Environmental archaeology

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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:

Other related fields include:

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 geomorphology are defined by the material that they study, 'environmental' is used to describe a theme that should be considered across archaeology as a whole.[6]

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. The field is often multidisciplinary, and environmental scientists have been recruited to work with archaeologists and anthropologists to better understand human-environment interactions.[7]

A prominent figure in this field is Karl Butzer.[8] 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.

External links


  1. Environmental Archaeology
  2. 2.0 2.1 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. Butzer, K.W. (2012). Collapse, environment, and society. "PNAS, 109"(10), 3632-3639. doi:10.1073/pnas.1114845109.
  7. 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.
  8. UT Department of Geography and the Environment [1]