas encapsulated by
Crutzen’s notion of an Anthropocene (Steffen et al.
2011: 843–5). As a scientific idea, the concept of an
age when humanity, through collective and cumulat-
ive actions, has the power to drive Earth system pro-
cesses is thus far less revolutionary than the coining
of the term ‘Anthropocene’ might suggest (see also
Sayre 2012; Castree 2014).
Likewise, some of the philosophical debates that
have been prompted by the popularization of the
concept of the Anthropocene also have a distin-
guished ancestry. John Stuart Mill, for example, in
his 1874 essay On Nature was particularly critical
of the doctrine ‘follow nature’ on the grounds that:
‘If nature encompasses everything that exists in the
natural world and all the laws that govern it, then
‘follow nature’ is vacuous because it tells us to do
something we have no way of not doing ... On the
other hand, if ‘follow nature’ ... means something
akin to ... ‘let nature take its course’’ independent
of our intervention, then ... we have a moral injunc-
tion utterly unworthy of our support’ (Hourdequin
2013: 116).
Mill’s position finds its modern-day expression in, on
the one hand, the public’s exhortations for their poli-
ticians to do something about the floods, the
drought, the snowstorms, coastal erosion and the
like, while on the other hand being equally vociferous
about the need to protect ‘nature’ where it is believed
to still survive in a ‘pristine’ state and to restore habi-
tats to their ‘natural’ state where it is believed they
have been damaged by humanity. Concerned as we
may be about the consequences of climate change,
few of us would feel comfortable if we did let
‘nature’ completely overwhelm our dwelling spaces,
yet we also mourn ‘nature’s loss’ each time news
reaches us that yet that another species facing extinc-
tion has been placed on the IUCN’s Red List. Being
in the Anthropocene, in other words, raises some
profound moral and ethical questions for us as citi-
zens. It also requires scholars who claim that their
research activities can help address today’s global
environmental challenges also engage with these
more philosophical dimensions of the Anthropocene
discourse. As Hourdequin (2013: 116) notes:
‘Debate over the Anthropocene can be separated
into two distinct questions. First, is it true that
humans are the key drivers of biological, geological,
and chemical processes on Earth? And second, if the
answer to the first question is affirmative, [and the
weight of scientific evidence suggests that this is so]
then what should we do about it?’
Hourdequin argues that the second question is more
salient from an ethical perspective, although deter-
mining a suitable response depends to a considerable
extent on how the first is answered. Put another way,
as ‘an emergent narrative in global environmental
politics,’ the Anthropocene concept requires us to
‘reimagine how humans make connections between
planetary and everyday life in ethical, sustainable,
and ecologically just ways’’ (Houston 2013: 440).
Anthropocene Archaeology
Of the various recent archaeological considerations
of archaeology in the age of the Anthropocene,
most critical engagements with the concept have con-
cerned themselves with Hourdequin’s (2013) first
question, rather than the second. In this, they have
largely been following the lead of the environmental
scientist William Ruddiman (2003), who was among
the first group of scholars to propose a counter-thesis
to that of Crutzen and Stoermer, citing evidence that
important anthropogenic effects on the environment
and on global climate began thousands of years
ago and were already extensive well before the start
of the industrial era. Among other arguments, Rud-
diman has pointed out that the observational records
and related data sets on which Crutzen and Stoermer
developed their case, were spatially incomplete and
do not reflect the actual distribution or extent of
human activities even at the start of the Industrial
Revolution. More recently, Ruddiman (2013) has
questioned whether the size of population is a good
Lane Archaeology in the age of the Anthropocene
4Journal of Field Archaeology 2015 VOL.00 NO.00
proxy indicator of the amount of cultivated land and
deforestation (both implicated in the increase in
GHGs), and that linked increases in population and
land-use change have grown in an exponential uni-
directional manner. Neither assumption, he argues,
is consistent with available historical evidence. Draw-
ing on historical studies of dynastic administrative
records concerning land-use trends during the past
2,000 years across the entire agricultural area of
east-central China, for example, Ruddiman (2013:
51) notes that whereas the per-capita area cultivated
nearly 2,000 years ago was 0.6–0.7 hectares per
person it had fallen to 0.15–0.2 hectares by the
1800s. Similarly, in contrast to the claims made
by those in favor of a relatively recent origin of
the Anthropocene, once evidence from historical,
palaeoecological and archaeological is taken
into account it is quite possible that as much as
three-quarters of the world’s forest had been felled
by the start of the industrial era (Ruddiman 2013:
Historical data from Europe, in particular, reveal
more extensive early clearance than reconstructed
by Crutzen and Stoermer. Specifically, here, forest
clearance seems to have been widespread at a rela-
tively early date when population densities were
still quite low, and well before even the Medieval
era. Consequently, even though there have been
marked increases in population across Europe over
the last few thousand years, these had limited effects
on deforestation, and the available evidence even
suggests that, as in China, per-capita clearance may
well have fallen over the last 2,000 years by a
factor of three to four (Kaplan et al. 2009). In a simi-
lar vein, Dorian Fuller and colleagues (2011) have
argued that the rapid expansion of irrigated rice agri-
culture in Asia between 5,000 and 1,000 years ago, as
with the spread of herding regimes and domestic live-
stock across Asia and Africa, led to a significant
increase in global methane emissions globally.
