Over the last two weeks I have been giving my lectures at the VU Amsterdam “Scientific Methods in Archaeology” bachelor program. In my lectures we think about how to detect past environmental change with particular reference to tracking past human activities. As part of our exploration of past human-environment-climate interactions each student is asked to choose a scientific article, summerise it, and we then discuss it in class. The three papers sected this year covered the Neolithic of the Netherlands (Weijdema et al., 2011), a overview of Mediterranean and north African cultural adaptations to drough events during the Holocene (Mercuri et al., 2011), and an exploration of the role of humans in mega-faunal extinctions in South America (Villavicencio et al., 2015). All papers provided interesting points of discussion and an opportunity to think about different aspects of how we investigate past environmental and societal change.
Abstract submission is now open for INQUA 2019 in Dublin Ireland (25-31 July 2019). Please consider submitting to the special session I am co-organizing on landscape change in the tropics. Submissions welcome from the fields of biogeography, palaeoecology, geomorphology, volcanology, and archaeology. Click here to submit your abstract.TITLE: The changing tropical landscape
ORGANIZERS: William D. Gosling and Crystal N.H. McMichael (University of Amsterdam)
Eighteenth century explorers marveled at the diversity of tropical ecosystems seemingly untouched by human activity. As a result of these observations, the notion of tropical stability, in terms of vegetation and climate, came to underpin theories of evolution, ecology, and biogeography. Gradually, however, it has become apparent that tropical landscapes have changed markedly through time in response to global climate cycles, (a)biotic factors, and human activity. For example, Continue Reading
Yesterday (day 3) was excursion day of the AFQUA conference (photos to follow). Day 4 of the meeting was back in the National Museum Nairobi and kicked off with a session on “African archaeological landscapes”. The opening talk reviewed the career of Karl Butzer who coined the term ‘geoarchaeology’ back in the 1970’s when writing about his work integrating geological, archaeological and anthropological information (C.A. Cordova). Two talks then followed highlighting work on Lake Makagadikgadi from the perspective of archaeology and landscapes (D.S.G Thomas) and geochemical fingerprinting of stone tools to determine their source (D.J. Nash).
To take us up to lunch Boris Vanniere and Daniele Colombaroli gave a ‘double header’ plenary talk highlighting the exciting advances in the development of the Global Charcoal Database and how understanding past fire histories in Africa is key to interpreting environmental change. The after lunch session continued the palaeo-fire theme with records from Lake Botswana (C.E. Cordova), Lake Bosumtwi (W.D. Gosling – me), and Madagascar presented (A. Razafimanantsoa); as well as work on the usefulness of the morphometric’s of charcoal in determining the plant of origin (L.Bremond).
In the final session of the day we were back to “Southern Africa” as a theme. Under which banner we were “boggled” by sea-surface and sub-surface temperature reconstructions (M.A. Berke), shown how to extract climate records from Hyrax middens (B.M. Chase) and given insights into the past flora of the Cape Floristic region from fossil pollen records spanning 130,000 years (L.J. Quick).
Preparing my lecture for the new Scientific Methods in Archaeology course for VU Amsterdam and University of Amsterdam students studying a minor in Geoarchaeology. The focus will be on detecting human activity in the past, to illustrate this I will include Easter Island/Rapa Nui as a case study. We will focus on how palaeoecological evidence can be used to gain insights into past human activity. Whilst putting this together I discovered these nice documentaries looking at humans and their environmental impacts on Easter Island/Rapa Nui which I wanted to share, they show how much effort people would have had to put into altering their landscape:
For further information see also:
Rull, V., Cañellas-Boltà, N., Saez, A., Margalef, O., Bao, R., Pla-Rabes, S., Valero-Garcés, B. & Giralt, S. (2013) Challenging Easter Island’s collapse: The need for interdisciplinary synergies. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 1, DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2013.00003