[ Lessons from Ancient Environments | Environmental Archaeology | Maya/Central American Zooarchaeology | Past Courses ]

ANG 6930


University of Florida, Alternate Spring Semesters

In the ancient jungles of Central America, dense city populations were fed for thousands of years by sophisticated agriculturalists. Modern practices in those same jungles have left them infertile, denuded, and eroded. On the other side of the globe, overuse of the specialized irrigation systems of ancient Mesopotamia may have caused agricultural failure and cultural disintegration.

What can we learn from the environmental successes and failures of ancient peoples? Lessons from the Archaeology of Ancient Environments explores the archaeological past and the lessons it holds for the future. Environmental archaeology combines information about ancient soils, plants, animals, and peoples, to reconstruct patterns of past and present environmental management and abuse. Does the archaeology of ancient environments chart an endless cycle of environmental use, overuse, and collapse? Or do ancient techniques of environmental management represent one of the few resources remaining to a modern world on the brink of environmental disaster?

This is a discussion course in which we debate current arguments about ancient environmental use and abuse, and the potential for application of ancient methods for modern sustainable practices. Students are expected to lead and contribute to discussions, and to present substantial research on specific issues pertinent to these debates.


Dr. Kitty F. Emery
Curator of Environmental Archaeology,
Florida Museum of Natural History
Office: Dickinson Hall Rm. 114
Telephone: 273-1919
E-mail: kemery@flmnh.ufl.edu

    Lessons from Ancient Environments is a discussion-based class. Each session is focused on a debate topic that can be defended or refuted from several positions. You will be expected to work with classmates to defend one side of an argument for each topic.

In preparation for each class, you will: 1. Make sure you understood the debate topic for the day and are prepared to discuss the issue; 2. Do the required readings (everyone will do all required [*] readings each week); and 3. Do your specific readings [•] noting for each article how the author or data either supports or opposes the issue at hand.

Participation (40%):
    This is a highly participatory course that will require co-operation by all class members in discussions, presentations, and debates. As all discussions will be based on the assigned required readings, you must read them in advance and be prepared to discuss them in class. Failure to do so will result in grade reductions.
Symposium on the Maya Collapse (20%):
    You will be expected to plan and organize a symposium on the Maya collapse which will include presentations by each of you, and by invited researchers from the UF community. More details on this will follow.
Research Paper (40%):
    You will be expected to write a research paper or annotated bibliography on one or more of the topics covered during our class discussions. The paper/bibliography may be oriented to suit your specific research interests. Discuss your choice with me before you proceed. The paper is a should be between 20-30 pages in length, must include an extensive list of literature, and must follow protocols for formal writing style. The annotated bibliography must include at least 30 substantial references (from recent publications or of historical significance to the argument, not including references discussed in class). You may provide less substantial references, but these are in addition to the core papers. Late submissions will receive a zero grade.
Week 1:
  - theoretical parameters, ethical issues, and solutions from archaeology
Week 2:
  Sources of Information for Ancient Environmental Lessons
Week 3:
  Using Zooarchaeology to Evaluate Impacts on Biodiversity: Do we have real evidence for anthropogenic biodiversity loss?
  - zooarchaeology methods (bones and shells, microfauna, biomolecules)
  - why save biodiversity?
  - first impacts on environments – evidence for extinction of animal species
  - management for biodiversity maintenance – the case of the Kayapo
Week 4:
  Using Archaeobotany to Define Deforestation: Is deforestation a global and historical problem?
  - archaeobotany methods (macro and microbotanicals, distribution patterning)
  - dangers of deforestation
  - case studies in deforestation on Easter Island, Hawaii, Cahokia, and the Southwest
  - solutions in agroforestry from Mexico
Week 5:
  Geoarchaeological Reconstructions of Soil Erosion: Is Soil Erosion An Inevitable Result of Agriculture?
  - geoarchaeology methods (landscapes, soils, and prospecting)
  - impact of soil erosion
  - soil erosion in the Mediterranean and Maya worlds
  - counteracting with terraces – evidence from the Southwest and Peru
Week 6:
  Fragile Environments:
Wetlands: Can wetlands be safely used with raised bed agriculture?
  - risks of the use of wetlands
  - raised field use in ancient Mesoamerica and Peru
  - failure in application of chinampas in Mexico; success in application of raised beds in Peru
  Dry lands and Water Management: Water is, and always was, freely available to rich and poor.
  - possibilities and dangers of irrigation
  - irrigation, complex management, and Mesopotamia
  - water control in the ancient Maya world (northern and southern lowlands)
Week 7:
  Complexity and Economic/Political Decision-Making
  - irrigation, complex management, and Mesopotamia
  - the Greenland example and distant management
  - extractive economics
Week 8:
  Risk management and the Impact of Climate Change
  - response variability in low and high complexity economics
Weeks 9/11:
  What caused the Maya collapse??
Week 12:
  Reviewing the lessons: what can we learn?
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