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The archaeology of local human response to an environmental transformation

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This research addresses human adaptive decisions made at the Pleistocene-Holocene transition - the transition from the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) to the climate regime in which humankind now lives -

This research addresses human adaptive decisions made at the Pleistocene-Holocene transition - the transition from the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) to the climate regime in which humankind now lives - in the Mediterranean region of southeast Spain. Although on a geological time scale the Pleistocene-Holocene transition is the latest in a series of widespread environmental transformations due to glacial-interglacial cycles, it is the only one for which we have a record of the response by modern humans. Mediterranean Spain lay outside the refugium areas of late Pleistocene Europe, in which advancing ice sheets limited the land available for subsistence and caused relative demographic packing of hunter-gatherers. Therefore, the archaeological records of Mediterranean Spain contain more generally applicable states of the Pleistocene-Holocene transition, making it a natural laboratory for research on human adaptation to an environmental transformation. Foragers in Mediterranean Spain appear to have primarily adapted to macroclimatic change by extending their social networks to access new subsistence resources and by changing the mix of traditional relationships. Comparing faunal records from two cave sites near the Mediterranean coast with Geographic Information System (GIS) reconstructions of the coastal littoral plain from the LGM to the Holocene indicates the loss of the large ungulate species (mainly Bos primigenius and Equus) at one site coincided with the associated littoral disappearing due to sea level rise in the late Upper Paleolithic. Farther north, where portions of the associated littoral remained due to a larger initial mass and a more favorable topography, the species represented in the faunal record were constant through time. Social boundary defense definitions of territory require arranging social relationships in order to access even this lightly populated new hunting area on the interior plain. That the values of the least-cost-paths fit the parameters of two models equating varying degrees of social alliance with direct travel distances also helps support the hypothesis that foragers in Mediterranean Spain adapted to the consequences of macroclimatic change by extending their social networks to gain access to new subsistence resources Keeping these relationships stable and reliable was a mitigating factor in the mobility patterns of foragers during this period from direct travel to more distant down-the-line exchange. Information about changing conditions and new circumstances flowed along these same networks of social relationships. The consequences of climate-induced environmental changes are already a concern in the world, and human decisions in regard to future conditions are built upon past precedents. As the response to environmental risk centers on increasing the resilience of vulnerable smallholders, archaeology has an opportunity to apply its long-term perspective in the search for answers

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  • 2013

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The consequences of human land-use strategies during the PPNB-LN transition: a simulation modeling approach

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This dissertation investigates the long-term consequences of human land-use practices in general, and in early agricultural villages in specific. This pioneering case study investigates the "collapse" of the Early (Pre-Pottery)

This dissertation investigates the long-term consequences of human land-use practices in general, and in early agricultural villages in specific. This pioneering case study investigates the "collapse" of the Early (Pre-Pottery) Neolithic lifeway, which was a major transformational event marked by significant changes in settlement patterns, material culture, and social markers. To move beyond traditional narratives of cultural collapse, I employ a Complex Adaptive Systems approach to this research, and combine agent-based computer simulations of Neolithic land-use with dynamic and spatially-explicit GIS-based environmental models to conduct experiments into long-term trajectories of different potential Neolithic socio-environmental systems. My analysis outlines how the Early Neolithic "collapse" was likely instigated by a non-linear sequence of events, and that it would have been impossible for Neolithic peoples to recognize the long-term outcome of their actions. The experiment-based simulation approach shows that, starting from the same initial conditions, complex combinations of feedback amplification, stochasticity, responses to internal and external stimuli, and the accumulation of incremental changes to the socio-natural landscape, can lead to widely divergent outcomes over time. Thus, rather than being an inevitable consequence of specific Neolithic land-use choices, the "catastrophic" transformation at the end of the Early Neolithic was an emergent property of the Early Neolithic socio-natural system itself, and thus likely not an easily predictable event. In this way, my work uses the technique of simulation modeling to connect CAS theory with the archaeological and geoarchaeological record to help better understand the causes and consequences of socio-ecological transformation at a regional scale. The research is broadly applicable to other archaeological cases of resilience and collapse, and is truly interdisciplinary in that it draws on fields such as geomorphology, computer science, and agronomy in addition to archaeology.

