Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: The Archaeology of Local Human Response to a Global Environmental Transformation

Project: Research project

Project Details


Humankind has always lived in an information age. The artifacts at center of archaeologyfs attention (Spaulding 1960: 437; Binford 1964: 429) are the material remains of decision-making based on available information and guided by precedents from earlier decisions. These culturally organized technologies shaped an important part of the means by which human groups adapted to local conditions (Binford 1989: 21) . not an objective set of conditions backed by an omniscient knowledge of possible variables, but perceived conditions defined by available information and informed by precedent (Childe 1956, 1949). If enough disconnect existed between this human awareness of the situation and natural reality, then the decision-makers perished (Ibid.). Information and precedent were key elements of prehistoric adaptation. This research addresses adaptive decisions made at the Pleistocene-Holocene transition, when much of the information available was literally unprecedented, in the Mediterranean region of southeast Spain, where climate transformation affected even the physical geography of subsistence. Climate transformation carries the risk that resulting ecological states will have no current analog (they will be unprecedented) and that some extant states will disappear (leaving invalid precedents in their wake). The Pleistocene-Holocene transition is the most recent example of a climate transformation and the only one for which we have a complete record of the human response. Researchers looking toward the end of this century (circa 2100 A.D.) expect similar climatic restructuring that will gpromote formation of novel species associations and other ecological surprisesh (Williams et al. 2007: 5738). We know the transition from late Pleistocene to early Holocene included the redistribution of prey species and coastal littorals becoming undersea coastal shelves (e.g.; Schmich and McClure 2006). In fact, according to information currently available, the Pleistocene-Holocene transition remodeled the world in ways strikingly similar to effects the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change included in the Kyoto Protocol (UNFCCC 1999, 1998): widespread glacial retreats, sea level changes of more than 100 meters, shifts in weather and rainfall patterns, and altered floral and faunal ecologies (Aura et al. 1998; Straus 1996a, 1996b). Although Mediterranean Spain experienced both redistributions and ecological surprises, it lay outside the immediate area of glaciationrefugiumrecolonization cycles that skewed human demographics in most of late Pleistocene Europe. Therefore, its archaeological and paleoclimatic records contain generally applicable states of the Pleistocene-Holocene transition, making Mediterranean Spain a natural laboratory for research on local human adaptation to global climate change (papers in Schmich and McClure 2009, Schmich 2008). Including the local dynamics of human adaptation to prehistoric climate change in a comprehensive research strategy on modern climate stress is a logical extension of the emphasis predictive climate models place on inputs of Pleistocene data (e.g., Adams et al. 1999; Carter et al. 2007; Clark et al. 2001; Gibelin and Deque et al. 2003; Greiner 2004; IPCC 2007b; Karl and Trenberth 2003; UNFCC 2004). The climate consequences of global warming are already a concern in the world, and human decision in regard to future conditions are still built upon past precedents. This projectfs intellectual merit rests in its ability to create a framework within which to examine the processes late Pleistocene and early Holocene human groups used in adapting to novel situations on a local, subsistence level. We have their precedent to use in assisting subsistence economies now vulnerable to climate stress (Adger et al. 2007; Pielke et al. 2007). Modern climate change literature centers on human vulnerability, adaptation, and resilience with migration and loc
Effective start/end date9/1/098/31/11


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $14,639.00

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