Other recent archaeological contributions to this
debate make rather similar points concerning the
long history of global-scale human impacts on the
environment. Leaving aside the question as to
whether the ICS, who actually determine how and
whether geological epochs can be named by scientists
agree to formally recognize the Anthropocene as a
new geological epoch (something they will not
decide upon until 2016), opinion also seems to be
shifting toward a two-phase definition of the Anthro-
pocene. Namely, an early phase that began several
thousands of years ago, although opinion differs on
exactly how long ago (compare, for instance, Olofs-
son and Hickler 2008; Certini and Scalenghe 2011;
Ellis et al. 2013; Smith and Zeder 2013), initially at
a fairly small scale but with impacts becoming far
more significant by the start of the industrial era;
and, a later, very rapid phase of accelerating and
widespread impacts from ca. A.D. 1750 (Ruddiman
To date, archaeology’s contribution, while valu-
able, has been largely constrained to the task of
better defining when humans began influencing
their environments, the nature of these changes
(which may not always have had negative impacts),
their spatial and temporal scale and their socio-ecological
legacies. This is certainly important and much
needed work—we know little about these issues for
many parts of the globe and for numerous time periods
(Kintigh et al. 2014; Seddon et al. 2014). However, a
common thread in such arguments is the emphasis they
place on the need to disentangle natural from human pro-
cesses. While certainly valuable from a heuristic perspec-
tive so as to determine the relative weight of different
factors as drivers of change and stability at particular
moments in the past, the conceptual prioritizing of this
need ultimately reinforces a tacit epistemological com-
mitment to evaluating ecological relationships explicitly
withregardtoanaprioribaseline. As Nathan Sayre
(2012: 61) notes, this belief in ‘a pristine, original
nature untouched by humans’’ verges on the ideological
among many environmentalists and ecologists, since
without such a baseline ‘how is one to define the environ-
ment to be protected or preserved?’’ From such a perspec-
tive the challenge becomes, as so aptly illustrated by the
divergent opinions on when, if at all, the Anthropocene
began, determining which point in time can be said to
qualify as a ‘pre-human impact’ baseline.
To circumvent such dualistic thinking it is important
that greater intellectual space is created for a consider-
ation of the mutual, co-construction and production
of the world through the ever accumulating processes
of human-thing entanglement (Hodder 2011). Likewise,
there needs to be more overt recognition that ‘environ-
ment’ must be understood partly as a social and political
category that emerges from intimate engagements with
its physical realities (Tvedt 2010; Angelo 2013);
consideration of the materiality of things in and of the
world and the manner in which these shape such inti-
mate relationships (Olsen 2010); and acknowledgement
of the agency of non-human entities (Strang 2014), and
the ‘more-than-human’ dimensions of human-animal
encounters (Cassidy 2012; Wilkie 2015). In short, what
much of the science-driven debates on the Anthropo-
cene lack is recognition of the potential contributions
of the post-humanism turn across the social sciences
and humanities of the last few decades, which has chal-
lenged the privileged place of the modern humansubject
and sought to animate these disciplines by including
those affects, emotions and sensibilities previously
excluded from the narrow remit of Enlightenment
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Journal of Field Archaeology 2015 VOL.00 NO.00 5
Archaeology of the Anthropocene
Aside from pointing to evidence in support of a deep
history to the Anthropocence, the potential threats to
livelihoods, food security, and patterns of human
settlement posed by accelerating climate change and
the anticipated disruption to current social, economic
and political orders this may trigger, have encouraged
scrutiny of the implications that commencement of the
Anthropocene may have for humanity’s tangible and
intangible heritage. For some (e.g., Murphy et al.
2009; Sabbioni et al. 2010; Barthel-Bouchier 2012),
the issues of concern are how best to protect archaeo-
logical sites, monuments, deposits, material remains
and other components of the built environment from
the threats climate change may pose to their long-
term future. For others, the impacts of
climate change may manifest themselves in a far
‘more fundamental, almost existential’’ manner by
changing how heritage is conceptualized and how
‘scientific narratives about the past’’ are produced
(Solli 2011: 42).
Aspects of these ideas have also been explored in a
recent set of short essays (Edgeworth 2014) outlining
alternative archaeological approaches to the Anthro-
pocene. Adopting a more critical perspective on the
value of creating a new age to add to all the other
‘ages’ that impose boundaries on archaeological
interpretation and compartmentalize the way our dis-
cipline approaches its study of the past, most of the
contributors still accept the underlying premise that
humanity now lives in the Anthropocene. However,
unlike those archaeologists who have sought to illus-
trate the deep-time history of human environmental
impacts on Earth systems, several of these authors
explore in different ways the ‘archaeology’ (in the
Foucauldian sense, although with a greater emphasis
on materiality) of the Anthropocene as a concept.
Others are more concerned with ‘Anthropocene
archaeology,’ i.e. the distinctive material traces of
this epoch and their referents at both a planetary
(e.g., Benjamin 2014; Zarankin and Salerno 2014)
and extra-planetary (Gorman 2014) scale. Most of
these contributors associate ‘the Anthropocene’
with modernity, although some view the concept as
little more than an over-determined slogan (Clarke
2014: 101). Individually and collectively, these
papers work to complicate the idea of the/an Anthro-
pocene. In particular, they underscore the fact that
whether we live in a new geological epoch or not,
and however we choose to define such a time,
humans have always been entangled with their
material environments. In this sense, the concept of
the Anthropocene, precisely because it subverts
older nature/culture binaries, could be said to be ide-
ally suited to describing the entire course of human
history and our evolution as a species.
Nonetheless, as already alluded to, discussions in
the wider Anthropocene discourse of human manip-
ulations of the environment still tend to reproduce
the Enlightenment idea that human action inherently
acts against nature and so degrades it (see Escobar
1999). This is particularly clear from the emerging
conceptualization of fire as ‘the essential evolution-
ary trigger for the Anthropocene’’ (Malm and Horn-
borg 2014: 63). Thus, according to Michael Raupach
and Josep Canadell (2010: 210–211), ‘‘long before the
industrial era, a particular primate species learned
how to tap the energy reserves stored in detrital
carbon,’ while for Steffen and colleagues (2007:
614), ‘the mastery of fire by our ancestors provided
humankind with a powerful monopolistic tool una-
vailable to other species, that put us firmly on the
long path towards the Anthropocene.’ In their com-
mentary on such observations Andreas Malm and
Alf Hornborg (2014) note that there is more than a
hint of inevitability in such statements, as if the
growth of a fossil-fuel economy was determined in
the Early Stone Age in Africa when Homo Erectus
learned to make and control fire—determined no
doubt by their ‘natural’ human curiosity and propin-
quity for invention driven in turn by external evol-
utionary pressures. Yet, as they point out, our
reliance on the fossil fuels which have driven the
increase in GHGs and the climate changes that
have accompanied this, has a specific history allied
to the activities of a very narrow social and economic
class of British, other European and North American
industrialists and entrepreneurs in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries, whose control over the means
of production and economic power owed much to
the profits reaped from participation in the Trans-
Atlantic slave trade and the exploitation of Europe’s
urban and rural poor. Zoe Crossland (2014: 125)
similarly recognizes this, remarking that:
‘The Anthropocene is a political project as much as
a scientific one, and to embed its origins in the long
history of the Holocene is to spread genesis, and the
responsibility for it, across many different human
Indeed, as anthropologists and political ecologists
have long pointed out, resource management is
based on diverse social, political and cultural fea-
tures, differing societal and individual perceptions
of and physical engagements with the bio-physical
world, the choices made by different interest groups
and individuals, and their differential power to do
so. However, many of the processes of environmental
change that are summarized by the concept
‘The Anthropocene’’ are not readily observable by
the human senses. They act at spatial and temporal
scales that are too big or too minute to fall within
the range of human perception. Other than for
Lane Archaeology in the age of the Anthropocene
6Journal of Field Archaeology 2015 VOL.00 NO.00
specialists in earth system processes and atmospheric
chemistry, the concept accomplishes little more than
an epistemic distancing—as global processes they
lose the very properties the concept is intended to
emphasize, namely their association with human
actions. Erik Swyngedouw (2011) is likewise critical
of the manner in which the discourse surrounding cli-
mate change works to de-politicize the issues
involved, despite all of the political rhetoric and
grandstanding that claims otherwise (Wynne 2010).
He argues, in particular, that as ‘‘the concept of
Nature [and the need to protect or restore it] becomes
ideology par excellence and functions ideologically ...
it forecloses thought, disavows the inherent slippery
[aspects] of the concept and ignores the multiplicities,
inconsistencies, and incoherencies inscribed in its
symbolization’ (Swyngedouw 2011: 258). Thus,
whereas humanity’s responsibility for triggering
increases in GHGs, species loss, the homogenization
of biodiversity and a host of other ‘environmental
ills,’ may well be recognized, by pushing the origins
of these human impacts increasingly further back in
time we effectively distance ourselves, i.e. Western
society and modernity, from culpability. Once we
recognize this, Malm and Hornborg (2014: 65)
‘the main paradox of the narrative, if not of the
concept as such, becomes visible: Climate change
is denaturalised in one moment relocated from
the sphere of natural causes to that of human
activities only to be re-naturalised in the next,
when derived from an innate human trait, such as
the ability to control fire. Not nature, but
human nature this ... is the Anthropocene displa-
Not Nature, but Human Practice
The visibility of the environmental costs that the
accumulated consequences of human activities have
left as a legacy for all of humanity today is, in
itself, a resource which is not evenly spread over
the human population of the Earth. Archaeology
has an important role in mapping the history of
these costs, to increase the visibility of such distribu-
tional injustice and draw attention to the need for
possible interventions. It is noteworthy, therefore,
that an interesting contrast can be drawn between
the kinds of globalizing discourse concerning the ori-
gins of the Anthropocene discussed above, and more
regional scale studies of long-term historical ecol-
ogies of specific landscapes. Many of the more effec-
tive studies have been those conducted in so-called
Lesser Developed Countries in the Global South,
where the need to demonstrate the social or public
good of academic research is often pronounced—
and certainly reinforced by the prevailing conditions
of poverty and environmental vulnerability encoun-
tered by researchers while in the field and the often
limited political power of the local communities
with whom they work. Thus, for example, several
archaeological projects in different parts of Latin
America have had a long tradition of applying
archaeological knowledge so as to help create, or
recreate, environmentally sustainable farming prac-
tices in a manner that also improves local livelihoods
(e.g., Erickson 1985; Beach and Dunning 1995;
Kendall 1997, 2005; Renard et al. 2011; Isendahl
et al. 2012), although some of these efforts have
not been without their critics (e.g., Swartley 2002).
In both Latin America and elsewhere, other projects
have drawn on archaeological results so as to inform
the restoration of particular habitats and to guide
wildlife conservation efforts (see Hayashida 2005,
and Wolverton and Lyman 2012, respectively, for
indicative examples).
To date, nothing precisely comparable to the kind
of rehabilitation of former agricultural practices
explicitly using archaeological datasets, as under-
taken in Bolivia and the Andes, has been attempted
in sub-Saharan Africa. This is despite several decades
of widespread positive valuation of Traditional Eco-
logical Knowledge (TEK) and ‘traditional’ farming
practices within the community of ‘development’
specialists (Stigter et al. 1995), and numerous efforts
to integrate such knowledge in the planning for sus-
tainable futures (e.g., Reij et al. 1996; Hart and Vor-
ster 2008; Pretty et al. 2011). Several recent and
ongoing projects, nonetheless, have sought to
employ a ‘deep time’ perspective on farming and
risk management strategies so as to help identify
the antecedents and possible drivers of current
environmental challenges. These tend to be more
place- and problem-focused, and are often oriented
toward deconstructing prevailing policy narratives
that have directed (some might argue misdirected)
environmental interventions at a local level for dec-
ades (e.g., French et al. 2009; Lane 2009; Sulas
2010). Other projects have sought to better delineate
which aspects of contemporary practices can be said
to genuinely contribute to socio-ecological and cul-
tural resilience (e.g., Sulas et al. 2009; Davies 2012),
while also offering critical perspectives on concepts
such as ‘Indigenous Knowledge’ and TEK, and
especially the ahistorical manner in which these con-
cepts are currently deployed in rural development
projects across the region (Stump 2010, 2013).
