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Ref ID: 24593
Ref Type: Book Section
Authors: Reitz, J. Elizabeth
Newsom, Lee A.
Scudder, Sylvia J.
Title: Issues in environmental archaeology
Date: 1996
Source: Case Studies in Environmental Archaeology
Place of Publication: New York and London
Publisher: Plenum Press
Abstract: pg 3 environmental archaeologists apply information and techniques from thenaturalsciences to studies of the human past through analysis of archaeological deposits. The ultimate goal is to develop a fuller understanding of the ecology of human communities {Butzer 1982:5
Reitz et al 1996:3}. Cultural and non-cultural environments are dynamic factors in the development of archaeological sites and studies of human behavior should be set in an environmental framework that includes spatial, temporal, physical, and biotic parameters. pg 4 human behavior is influenced by the distribution of major land mases, volcanic and earthquake zones, topography, and inorganic raw materials such as rocks and minerals, as well as by chemical, physical, and stratigraphic properties of soils and sediments. Study of these phenomena yields climatological, chronological, geological, and cultural information critical to the reconstruction of human communities. pg 6 Archaeometry also provides information about paleodiets and paleotemperatures through stable isotopes {Herz 1990
Price 1989}. Elements such as carbon and nitrogen fractionate as they pass through the food chain. Hence, it is possible to relate <sup>13<\sup>C/<sup>12<\sup>C or <sup>15<\sup>N/<sup>14<\sup>N ratios in bone to diet. Ratios such as these are widely applied as researchers attempt to determine the relative proportions ofplants and anumals or of terrestrial and aquatic environments used as food sources {Price 1989
Lambert 1992?}. This research may be enhanced by examining trace elements such as strontium, zinc, or copper. Oxygen isotopes fractionate in response to temperature and may therefore inform us about paleotemperatures and seaonal patterns in resource use and residential choices. Usually oxygen isotopes are studied from calcium carbonate structures such as the shells of mollusks and Foraminifera. pg 9 \bBIOARCHAEOLOGY\b These applications are particularly important to \ibioarchaeology\i, the study of the biological aspects of human behavior from the perspective of human osteology {Larsen 1987}. Bioarchaeology grows out of traditional anthropological interests in human skeletal remains from archaeological contexts. With increased awareness of the relationships among human health, morphology, and the environment, bioarchaeology has become critical to environmental archaeologists. Particularly important are dietary reconstructions made via the analysis of stable isotopes and trace elements
assessments of health and well-being made via the study of pathological conditions such as growth arrest markers and infectious diseases, and behavioral reconstructions made via the study of arthritis and bone structure. Human remains provide information about nutrition, diets, demography, and paleopathology {Armelagos 1994
Buikstra and Mielke 1985
Huss-Ashmore et al. 1982
Larsen 1987
Price 1989
Wing and Brown 1979}. Analysis of tooth eruption and wear sequences, growth curves of long bones, estimates of adult stature, sexual dimorphism, and bone chemistry, combined with evidence for porotic hyperostosis, osteoporosis, hypoplasias, traumas, and other pathological conditions, provides invaluable information about disease processes, nutrition, and environmental relationships. Activity levels are reflected in variations in skeletal joints, bone form, and bone function, as these variations reflect responses of bone to mechanical stresses. In some cases, remains of protozoa, bacteria, viruses, or other parasites may be identified, although more commonly their presence is inferred indirectly through evidence for diseases associated with such organisms. These organisms not only are indicators of sanitary practices but also may provide information useful for environmental reconstruction. Although some observations, such as deficiency diseases (e.g., rickets), may have very specific origins, most of the observations available to human biologists provide general evidence of health and biobehavioral characteristics of human-environmental relationships. pg 10 An \iecosystem\i is defined by Odum {!Odum 1971:8} as a community of organisms "in a given area interacting with the physical environment so that a flow of energy leads to clearly defined trophic structure, biotic diversity, and material cycles." This biophysical environment provides a matrix for the social insitutions that define a culture {Butzer 1982:6}. Many functional and structural aspects of ecosystems are important to cultural systems. Of particular importance is the need for people to balance the amount of energy required to obtain resources against the energy the resource provides, to redistribute the energy captured throughout the population, and to assure that the amount of energy is appropriate given the current population size and structure. This need to efficiently capture and distribute energy is reflected in the resources used and in the technology, demography, settlement patterns, social organization, and ideology {Butzer 1982:286
Ford 1979
Jochim 1976}. Environmental archaeologists study the systemic relationship between humans and their physical and biological environments in a number of ways. As diverse as these studies are, however, three themes are commonly found in most environmental studies: concern about site formation processes and methodological issues
geological and biological discoveries based on archaeological materials
and anthropological interpretations. While most environmental studies include some discussion of taphonomic and methodological issues, many reflect the fact that there are two potentially distinct ways to lo at organic and inorganic remains from archaeological sites: as sources of environmental data and as sources of anthropological data. Much environmental research focuses on taphonomy and other site-formation processes both as a source of bias and as an interesting research area in its own right {Gifford 1981
Gordon and Buikstra 1981
Lyman 1994
Miksicek 1987}. It is very important to consider the depositional setting and the principal agents of deposition, exploring characteristics in the archaeological record that are caused by humans and those that reflect other forces {Lyman 1982, 1994}. Ethnoarchaeology and other actualistic studies are useful ways to explore how humans and other agents may have altered the archaeological record as it was created and thereafter. pg 11 the questions of causality in human-envrionmental relationships. To what extent have humans altered the landscape and to what extent has human behavior been a response to natural environmental change? What were the consequenes to human behavior of changes, or, conversely, stasis, in the envirnment.? interested in the influence of local physiography on site intrasite spatial organization, the influence oflocal phsyiography on site placement, definition of local patterns of plant and animal use, and assessment of human health.
Date Created: 7/6/2001
Editors: Reitz, J. Elizabeth
Newsom, Lee A.
Scudder, Sylvia J.
Page Start: 3
Page End: 16
Series Title: Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology