The Science in Archaeology 2 course, run as part of the minor in “Archaeology Today” by the Amsterdam Centre for Ancient Studies and Archaeology (ACASA), is currently underway. This year I have again contributed to this course with a weeks worth of activity related to detecting past human impacts. During this week we have focused on what sorts of evidence contained within the sedimentary record can be used to track human actions. We focused in particular on the manipulation of fire regimes and the the abundance of animals in landscapes (i.e. extinctions vs. introductions of domestic species). To illustrate how past human activities can be detected in landscapes I tapped into some recent publications I have been involved with (eastern Andean flank, Samoa and Mauritius) and the students selected papers in line with their own focus to discuss. Here is what they came up with…
Zhang, Y., van Geel, B., Gosling, W.D., McMichael, C.N.H., Jansen, B., Absalah, S., Sun, G. & Wu, X. (2019) Local vegetation patterns of a Neolithic environment at the site of Tianluoshan, China, based on coprolite analysis. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 271, 104101. DOI: 10.1016/j.revpalbo.2019.104101
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.
Next to La Meuse river, near the villages of Welland Aijen, there is a large archaeological site with a long history of human occupation, including the remains of a large Mesolithic hunter gatherer community (see Marion Zijlema article for more details) The history of the site is deeply linked to the expansion and flooding of the river. In collaboration with archaeologists (Hanneke Bos) four UvA bachelor students are going to study the fossil pollen, phytoliths and charcoal from the Well-Aijen site to captured the environmental change that accompanied the human occupation. Yesterday (20 January – WDG late uploading post, sorry!) we visited the site to see what it was like, and to test out some equipment!
We decided to bring out the Livingstone corer (Geo-core), which is usually used from a boat in a lake (e.g. Lake Erazo), to test its capacities on terrestrial sediment. Knowing that the peat formation was not deep below and given that the corer-system gives a nice continuous record, it seemed worthy of giving it a try. We ended up learning a lot about how the corer functions and about problem solving in the field – almost everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. We really fought for every centimeter of sample! The team never suffered from low spirits though, despite it all. With jokes and hot tea on site we ended up having a very fun and insightful expedition. Any remaining low morale or cold feet quickly faded by the sight of pie at the end of the day.