Environment and Archaeology in 3 Journal Articles

I tried to find three articles which touched on a similar theme. Since my research will be looking at anthropogenic impact on local marine environments, specifically resource depression, I read one article that discussed contemporary archaeological perspectives on historical ecology and two articles which focused on the relations between archaeological fields and studies in global change.

Article 1: Anderson, A. (2009). Epilogue: Changing Archaeological Perspectives upon Historical Ecology in the Pacific Islands. Pacific Science, 63(4), 747-757.

Confession: this article is not from an anthropological journal however it explicitly discusses archaeological perspectives, it was published in the Pacific Science journal because it relates to multidisciplinary research. Anderson’s main argument is that the current perspectives and understandings in regards to anthropogenic impact on the Pacific environments are changing from the main viewpoints of the late twentieth century. Specifically, research focus was on the historical significance of humans shaping the island ecosystems, and now Anderson suggests the emphasis is shifting to other new topics. He describes how recent research approaches to historical ecology have become more complex because certain topics and issues which were grazed lightly before are being closely investigated now. Anderson makes this point clear in his discussion on the emerging interest in past natural disasters:

Today, however, as environmental catastrophism gnaws at the foundations of philosophical uniformitarianism and confidence wanes in the efficacy of technological, not to mention financial, instruments for the alleviation of environmental disaster, the time is ripe for serious consideration of these.” (Anderson, 2009: 750).

Although not explicitly stated, I believe a number of other issues are gaining interest for researchers as a result of contemporary environmental concerns such as sea level rise, climate change, or overexploitation of resources. The three new thematic emphases in the Pacific are: biological invasions, landscape history, and behavioural ecology. The skeleton of the article was thus shaped around these emerging topics of interest and Anderson appeared to be speaking directly to archaeologists and researchers of related fields. Throughout the article Anderson mentioned recent findings which have contrasted past generalized notions or flat out rejected specific hypotheses. By highlighting these instances, he acknowledged a rise of divergence and disagreements aimed at established and widespread generalizations.

I found this article to be informative and useful for my current and future work. Since my research focus is on resource depression and anthropogenic impact on the environment, it is beneficial for me to understand how archaeological perspectives have changed in recent years. I would like to know where research emphasis is situated in the field and how it may influence the placement of my own work. While knowing that archaeological perspectives have recently changed was valuable, it was also a relief to be reassured that earlier emphases still remain important. I was worried that Anderson was going to suggest that certain topical areas I plan to touch on are no longer of interest or significance. Basically he argued that the nature of archaeological perspectives and approaches of contemporary researchers will provide us with a richer and more complex understanding of historical ecology in the Pacific. Yet on a final note, I would have preferred some further discussion or personal input from Anderson on any relations between current research emphases in historical ecology and concerns of modern anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic impact on island and coastal environments. Fortunately in the next two articles I get what I asked for.

Article 2: Hardesty, D. L. (2007). Perspectives on Global‐Change Archaeology. American Anthropologist, 109(1), 1-7.

I would like to begin this part by stating that I was excited to find this article because I have had trouble trying to explain to others, and conceptualize to myself, how my research in historical ecology and resource depression can specifically relate or apply historical knowledge to contemporary issues. In a number of case studies and syntheses I have read lately I often come across brief statements like: “archaeological/zooarchaeological research can provide us with historical knowledge that may be applied to contemporary environmental problems”. However this is mainly where that discussion ends, there is no explanation of how these connections can be made or any detailed examples given. I am left to just believe the authors or look elsewhere for the answers. This is why this article (and the third article) caught my eye, because its entirety focused on this notion.

What is “global-change archaeology”? After a quick google scholar check I realized Hardesty may be the only researcher combining these two terms, nevertheless the concept is pretty self explanatory. The emerging field does exactly what I have mentioned earlier, it “appl[ies] historical knowledge of past human–environmental interactions to the understanding of contemporary environmental problems and management and planning for future sustainability” (Hardesty, 2007: 1). Although Hardesty incorporated his interpretations of various theoretical influences, he did not provide his own arguments. The main argument I could pull out of the article was for the importance of global-change archaeology which was explicitly stated by being given its own heading: “Why Global-Change Archaeology?”. However this argument did not resonate throughout the other parts of the article and was simply confined to its own small section. Even at the end of  the article when Hardesty could have reminded the reader once again of the importance of the field, he chose to discuss the field’s directions instead.

