Synthesis: Vulnerability, Traps, and Transformations—Long-term Perspectives from Archaeology

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In this synthesis, we hope to accomplish two things: 1) reflect on how the analysis of the new archaeological cases presented in this special feature adds to previous case studies

In this synthesis, we hope to accomplish two things: 1) reflect on how the analysis of the new archaeological cases presented in this special feature adds to previous case studies by revisiting a set of propositions reported in a 2006 special feature, and 2) reflect on four main ideas that are more specific to the archaeological cases: i) societal choices are influenced by robustness–vulnerability trade-offs, ii) there is interplay between robustness–vulnerability trade-offs and robustness–performance trade-offs, iii) societies often get locked in to particular strategies, and iv) multiple positive feedbacks escalate the perceived cost of societal change. We then discuss whether these lock-in traps can be prevented or whether the risks associated with them can be mitigated. We conclude by highlighting how these long-term historical studies can help us to understand current society, societal practices, and the nexus between ecology and society.