Long-term consequences of climate change
Satellite imagery from NASA will help CSU Geographer Stephen J. Leisz and colleague Christopher T. Fisher examine the long-term consequences of climate change on ancient societies in Mexico and model long-term human and environment interaction in the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin in Michoacán, Mexico.
The high resolution ALOS PRISM satellite data provided to the team through the NASA grant will be integrated with ongoing archaeological and paleoenvironmental investigations to examine relationships between climatic fluctuation, landscape development, land degradation and the formation of complex societies in the west central highlands of Mexico, as part of the Legacies of Resilience: The Lake Pátzcuaro Basin Archaeological Project.
Remote sensing data
The project uses remote sensing data to better model the ancient landscape in ways not possible with data otherwise available. It is expected that the development of high-resolution, large-area, elevation models from the satellite data will represent an important archaeological tool for the research team.
“This research will allow us to create and test high spatial resolution models of linked human and environmental development and collapse over long periods of time that will in turn help current and future conservation efforts throughout Latin America,” said Leisz.
New and innovative technique
Researchers will examine the impact of the Medieval climatic anomaly (A.D. 950-1250) and the subsequent ‘Little Ice Age’ on Central Mexico.
By integrating ALOS PRISM satellite data into their research, Leisz and Fisher are offering a new and innovative technique, with potential for use by other scientists.
“The Lake Pátzcuaro Basin is an important example of coupled human and environmental change,” said Fisher, director of the Legacies project.
“A key aspect of the Legacies project is to create explanatory models to help explain changes in ancient lake level, distribution of agricultural lands and the location of ancient settlements. We want to see how people in the past responded to climate change as examples that can help modern policy.”
Fisher and Leisz will specifically look at the impact of the Medieval climatic anomaly (A.D. 950-1250) and the subsequent ‘Little Ice Age’ on Central Mexico.
“For the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin, the Medieval climatic anomaly likely lowered lake levels and increased the agrarian potential of the region, while the opposite may have occurred during the Little Ice Age,” said Fisher. “This is the opposite impact expected by many researchers.”
How ancient peoples modified their landscape
“Through the NASA-supported research we hope to better understand how ancient peoples modified their landscape to mitigate the impact of climatic fluctuation,” Leisz said. “As societies become larger, they have access to increasing amounts of labor that they often invest in the landscape to mitigate environmental change.”
One important outcome of the project will be a better understanding of the timing, form, and function of intensive agricultural features such as terraces that are found throughout the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin.
“Ultimately we hope to focus on environmental change as a long-term process rather then a trigger for social complexity,” said Fisher.
Collect ground reference data in conjunction with satellite
CSU graduate student Jason Bush surveying with Trimble equipment in Michoacán, Mexico.
Fisher and Leisz begin field work on the two-year, $155,591 grant in summer 2010. The researchers will use TrimbleRecon rugged handheld computers as well as the GeoXH and GeoXT GPS receivers, to accurately map every cultural feature they encounter as well as collect ground reference data that will be used in conjunction with the satellite imagery to create high-resolution elevation models of the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin.
Fisher and his team recently discovered the ruins of an ancient urban center in the heart of the Purépecha Empire in Lake Pátzcuaro Basin, located in the central Mexican state of Michoacán.
Multidisciplinary research project
The multidisciplinary Legacies of Resilience: The Lake Pátzcuaro Basin Archaeological Project includes archaeologists, geologists and geographers from the United States and Mexico. They explore prehistoric sites to better understand the development of prehistoric societies and relationships between humans and climate change.
Fisher is a fellow with CSU’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability.
Contact: Kimberly Sorensen
Phone: (970) 491-0757
Unfortunately many people view archaeology as a ‘vanity discipline’ with limited value for modern society. I was once asked, “how relevant is your work anyway, it won’t solve any real problems, right?” In today’s funding environment this perception is a killer. Our job as archaeologists is to help build a better society - today and in the future – and the ‘Man vs Wild’ ‘Indiana Jones’ perception is a major hindrance.
PR is an important mechanism that we can use to demonstrate the value of archaeological research to other academics, stake-holders, and policy makers. Many academic disciplines routinely send press releases as a matter of course so why don’t archaeologists? Far from being ‘self promotion’ at the expense of the cultural resources, or putting yourself in ‘front’ of the ‘Archaeology’, PR is instead a fundamental element of fieldwork. If we wish to move the discipline forward controlling PR is critical.
I’ve come to reflect recently on the necessity and value of ‘effective’ PR. Far from making you a ‘cowboy’ concerned only with personal gain, effective PR can instead help:
1) Forge new connections and help empower marginalized groups. Much of the archaeology that we do, especially in the America’s, concerns marginalized peoples. Archaeology is a powerful social and political tool that can be harnessed for these groups.
2) Increase the visibility of the discipline. Media attention can help lay-people better understand, value, and support the discipline, translating into increased support for archaeology.
3) Force you to create a better narrative. We all need to be able to express the importance of our research in the sentence ‘sound bite’. Creating and managing press releases helps the synthesis process.
4) Find talented students, volunteers, and funding. Being in the news links you to people that can help spread your message.
5) Move your research in unexpected directions. Synergies and connections will always spur innovation.
6) Control the archaeological brand. The title to this post is a play on Holtorf’s book, “Archaeology is a Brand”. As a brand we should take a more active role in how we are portrayed and valued.
Managing public relations, sending press releases, and engaging the public is no longer optional. To control the “archaeological brand” and move the discipline forward archaeologists must move toward a more effective public engagement.
Project Uacusecha is an on-going archaeological exploration of the Zacapu Basin malpaís. Led by French archaeologist Grégory Pereira and team, Project Uacusecha aims to understand social organization, urbanism, and economic dynamics in the region prior to and during Purépecha State formation. Project Uacusecha involves settlement pattern survey and excavation that builds on long-term research by the French team in the region. The setting (malpaís) and archaeology is very similar to that encountered by the Legacies of Resilience Project (LORE-LPB) and we are excited by the results of their 2010 season.