Although their specific focus has varied, a unifying
aspect to all of these studies has been their concern
as much with the limits of archaeological contri-
butions to the task of devising sustainable and resili-
ent agricultural practices today, as on what can be
learned by adopting a deep-time perspective and
Lane Archaeology in the age of the Anthropocene
Journal of Field Archaeology 2015 VOL.00 NO.00 7
how this knowledge might be applied at a local, com-
munity level.
Precisely how these archaeologically oriented pro-
jects will enhance livelihoods, reduce vulnerability,
and contribute to more resilient societies is uncertain
as in all the above cases the research and accompany-
ing community engagement are ongoing. Nonethe-
less, a specific example can help identify what
might accrue as benefits. This research is being
undertaken as part of a European Union Framework
Programme 7 Marie Curie Innovative Training Net-
work, entitled Resilience in East African Landscapes
(REAL The overall
project focus is on the temporal, spatial and social
dynamics of human-landscape interaction in East
Africa over the last millennium, with particular refer-
ence to Kenya and Tanzania. A core consideration is
on how societies, landscapes and ecosystems have
responded to climate change both currently and in
the past under different conditions, so as to better
understand how they may respond to future climate
change. It is intended that knowledge generated by
REAL can be used to support decision makers work-
ing in East Africa when they face critical issues of
rural and urban food production and food security.
Specifically, REAL aims to illustrate the interplay
between past human activity and natural climate
variability at different temporal and spatial scales,
while demonstrating the importance of considering
local perceptions, narratives, and experiences of cli-
mate change in the formulation of policy responses.
The key value of such data is that they can inform
us about how past human societies responded
under conditions of intensifying climate change to
(a) increased frequency and intensity of extreme cli-
matic change and (b) occurrence and spread of
hazards. They can also help determine whether
socio-economic vulnerability increased in response
to heightened, climate-induced risk, while also offer-
ing insights into why particular strategies, and not
others, were adopted.
One particular case concerns the historical ecology
of the Lake Baringo basin, Kenya (FIG. 1). Perhaps
best known among the wider archaeological commu-
nity as the locus of Ian Hodder’s (1982) early post-
processual ethnoarchaeological studies, and possibly
also as an emerging research landscape for the
study of hominin evolution (e.g., Kingston et al.
2007), the Lake Baringo basin is considered today
as being severely degraded owing to a combination
of climatic, environmental, governance, and socio-
economic factors. The apparent ‘malaise’ of this
environment has prompted numerous scientific
studies from across the environmental and social
sciences since the colonial era, and an almost equal
number of recommended solutions at both practical
and policy levels. Historical perspectives on these
suggest that their implementation, whether during
the colonial period or since independence, has only
rarely enhanced overall sustainability (Little 1992;
Anderson 2002).
Particular concern is currently voiced regarding the
accelerating rate of deforestation and accompanying
soil erosion as inferred from changes documented on
satellite imagery taken since the 1980s (Kiage et al.
2007); changes in the sediment load of rivers dischar-
ging into the lake and reduction in overall lake depth
over the last several decades (Lwenya and Yongo
2010); sub-catchment studies of soil erosion processes
and their spatial extent (e.g., Sutherland and Bryan
1990); and palaeoecological signals recovered from
lake-bed sediments and adjacent swamp cores
recording catchment vegetation and precipitation
regimes since ca. A.D. 1650 (Kiage and Liu 2009;
Degefa et al. in press). Among the consequences of
these land cover changes have been the loss of
good quality land for crop cultivation and livestock
herding, the deterioration of water quality, and the
creation of conditions favoring outbreaks of toxic
cyanobacteria (algal) blooms, all with obvious
knock-on impacts for local populations in terms of
public health, food security, quality of nutrition,
Figure 1 Location of the Baringo Basin and sites, places
and ethnic groups mentioned in the text. Figure prepared by
Nik Petek, with data provided by Aynalem Degefa, based on
Aster DEMs. ASTER GDEM is a product of METI and NASA.
Lane Archaeology in the age of the Anthropocene
8Journal of Field Archaeology 2015 VOL.00 NO.00
and household economies. Efforts to mitigate some
of these detrimental environmental problems have
created new challenges, especially the widespread
planting of Prosopis juliflora (a quick growing but
alien species) to combat soil erosion (Mwangi and
Swallow 2008). Coalescing around these ‘environmen-
tal problems’ are a set of related social, economic and
political issues, including recurrent inter-ethnic vio-
lence, disputes over access to land and resources, con-
flicting land uses, constraints on income and livelihood
diversification, power imbalances, and gendered
labour relations (e.g., Little 1985; Greiner et al. 2011;
Greiner 2013; Caretta and Bo¨ rjeson 2014).
What makes this current state of affairs particu-
larly poignant is that at the end of the nineteenth cen-
tury the Lake Baringo basin had abundant wildlife
populations, including sizeable herds of elephants
(Von Ho¨hnel 1894) and supported a mosaic of pas-
toralists, farmers and hunter-gatherers (Little 1992;
Anderson 2002: 23–47). These included relatively
large, sedentary, populations in the Il Chamus-domi-
nated settlements of Leabori and Lekeper at the
southern end of the lake associated with a productive
system of intensive irrigated agriculture (Anderson
1989). The surplus generated by this system helped
feed sizeable visiting trade caravans, at times num-
bering over one thousand individuals, drawn to the
area because of its important sources of ivory
(Ha˚kansson 2004). Pokot dominated the northern
and eastern sections of the basin, as they do today,
but from at least A.D. 1750 different sections had
developed dual economic specialisations, with those
occupying the western boundaries along the Cheran-
gani escarpment practicing intensive irrigated agri-
culture (Davies 2008, 2014) alongside their
Marakwet neighbours (Adams et al. 1997; Davies,
Kipruto and Moore 2014), whereas those occupying
territories to the east and north of Lake Baringo
engaged in specialised pastoralism (Bollig and O
2013). As argued by Davies (2008), this dual special-
isation may well have enhanced the resilience of
Pokot communities by offering alternative sources
of livelihood and subsistence that could be drawn
upon, through the mobilisation of kin relations and
the bonds created by livestock loans, especially at
times of environmental or political stress, such as
during the severe regional droughts that occurred
during the late eighteenth century (Bessems et al.