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  • 2013

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Sustaining irrigation agriculture for the long-term: lessons on maintaining soil quality from ancient agricultural fields in the Phoenix Basin and on the north coast of Peru

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Irrigation agriculture has been heralded as the solution to feeding the world's growing population. To this end, irrigation agriculture is both extensifying and intensifying in arid regions across the world

Irrigation agriculture has been heralded as the solution to feeding the world's growing population. To this end, irrigation agriculture is both extensifying and intensifying in arid regions across the world in an effort to create highly productive agricultural systems. Over one third of modern irrigated fields, however, show signs of serious soil degradation, including salinization and waterlogging, which threaten the productivity of these fields and the world's food supply. Surprisingly, little ecological data on agricultural soils have been collected to understand and address these problems. How, then, can expanding and intensifying modern irrigation systems remain agriculturally productive for the long-term? Archaeological case studies can provide critical insight into how irrigated agricultural systems may be sustainable for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Irrigation systems in Mesopotamia, for example, have been cited consistently as a cautionary tale of the relationship between mismanaged irrigation systems and the collapse of civilizations, but little data expressly link how and why irrigation failed in the past. This dissertation presents much needed ecological data from two different regions of the world - the Phoenix Basin in southern Arizona and the Pampa de Chaparrí on the north coast of Peru - to explore how agricultural soils were affected by long-term irrigation in a variety of social and economic contexts, including the longevity and intensification of irrigation agriculture. Data from soils in prehispanic and historic agricultural fields indicate that despite long-lived and intensive irrigation farming, farmers in both regions created strategies to sustain large populations with irrigation agriculture for hundreds of years. In the Phoenix Basin, Hohokam and O'odham farmers relied on sedimentation from irrigation water to add necessary fine sediments and nutrients to otherwise poor desert soils. Similarly, on the Pampa, farmers relied on sedimentation in localized contexts, but also constructed fields with ridges and furrows to draw detrimental salts away from planting surfaces in the furrows on onto the ridges. These case studies are then compared to failing modern and ancient irrigated systems across the world to understand how the centralization of management may affect the long-term sustainability of irrigation agriculture.

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  • 2013

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Assessment of environmental change in the Near Eastern Bronze Age

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This dissertation research investigates both spatial and temporal aspects of Bronze Age land use and land cover in the Eastern Mediterranean using botanical macrofossils of charcoal and charred seeds as

This dissertation research investigates both spatial and temporal aspects of Bronze Age land use and land cover in the Eastern Mediterranean using botanical macrofossils of charcoal and charred seeds as sources of proxy data. Comparisons through time and over space using seed and charcoal densities, seed to charcoal ratios, and seed and charcoal identifications provide a comprehensive view of island vs. mainland vegetative trajectories through the critical 1000 year time period from 2500 BC to 1500 BC of both climatic fluctuation and significant anthropogenic forces. This research focuses particularly on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus during this crucial interface of climatic and human impacts on the landscape. Macrobotanical data often are interpreted locally in reference to a specific site, whereas this research draws spatial comparisons between contemporaneous archaeological sites as well as temporal comparisons between non-contemporaneous sites. This larger perspective is particularly crucial on Cyprus, where field scientists commonly assume that botanical macrofossils are poorly preserved, thus unnecessarily limiting their use as an interpretive proxy. These data reveal very minor anthropogenic landscape changes on the island of Cyprus compared to those associated with contemporaneous mainland sites. These data also reveal that climatic forces influenced land use decisions on the mainland sites, and provides crucial evidence pertaining to the rise of early anthropogenic landscapes and urbanized civilization.

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  • 2013