Can Archaeology Save the Environment?

Posted on 30. Apr, 2017 by Christopher Fisher in LORE-LPB, News, Publications, archaeology

Can Archaeology Save the Environment?

In a recent article for the Spring 2010 issue of American Archaeology, the magazine sponsored by the Archaeological Conservancy, writer Kristen Ohlson (“Stalking the Divine“, “Kabul Beauty School“) interviews several contributors from the book I co-edited with Brett Hill and Gary Feinman, The Archaeology of Environmental Change: Socionatural Legacies of Degradation and Resilience.

American Archaeology, Spring 2010. On the news stand now

Charles Redman and Margaret Nelson (Arizona State University) discuss the interaction between climatic variation and the development of the Southwestern Hohokam and Mimbres cultures.  Vernon Scarborough (University of Cincinnati) draws from his research in the Mesoamerican lowlands to explore modern lessons from the Classic period (A.D. 300-900) Maya collapse.  I outline the Lake Pátzcuaro case study emphasizing the value of long-term records and inverse relationship between population density and land degradation.  And Brett Hill (Hendrix College) provides a great quote “The whole point of our book is that environmental degradation is not something that happens to people.”  “It’s a process involving the relationship between people and their environment, and between people and other people”

Ohlson emphasizes many of the key points of our book – the value of long-term records for modern conservation, past lessons for modern policy, the danger of homogeneity, and unintended consequences.  The article closes with a comment from me “I’m trained to look at dead people’s garbage, not talk to live people” Fisher says, “this underscores the point that we need to work with cultural anthropologists and other scientists who are better trained to help us deliver our message.”  And a more nuanced message from Charles Redman “I think archaeologists always know we can’t answer questions all on our own,” says Redman.  “We’re always pulling in other people to help us figure out what we’ve found.  It’s an organizational attitude that’s particularly valuable for these deliberations.”  So, can archaeology save the environment?  Yes, and more.