2008). Looked at more broadly, enabling social flux
seems to have been a common mechanism for
coping with disaster among Baringo’s different com-
munities during the late eighteenth century through
to the early twentieth century (e.g., Little 1988;
Bollig 1990), and in some settings, as among the
Marakwet, remains a key aspect of their social and
cultural resilience (O
¨stberg 2014: 210) (FIGS.2,3).
Figure 2 Marakwet Irrigation: A) A typical Marakwet irriga-
tion channel; B) Marakwet irrigated fields of maize, sor-
ghum, millet and other crops at the foot of the Cherangani
escarpment, Kenya. Photographs by Paul Lane, 2011.
Figure 3 Lowland Marakwet irrigation channel running
through wooded farmland near Tot, Kenya. Photograph by
Matthew Davies in 2011, reproduced with permission.
Lane Archaeology in the age of the Anthropocene
Journal of Field Archaeology 2015 VOL.00 NO.00 9
As noted above, detailed historical studies have
identified many of the drivers of change over the
course of the twentieth century that have contributed
to the current state of affairs. However, there is still
great uncertainty regarding how different food pro-
duction systems in the previous centuries were orga-
nized, the foodstuffs they produced, and why they
were capable of generating surpluses without detri-
mental effects on the basin’s ecosystem services.
Exchange networks likely provided one means to
reduce or at least offset ecological risk, but details
concerning these and the range of products that cir-
culated within and between systems are also poorly
documented. Equally uncertain is whether the kind
of material signalling of ethnic boundaries between
Tugen, Pokot and Il Chamus (Njemps) which in
the late twentieth century was related to economic
competition (Hodder 1982), was also a feature of
these earlier periods, or instead arose in response to
widespread landscape degradation. These and com-
parable questions are all amenable to being answered
through archaeological research of the kind being
conducted under the auspices of the REAL project
(Petek in press) (FIG. 4). The results will not directly
benefit local inhabitants. However, by identifying
the key components that moderated climate change
Figure 4 Traces of Il Chamus pastoralist biocultural heritage. Abandoned pastoralist settlements such as these have been
shown to enhance local biodiversity and survive for decades, perhaps longer, in the landscape. A) Settlement as occupied in
1950 and visible on an aerial photograph; B) The same settlement after abandonment, as visible on Google Earth ein 2014;
C) As seen when photographed using a camera attached to a drone, November 2014; D) Surviving traces of house walls and
hearth on the ground, November 2014. Figure 4a based on DOS Aerial Photos KENYA 82D / 138 / 2 photo no. 5230, repro-
duced with permission of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, all other images provided by Nik Petek and reproduced
with permission.
Lane Archaeology in the age of the Anthropocene
10 Journal of Field Archaeology 2015 VOL.00 NO.00
vulnerability and sustained food production in the
past, and by documenting how their earlier inte-
gration has been steadily disaggregated by different
drivers, it should at least be possible to establish
which components might be viably revived or
enhanced with beneficial effects under different
socio-ecological scenarios. As critically, the very act
of drawing attention to past accomplishments and
successful human-environment interactions necess-
arily becomes a political act in a landscape that has
been characterized for so long as degraded. The tan-
gible heritage of successful adaptations and the
knowledge systems associated with it, however
modest this might be in comparison to those of
‘grand civilizations’, are in themselves importance
resources worth protecting, and, increasing public
awareness of them such as through innovative uses
of social media (see Davies et al. 2014a) can contrib-
ute to a greater sense of ontological wellbeing and
cultural resilience. Alongside more ‘practical’
measures, these social values have a critical role to
play in any society at a time of intensifying environ-
mental pressure of the kind the world is now facing
(Adger et al. 2013).
Writing from the perspective of their own experi-
ences, Rockman (2012) and Van der Noort (2013)
have argued that archaeologists may always have to
struggle with the perception that their work is largely
irrelevant, at a policy level, for dealing with future
climate change. Both also argue that, nonetheless,
archaeology has much to contribute if directed
more modestly at addressing specific practical chal-
lenges. In line with these sentiments, in this paper I
have argued that archaeologists hoping their work
will help mitigate some of the hazards of the Anthro-
pocene need to engage more fully with the insights
offered not just by climate science but also those of
political and historical ecology. A logical extension
of this argument is the question of environmental jus-
tice, of how the results of environmental and climatic
change became differently distributed over the
human populations of the world and which commu-
nities have carried the burden of the ‘‘ecological foot-
prints’ of commodity consumption. Archaeologists
are well versed in exploring how social and economic
differences articulate with power, and how these
influence control over and access to economic
resources. Yet, in most of the recent archaeological
discussions of the Anthropocene as both concept
and reality, such issues are almost entirely absent.
Curiously, there seems to be little interest in whose
subsistence opportunities were most at risk in the
past when temperatures or sea-levels rose and rainfall
declined, whose livelihoods became most vulnerable
or were most affected by increased pollution triggered
by changes to agricultural and industrial production,
patterns of waste disposal or the spread of different
disease-bearing vectors in response to the changing
contours of local and regional climatic conditions.
To my mind, a climate change archaeology devoid
of such considerations, that examines changes in
pollen concentrations and the nature of the sedimen-
tary record without a consideration of whose lives
these changes impacted; that evokes climatic stress
without considering differential patterns of consump-
tion or access to resources; that identifies resilience
cycles, and phases of exploitation, collapse and
re-structuring without a consideration of relations
of social power and authority in these processes,
however valuable towards enhancing understanding
of the past, does little to advance our understanding
of how archaeological studies might make the lives of
ordinary people today any better, or help safeguard
the future of the planet.
