Introduction to Environmental Archaeology

In studying the way that humans used the resources of their environment and how it shaped the world they lived in can give archaeologists important clues to what life was like many thousands of years ago. This is done by an analysis of the remains of plants and animals, and of the different soils in which they are found.

Early crop growing would have had little impact on the ancient environment, however it became clear that for a community to flourish it would have been necessary to start growing more produce. For example, some people would have had to fell larger areas of forest or woodland to create more arable land and in turn this would have caused soil erosion, leading to flooding. With the clearing of these large areas of land would come the destruction of various ecosystems, wiping out entire species at the time, and inevitably affecting the diversity and richness of future generations of flora and fauna.

The most successful humans were those who were able to adapt to new environments and had access to the most resources. This in turn would give rise to a better standard of living and a rise in the population. Different cultures developed at various rates across the Earth, with some people hardly developing as a community. For example the Mequens in Brazil, still live as hunter-gatherers, in our own time.

Environmental Archaeology encompasses a range of techniques that is used to study a number of archaeological concepts: site -formation processes, reconstruction of subsistence, diet and trade, and the effects of land use on the landscape and includes:

* Palynology: The study of pollen, spores , and similar palynomorphs, living and fossil.

* Geoarchaeology: The combined study of archaeology and geology.

* Archaeobotany: The study of botanical remains at archaeological sites. The field examines both the natural and human generated flora on site.

* Zooarchaeology: The study of animal remains on archeological sites, which mainly consist of the hard parts of the body such as the bones, teeth and shells.

* Palaeopathology: The study of diseases in ancient humans or other forms of life.

* Parasitology: This is the scientific study of plants and animals that live as parasites.

* Geomorphology: Is actually a subdiscipline of geography, concerned with the study of the form and development of the landscape, it includes such specializations as sedimentology.

By using the abundance of multi disciplines at his disposal, the environmental archaeologist will examine the soils, flora, fauna and climate in often the most minutest of detail. Studying the evidence of how our ancestors impacted on the landscape has helped a great deal in helping to understand the affect that humans had in helping to shape the present day world.