There was little to no fluidity among the various headings, information was sectioned and placed under such topical divisions without smooth transitioning. On the other hand, the information was situated strategically so that the reader first understands what ‘global-change archaeology’ is, what it contributes, and where it stands in relation to other fields such as environmental archaeology and political ecology. Then there was a brief discussion on methodology and its interdisciplinary nature, and finally a discussion on the theoretical relations focusing on agency and history. There was no personal engagement in the article and the author’s voice was rather objective. I believe the reason for this was because of the location of the article in the journal. It was the first article of the issue and thus acted as an introduction for the subsequent papers. Hardesty drew upon examples from case studies in the same issue to support and form his piece. I thought this strategy was effective to encourage the reader to continue reading about global-change archaeology or related research.

After reading through the first couple of pages I realized that the narrative style was incredibly descriptive, and the majority of the article was dry. Do not get me wrong, it was informative and I did learn a lot. Because this piece was rather descriptive I believe Hardesty wanted to take a neutral position to gain as large of an audience as possible. Especially since the issues are global and the field is interdisciplinary, Hardesty’s intentions were first and foremost to educate. For this reason I enjoyed the article, its strength was its content. However for someone who has no interest or use for the goals of global-change archaeology, the structure and narrative style would likely have bored them.

Article 3: Amorosi, T., Woollett, J., Perdikaris, S., & McGovern, T. (1996). Regional zooarchaeology and global change: Problems and potentials. World Archaeology, 28(1), 126-157.

This article discussed the research approach of applying data from regional zooarchaeology to global change investigations. It focused on the problems zooarchaeologists face in multiple stages of the research process and whether their data can be of productive use to researchers involved in global change programs. My first thoughts were that this article was going to be structured as such: the status of zooarchaeology, issues in research that may limit the adequacy of zooarchaeological data for global change investigations, possible solutions to problems and a silver lining. However I was interested to see that the introduction was relatively brief and the remainder of the article’s discussions intertwined problems and solutions together while being separated by specific topics such as sample size or quantification issues. The negative aspect of this article was in fact the negative aspect of the structure, specifically the headings. To clarify, the headings signified ‘problems’ and not one stated something like ‘solutions’ or ‘potentials’. So if someone were to lightly skim this article they may think the authors were criticizing zooarchaeological contributions to global change research. ‘Potentials’ is in the title so I think one of the concluding sections should have had a more optimistic heading.

The authors incorporated selected examples from two geographical regions into their article, yet instead of placing them under their own isolated headings, they were integrated into the topical discussions which I found refreshing. Normally when an author states: “we will discuss these issues then present some case studies or examples”, I am accustomed to reading the descriptions of said case studies one at a time then learning of their significance either at the end of each narration or in the discussion section of the article. In that situation I often skip much of the descriptive background of the case studies and skim for the significance. However the authors of this article selected and presented the importance of these examples throughout their discussions and with minimum background noise. I found that this structure helped their argument and the fluidity of their narrative.

The narrative style was partly subjective, the authors belong to a research group which is affiliated with the North Atlantic Biocultural Organization so they took a hopeful position for the incorporation of zooarchaeological data into regional perspectives on environmental change. They also included numerous personal opinions and judgements throughout the article, such as arguments for better approaches and methods. Like mentioned in the Hardesty article, the field of research in global change is multidisciplinary, so although this article is primarily intended for zooarchaeologists it can speak to researchers of related fields focusing on the same questions. The authors wanted to advocate for the incorporation of zooarchaeological data so they took an honest approach and described in detail the current problems but also the potential usefulness of the field.

I found this article incredibly valuable not only for my research but on a personal level as well. As I have stated earlier, I am interested in how historical knowledge in my field can assist with contemporary issues, therefore while Hardesty article spoke about global change and archaeology, this paper went a step further specifically to zooarchaeology and showed me exactly where my research interests can go.

