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The Archaeology and Historical Ecology of Small Scale Economies

Victor DThompson, James CWaggonerJr

Publication Year: 2013

Most research into humans' impact on the environment has focused on large-scale societies; a corollary assumption has been that small scale economies are sustainable and in harmony with nature. The contributors to this volume challenge this notion, revealing how such communities shaped their environment--and not always in a positive way.

Offering case studies from around the world--from Brazil to Japan, Denmark to the Rocky Mountains--the chapters empirically demonstrate the substantial transformations of the surrounding landscape made by hunter-gatherer and limited horticultural societies. Summarizing previous research as well as presenting new data, this book shows that the environmental impact and legacy of societies are not always proportional their size.

Understanding that our species leaves a footprint wherever it has been leads to both a better understanding of our prehistoric past and to deeper implications for our future relationship to the world around us.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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pp. v-vi

List of Figures

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pp. vii-viii

List of Tables

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

This book grew out of a symposium that Jamie Waggoner and I organized for the 74th annual Society for American Archaeology meetings in Atlanta, Georgia. Our goal with this symposium, originally entitled “Footprints on the Landscape: the Historical Ecology of Hunter-Gatherers,” was to bring together scholars...

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pp. xiii-xiv

This book could not have been completed without the aid and support of a number of individuals. I would like to thank my wife, Amanda Roberts Thompson, for her unending emotional support and understanding of my work on this project. She provided a much-needed sounding board for ideas and encouraged...

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1. Whispers on the Landscape

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pp. 1-14

During the latter half of the twentieth century, anthropology began to integrate explicit notions of ecology and the environment as central themes in the study of human societies (e.g., McCay and Acheson 1987; Moran 1990; Rappaport 1984; Steward 1977). The theoretical implications of these viewpoints influenced a...


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2. Human Impacts on Oyster Resources at the Mesolithic–Neolithic Transition in Denmark

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pp. 17-40

Human impacts on the environment are particularly pertinent in today’s world. The aim of this chapter is to consider the extent to which humans impacted shellfish populations in the past, and specifically in Denmark toward the end of the Mesolithic...

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3. Hunter-Gatherers, Endemic Island Mammals, and the Historical Ecology of California’s Channel Islands

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pp. 41-64

Historical ecology has emerged as an important transdisciplinary approach for investigating the influence of ancient peoples and natural climatic changes on ecosystems and organisms over long time scales (e.g., centuries, millennia, or more) (Balée 1998, 2006; Balée and Erickson 2006; Crumley 1994a; Egan and Howell...

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4. Climate Change, Human Impacts on the Landscape, and Subsistence Specialization: Historical Ecology and Changes in Jomon Hunter-Gatherer Lifeways

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pp. 65-78

The purpose of this chapter is to use the theoretical framework of historical ecology to discuss key factors that affected changes in Jomon huntergatherer lifeways. As an example of prehistoric hunter-gatherer economies, data from the Jomon period (ca. 16,000–2,500 cal. bp) of the Japanese archipelago offers a...

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5. Cumulative Actions and the Historical Ecology of Islands along the Georgia Coast

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pp. 79-95

John Davis wrote the above words more than 50 years ago in a chapter in the seminal volume Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth (Thomas 1956). A professor of botany at the University of Florida at the time of its publication, Davis considered shell mounding significant enough to include in his worldwide...

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6. A Historical Ecological Perspective on Early Agriculture in the North American Southwest and Northwest Mexico

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pp. 96-119

In the North American Southwest, a lengthy discussion continues regarding the extent to which agriculture produced dramatic changes in land use during the Late Archaic period (2000 bc–ad 150). Specifically, researchers debate to what degree...

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7. Monumental Shell Mounds as Persistent Places in Southern Coastal Brazil

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pp. 120-140

Long-favored locales on ancient landscapes enfold the remains of repetitious or continuous occupations over extended periods. When such locales are marked by monuments that served substantial and sustained populations, they are typically associated with middle-range to complex agricultural societies. However...

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8. To Become a Mountain Hunter: Flexible Core Values and Subsistence Hunting among Reservation-Era Blackfeet

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pp. 141-164

When anthropologist John Ewers entitled his landmark ethnography “The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains” (1958), he cemented the tribe’s reputation as fierce equestrian warriors and bison hunters. Ewers, as well as many other scholars before and after him, assumed that, without bison, hunting...


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9. Forging Collaborations between Ecology and Historical Ecology

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pp. 167-175

When I was a graduate student, my fellow ecologists and I looked down on “applied ecology” (studies addressing practical problems, such as environmental impacts) and sought to do research on “pristine” ecosystems. Today, these views seem naïve (Kidder, this volume). Modern society faces many problems that...

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10. Observations about the Historical Ecology of Small-Scale Societies

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pp. 176-183

Walt Kelly’s well-known line—uttered by his cartoon character Pogo—epitomizes the thesis of this book and the larger issues embedded in historical ecology. If the question is, do humans at every level of social organization and at all times transform the environment, and by how much, then the answer is absolutely, and...

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11. Epilogue: Contingency in the Environments of Foraging Societies

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pp. 184-188

The substantive chapters herein concern relationships through time between foragers and landscapes, and in a few instances, between foragers and seascapes. Sometimes the time frame is historical, as when the evidence at hand is documentation...

Works Cited

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pp. 189-222

List of Contributors

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pp. 223-228


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pp. 229-232

E-ISBN-13: 9780813042664
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813042428

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2013