I firmly believe that archaeology has an essential
role to play in climate change research in the 21st
century—and that it has already made very valuable
contributions to scholarly understanding of past cli-
matic sequences, their social-ecological effects, and
the differential human contributions and responses
that entailed. I am not, therefore, trying to single
out the work of particular scholars as examples of
bad science, but simply wish to caution against
making exaggerated claims that our backward look-
ing curiosity really can help us navigate the hazards
of the Anthropocene. A little less hubris seems
called for, and in conducting our research we need
to remind ourselves that people die when their
crops fail for yet another year running and when
their emaciated livestock can no longer find pasture;
when their houses are struck by tidal waves, cyclones
and mudslides. They die from air-borne and water-
borne pollutants, and when poisonous fertilizers
enter the food chain. They also die unnecessarily
when resources which should have been made avail-
able to assist them during a period of environmental
catastrophe or public health crisis are slow in coming
or are redirected elsewhere to line someone’s pocket.
No archaeological study on its own, however elegant,
can change that.
A previous version of this paper was presented at the
Stanford Archaeology Center, Stanford University in
March 2014, as part of its Distinguished Lecture
Series. I am especially grateful to Professor Lynn
Meskell for the invitation and to The Morgan
Family Foundation for enabling my visit. I would
also like to thank members of the audience on that
occasion for their comments and questions, and
Lane Archaeology in the age of the Anthropocene
Journal of Field Archaeology 2015 VOL.00 NO.00 11
Christian Isendahl, Kevin Walsh and three anon-
ymous referees for their comments on a previous
draft. Thanks are also due to Nik Petek for sharing
Figure 4, and for his work, with Aynalem Degefa
on preparing Figure 1, and Matt Davies for per-
mission to reproduce Figure 2. Aspects of the work
reported here have been funded under the European
Union FP7 programme, as part of the Resilience in
East African Landscapes Marie Curie ITN (FP7-
PEOPLE-2013-ITN project no. 606879). I accept
full responsibility for any remaining shortcomings.
Paul Lane (Ph.D. 1986, University of Cambridge) is
Professor of Global Archaeology at Uppsala Univer-
sity. An archaeologist with over twenty-five years’
research experience in Africa, his main interests are
in the historical ecology of African landscapes, the
archaeology of colonial encounters, the materialization
of memory, the organization and use of space and time
in pre-industrial societies, maritime archaeology and
the transition to farming in Africa. A former Director
of the British Institute in Eastern Africa (1998-2006)
and President of the Society of Africanist Archaeolo-
gists (2008-10), he currently coordinates the Marie
Curie-Skłodowska Resilience in East African Land-
scapes Innovative Training Network, and is an Honor-
ary Research Fellow in the School of Geography,
Archaeology and Environmental Studies, Witwaters-
rand University, South Africa.
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... Unsurprisingly, research continues to show the negative emotions associated with people's (including children's) perceptions about the future (see Martin et al. 2021;Samji et al. 2021). To archaeologists, this list of problems has echoes of the past as human society has faced similar challenges (though not necessarily not all at once) throughout our history on the planet, including climate change, ecological disturbances, and more (Boivin and Crowther 2021;Braje 2015;Ellis et al. 2021;Lane 2015;Rick and Sandweiss 2020;Sabloff 2008). ...
... What does coastal archaeology for a changing planet look like? Archaeologists can and should pursue the big challenges of our time, including applications to climate change and links to social justice Douglass and Cooper 2020;Kohler and Rockman 2020;Lane 2015;Rivera-Collazo 2022). We should continue to work in transdisciplinary teams and publish outside of archaeology; participate in biological, ecological, interdisciplinary and other conferences; contribute to international consortia such as the IPCC; host workshops with colleagues from across the social and biological sciences; make policy and management recommendations, and the list goes on and on. ...
... We have been through a global pandemic and continue to live in times of great political and economic instability, not only in the Middle East but in other regions as well. Some have begun to argue that in the face of accelerating climate change, the possibility of more and perhaps worse pandemics, and other wicked problems facing humanity, we should actually be looking more and more to archaeology and the past -not only as a means of social cohesion, as is often attributed to community archaeology projects (e.g., Everill and Burnell 2022;van den Dries 2021), but also as a way of discovering processes and practices that may help to mitigate the damaging effects of the drastic changes we are living through in the anthropocene (e.g., Boivin and Crowther 2021;Fisher 2020;Lane 2015). As the argument goes, our ancestors often found ingenious ways of co-existing with the environment, while the preservation and restoration of cultural heritage sites has been shown to be a positive way of helping societies to recover from trauma such as armed conflict (Giblin 2014;Matthews et al. 2020;Young 2017, 2022). ...
This volume presents theoretical ideas, case studies, and reflective insights on community archaeology across the Middle East, with contributions by scholars working in and from Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and Syria. The chapters represent a multitude of insights from contemporary public archaeology practice—drawing on theoretical frameworks and discussing the realities of challenges and opportunities presented by opening up archaeological experiences to wider publics in different social and political settings. In particular, the volume focuses on the following three themes: (1) defining and reflecting on ‘community’ in community archaeology; (2) which archaeologies to employ in community archaeology; and (3) measuring the success and failure of community archaeology. In addressing these issues, the chapters reflect different historical trajectories and cultures that enable us to find similarities and differences in the theory and practice of community archaeology. In more recent decades a shift has been noticed among both national authorities and foreign archaeological expeditions, with more emphasis on local heritage experiences. However, this frequently took the form of guiding and introducing communities to ‘their heritage’. Only more recently local voices have become more heard in definitions of heritage and decisions on preservation matters, with more projects tying these voices into their research objectives. This volume presents several projects that combine postcolonial approaches, citizen participation, and community work across the Middle East. By focusing especially on this geographical area, the volume also reflects upon the current state of public and community archaeology in this unique and complex region, adding to the already rich literature from the rest of the world. The Middle East has a long, fascinating, but also complicated history of archaeological investigation, deeply entrenched in colonization, and more recently in the decolonization process. The involvement and social values of the associated communities have often been overlooked in academic discussions. This book aims to redress that imbalance and present original research that reflects on the work of current scholars and practitioners and draws similarities and differences from diverse cultures.
... Through archaeology, we learn how people of different backgrounds forged communities, provided for themselves, made and traded useful things with neighbors near and far, responded to climate change, and innovated in the face of changing circumstances. These are all things that people do today, and knowledge about how people did them in the past provides insight as we grapple with similar circumstances in the present and future (Ion & Barrett, 2016;Jopela & Fredriksen, 2015;Lane, 2011Lane, , 2015Little & Shackel, 2014;Logan et al., 2019;Ogundiran, 2019;Ossah Mvondo, 2021;Pikirayi, 2015;Stahl, 2023). ...
Archaeology holds great potential to enrich and enhance culturally responsive school learning within and beyond Africa. Archaeology reveals hidden and forgotten history and brings long-term perspective to contemporary issues like those foregrounded by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through inquiry that combines scientific methods with cultural understandings, archaeology sheds light on how people in past societies related to one another and with communities around them. It provides evidence of how people sustained well-being, interacted with resources on which they relied, and engaged with wider landscapes. It lends insight into daily practices as well as long-term perspectives on how people affected their environments and how environments shaped people’s actions. Given its wide scope and interdisciplinary foundations, archaeology holds recognized potential to engage young learners in cross-curricular areas including social studies, literary works, language, sciences, mathematics, and the arts. Archaeology should therefore contribute substantively to Quality Education (SDG 4), particularly when archaeologists braid western knowledge with other perspectives grounded in the communities and places where archaeologists work. As a source for culturally responsive teaching, archaeology provides powerful knowledge that helps learners to understand diverse cultures and perspectives and to appreciate how the past can inform the present and set appropriate courses for the future. Realizing this potential requires that archaeologists and educators communicate and collaborate in new ways if we are to provide students with engaging and meaningful learning opportunities.
... Essa humanidade que não reconhece que aquele rio que está em coma é também o nosso avô, que a montanha explorada em algum lugar da África ou da América do Sul e transformada em mercadoria em algum outro lugar é também o avô, a avó, a mãe, o irmão de alguma constelação de seres que querem continuar compartilhando a vida nesta casa comum que chamamos Terra. (KRENAK, 2019, p. 47) Não pretendo abordar aqui o que a arqueologia tem para falar sobre o Antropoceno; há diversos trabalhos que apresentam estudos arqueológicos sobre sua origem e como podemos pensá-lo a partir de uma perspectiva de materialidade, patrimônio e paisagem (EDGEWORTH et al., 2014;GONZÁLEZ-RUIBAL, 2018;LANE, 2015;PÉTURSDÓTTIR, 2017;RIEDE et al., 2016;SOLLI et al., 2011). Não é importante agora apontar para trás, para o passado, e afirmar quando o Antropoceno começou, mas sim apontar para o passado olhando para o futuro e tentar acabar com o seu fim agora, no presente. ...
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O Antropoceno não afeta apenas a vida na terra em uma escala climática e geológica, mas também política e científica. Essa era é também a era da feitiçaria do capitalismo, da captura de ciências e cientistas em um discurso e práticas voltadas ao progresso cego em direção à expansão do capital. Progresso esse fruto da degradação do meio ambiente, do etnocídio, da extinção e da destruição de lugares sagrados, paisagens e materiais do passado. Neste ensaio, abordo a participação da arqueologia nesse contexto, e como ela vem construindo uma narrativa inofensiva acerca do passado, esvaziando territórios e paisagens de suas agências não-humanas e assim abrindo espaço para novas paisagens e estratos de um futuro que está nos levando ao fim.
This article provides an introduction to the theme issue “Archaeology of Service.” We explore how performing service in archaeology articulates with the concepts and practices of community-based archaeology, collaborative archaeology, and the Archaeologies of the Heart projects and their larger purposes of approaching work through a lens of social and environmental justice. We introduce seven articles that describe working in communities around the world, including the Bininj of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation in the Northwest Territory of Australia; the Bunun of the Lakulaku River Basin in Taiwan; the Passamaquoddy Nation in Maine (USA); people from 21 First Nations in the province of Ontario, Canada; the diverse communities of Oklahoma (USA); the African American community in Bolivar, Texas (USA); and the people of San Cristóbal Island in the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador. The articles are tied together by the common theme of collaborative work that is built through relationships of trust and is conducted in ways that strive to change the institutional and educational structures in which archaeology is practiced.
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This paper connects two disciplinary areas to create new knowledge in the fields of sustainable housing and the analysis of the human body in time. The first knowledge area is that of sustainable housing, and how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the built environment. Currently, the construction industry in developed countries brings together multiple elements in a build site, all of which may contribute to climate change, and produce complex structures that can be hard to maintain in terms of environmental matters. In contrast, 3D printed houses are simpler, have lower emissions, and involve a straightforward process of creating an entirely new house on site. Further, 3D printed houses can be made from the very earth where the house is to be built. The caveat for 3D printed houses, is that the load bearing capacities of the walls can limit the size of construction, even though the design possibilities for 3D printed houses are augmented. The accompanying and interlocking aspect of this paper is the argument through history that the human body responds to the dictates of desire, here termed as 'the phallocene'. The notion of the phallocene is derived from literature on the human body and desire that states that far from playing a merely irrational role in human life that is dominated by reason, desire creates worlds, and in the case of this paper, the world of the Anthropocene, a reality made by humans, and producing climate change. Hence, this paper conjoins two key concerns, arresting climate change, and understanding human behaviour through time as bodies.