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5 thoughts on “Environment and Archaeology in 3 Journal Articles

  1. Taylor

    Hi Roxanne,

    I think it is awesome you were able to find two articles (the last two) that appear to help you structure that oh so difficult discussion of why our archaeological work is actually important in the contemporary world. I would agree with you in saying that so many papers (in bioarchaeology as well) will merely state, yes this research could indeed be applied to the modern world, but proceed to take the argument nowhere substantive. This is slowly getting a little better with more multidisciplinary work, but still needs improvement, if you ask me.

    Your comments here on Hardesty’s writing style have got me thinking a little about how they ways in which we write are shaped to suite a given audience. You mention that they write rather dry and descriptive, thus remaining neutral and open to wider audience, While I do agree with that, I would also say that writing style will naturally turn away many readers that are not specifically engaged with the topic (as you said there). This makes me wonder then, who is this author really trying to target? A wider audience, or a hyper-specific crowd, engaged with global-change archaeology?



    1. wildenrk Post author

      Hi Taylor,

      You’re absolutely right this style of writing could turn away readers with its descriptive narrative, especially those that are not entirely interested in the topic. I suppose this is the challenge when writing, for instance, how do you remain objective (if this is your desire) yet not be too descriptive that you turn away potential academics of that field? Or how do you be subjective and supply numerous opinions and judgements that could potentially turn away anyone who disagrees with your ideas? I think there are hits and misses in any style of writing, but unfortunately you have to accept that you can’t win them all, you can’t get everyone in your audience.

  2. Lauren

    Hi Roxanne,

    What you mentioned about the Hardesty 2007 article being an exciting find for you because it discusses potentials for connections between the historical and the contemporary resonated with me. I am coming across a similar issue for myself. Many articles like to claim that patterns of obsidian consumption are evidence for the building of social relations between communities but they stop there. To find someone who actually decides to study inter-community relations, I need to turn to economic models which immediately morphs into political growing at exponential rates until a disastrous implosion of structures collapsing and suddenly it is the end of an era. I am always left with trying to follow these long-term developments and correlate where/how obsidian trade might have fallen in with socio-political or political-economic structures. I often find myself wondering if this connection, between obsidian and communities as social entities is even possible. Until I read another article that claims “obsidian as evidence” and the game of reading in circles starts over.

  3. tsujic

    Hi Roxanne,
    I am interested in your analysis of Hardesty’s article and specifically his term of “global-change archaeology.” Socio-cultural anthropology (and medical anthropology) is notorious for coining a lot of jargon and arcane phrases. Do you believe the proliferation of jargon in zooarchaeology is beneficial for describing and distinguishing certain phenomena from others for the purposes of the discipline, or does it serves to clutter the disciplinary vocabulary if so few people use it?

    *side note, Hardesty isn’t the only person who uses this term (Kirch and Orser also use it!)

    Moreover, I enjoyed your structural meta-analysis of the third article, detailing problematic sub-headings. I am wondering if you think this was intentional or not. You mentioned that you found the sub-headings misleading because they were problem oriented and could mislead readers, could this have been a goal? Readers, like yourself, could feel outraged by the subheadings and be motivated to read (and critique) the article.

    1. wildenrk Post author

      Hi Chris,

      Thank you for that link I am going to have to add some of those articles to my reading list! In regards to your first question, I believe the proliferation of jargon in zooarchaeology is/can experience both results. In relation to ‘global-change’ archaeology it appears to be a relatively recent concept and term, whether it will become clutter in the disciplinary vocabulary I am note sure. I think it depends on the adoption of the term and how large the field itself grows. If studies in ‘global-change’ archaeology become more prevalent in the future then I think this term will prove to be beneficial. In regards to your second question, I am also wondering what the purpose of their headings/subheadings were. I personally liked the integration of solutions/potentials with the problems, instead of the ‘here is the bad, then here is the good’. I suppose I was thinking more about the academic, perhaps the undergrad or grad student, that does a quick search through the literature and skims articles to see if they are relevant to their purposes. They might be misled or actually miss something they were actually looking for, but whether misleading the reader was the authors’ intentions I am not sure.


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