2018 ArchaeoEcology Project

The ArchaeoEcology Project: How Human Interactions with Biodiversity Shape Socio-Ecological Dynamics and Sustainability

Organizer: Stefani Crabtree, Pennsylvania State University 

Proposed Working Group MembersAndy Dugmore, University of Edinburgh; Jennifer Dunne, Santa Fe Institute; Jacob Earnshaw, Central Coast Archaeology and Rhizome Cultural Heritage Research and Consulting Ltd; Jennifer Kahn, College of William and Mary, Bishop Museum, and Smithsonian Museum of Natural History; Iain McKechnie, University of Victoria and Hakai Institute; Tom Ryan, City University of New York; and Spencer Wood, Center for Creative Conservation, University of Washington 

How do the ways that humans interact with the plants and animals around them affect the long-term chances of their society’s survival? While posed in many different ways, this question lies at the heart of the public debate about how our actions are affecting biodiversity and transforming our relationships with ecosystems across the planet. While most scientific inquiry into this question focuses on the here and now, the ArchaeoEcology Project, in contrast, takes a different tack. It combines the deep-time perspective of archaeology with data from the allied disciplines of ethnography, ecology, climate science, and geology, to answer the question: “How do human interactions with biodiversity shape socio-ecological dynamics and sustainability?” 

Using data from the American Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, the South Pacific, the North Atlantic, northern Europe, and Western Australia, the project will document the many ways that humans interact with other species (e.g., using them for food, shelter, clothing, tools, etc.). It will then synthesize the various data sets into models termed “human-centered interaction networks” that will be used to better understand the role of culture, ecology, and environment in the long-term evolution of socio-ecological systems. Only in this way can a full picture emerge of how humans affect biodiversity and how changes in biodiversity affect the resilience and sustainability of human societies.

This graph depicts one type of human-centered interaction network, a food web, for the ecosystem of the Ancestral Pueblo people. Here every ball indicates a species, while every green line indicates a feeding link. The red arrow points to Ancestral Pueblo people. By examining this type of human-centered interaction network, here focusing on food, we can better understand how the choices by humans can lead to sustainable feeding strategies. 

Armed with this knowledge, the project will provide our peers, policy makers, and the public with information about how best humans can interact with ecosystems to survive and flourish. 

Just as it studies biodiversity, the ArchaeoEcology project embodies scientific diversity. Team members are based at, or affiliated with, a variety of institutions in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., including universities, independent research institutes, museums, and a CRM consulting organization. Multiple academic career stages are represented, including graduate student, postdoc, and assistant to full professor. Several areas of expertise are represented, including archaeology, anthropology, ecology, conservation, geosciences, and informatics. Three of eight participants are women, including the organizer.

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