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What legitimizes archaeological work in an age of global climate change, socio-political crises and economic recession? On what topics should archaeology focus its research questions, and what forms of archaeological engagement are not merely justifiable but able to make a difference in light of such challenges? Today, there is a tendency, we argue, that archaeological responses to current challenges are expected to align with a specific mode of conduct, political stance and genre, where, for example, a very particular notion of activism, responsibility and ethics is dominating. There is no denial that current challenges call for immediate instrumental reactions, but we contend that valuable reactions can – or even must – vary, and that more fundamental and slow ontological and epistemological change should also be nested within these responses. In this article, we explore what it means to care – what it means to be concerned – in the Anthropocene through archaeological practice and aesthetic engagement. By highlighting the relations between ethics and aesthetics, we explore ways in which we get in touch with the objects of concern, placing undecidability and speculation as dispositions equally important to urgency and impact.
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In this text we discuss how Swedish contract archaeology can develop its socialengagement by creating new areas of relevance to society, beyond the generalactivities of disseminating results. We do so by giving concrete examples of howthis can be done, using archaeological excavations as a starting point. The examplesinclude engaging the local community in future planning for a social sustainableliving environment, collaboration with the tourism sector, development of teachingmaterials for secondary schools, memory training for people with acquired braindamage, and school programs focusing on a socially sustainable and inclusive society.The purpose of the text is to inspire change, by showing development opportunitiesfor future contract archaeology that will benefit both performers and recipients,and contribute to society’s multifaceted needs.
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Over the past twenty years, government advisory bodies have placed increasing emphasis on the need for adaptive measures in response to the effects of human-induced climate change. Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs), which incorporate macroeconomic and climate variables, feature prominently in advisory content, though they rarely draw on data from outside strictly constrained hypothetical systems. This has led to assertions that they are not well-suited to approximate complex systemic human-environment processes. Modular, interdisciplinary approaches have offered a way to address this shortcoming; however, beyond climate records, prehistoric data continue to be under-utilised in developing such models. In this paper we highlight the contribution that archaeology and palaeoecology can make to the development of the next generation IAMs that are expected to enhance provision for more local and pro-active adaptations to future climate change. We present data from one of Southeast Asia's most heavily developed river deltas: the Red River (Song Hong) Delta, in Vietnam and localised analysis from the Tràng An Landscape Complex World Heritage Site, on the delta's southern margin. Comparison is made between Shared Socio-economic Pathways (SSP) 5-8.5 and SSP2-4.5 emission projection models and the Mid-Holocene inundation of the Red River Basin. We highlight the value to taking a scientific long view of coastal evolution through an illustrative set of eight research foci where palaeo-data can bring new and localised empirical data to bear on future risk management planning. We proceed to demonstrate the applicability of palaeoenvironmental, zooarchaeological and historical evidence to management and the development of sustainable conservation strategies using Tràng An as a case study. In so doing, we further highlight the importance of knowledge exchange between scientific, corporate, non-governmental, local, and state stakeholders to achieve tangible results on the ground.
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The Past Ahead. Language, Culture, and Identity in the Neotropics. (Edited by: Christian Isendahl.) Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Studies in Global Archaeology 18. 260 pp. Uppsala 2012. ISBN 978-91-506-2289-8. In Andean cognition the embodiment of the past is different from many other ways to spatially relate the position of the body to time. This epistemology is for instance expressed in the Quechua word ñawpa, which signifies that the past is " in front of us; " it is known and can be seen. Seeing and knowing the past in this way reverberates within the historical ecological argument that the present is contingent with the past and is explicitly reflected within the contributions to this volume. " The examining a series of different aspects of agriculture, complex societies, identities, landscape, languages, and urbanism in the highland and lowland Neotropics that all highlight the significance of the past in the present.
First published in 1992, this book examines the social and political dimensions of Africa's food and environmental crises. Written by an anthropologist, it focuses on the changes and the problems faced during the last century by one particular ethnic group, the Il Chamus of Kenya and traces the area's transformation from a food-surplus 'granary' to one that is dependent on food imports and aid. By documenting the history, social structure and ecology of the area, Peter Little is able to show that the crisis among the region's herders is rooted in processes that preceded the devastating droughts of the 1980s. Drought is in fact a 'normal' state of affairs in semiarid Kenya, but the processes that have inhibited herders from adequately coping with it are not. The author analyses the relationships between social, political and ecological variables and he treats topics such as land management, food production, marketing, state policy making and labour organisation in an integrated fashion. This is a book that challenges many of the stereotypes about African social life, agriculture and ecology and it will be of interest to anthropologists, academics and practitioners in development studies, historians, ecologists and geographers.
First published in 1992, this book examines the social and political dimensions of Africa's food and environmental crises. Written by an anthropologist, it focuses on the changes and the problems faced during the last century by one particular ethnic group, the Il Chamus of Kenya and traces the area's transformation from a food-surplus 'granary' to one that is dependent on food imports and aid. By documenting the history, social structure and ecology of the area, Peter Little is able to show that the crisis among the region's herders is rooted in processes that preceded the devastating droughts of the 1980s. Drought is in fact a 'normal' state of affairs in semiarid Kenya, but the processes that have inhibited herders from adequately coping with it are not. The author analyses the relationships between social, political and ecological variables and he treats topics such as land management, food production, marketing, state policy making and labour organisation in an integrated fashion. This is a book that challenges many of the stereotypes about African social life, agriculture and ecology and it will be of interest to anthropologists, academics and practitioners in development studies, historians, ecologists and geographers.
Climate Change and the Course of Global History presents the first global study by a historian to fully integrate the earth-system approach of the new climate science with the material history of humanity. Part I argues that geological, environmental, and climatic history explain the pattern and pace of biological and human evolution. Part II explores the environmental circumstances of the rise of agriculture and the state in the Early and Mid-Holocene, and presents an analysis of human health from the Paleolithic through the rise of the state. Part III introduces the problem of economic growth and examines the human condition in the Late Holocene from the Bronze Age through the Black Death. Part IV explores the move to modernity, stressing the emerging role of human economic and energy systems as earth-system agents in the Anthropocene. Supported by climatic, demographic, and economic data, this provides a pathbreaking model for historians of the environment, the world, and science.