Christian Isendahl and Daryl Stump (eds)
Oxford University Press, £110
Review Catherine Barnett
This collection of papers examines the place of humans within their global ecosystem, along with their long-term modification of, and responses to, it. The book brings together contributors and subject areas from the fields of anthropology, archaeology, and landscape history in order to address major environmental issues, including lessons to be learned regarding water security, sustainable agricultural practice, and nature conservation.
The volume has an emphasis on methodologies and applied archaeological practice, but also draws on well-researched case studies. Part I considers issues such as temporal scale, the potential contribution of archaeology to environmental conservation, and the application of geoarchaeology, with individual techniques such as isotopic analysis, population modelling, and archaeozoology explored further in Part II.
The approach of contributors in Parts II and III of looking at individual past communities and their relationship with their local environment is an important one in seeking solutions to current agrarian and ecological challenges. For instance, Kendall and Drew address the successes and failures of the reintroduction of Inca terracing and irrigation systems to Peru, while Lindholm examines historical patterns and drivers for mobility and land use in South Africa to better understand recent land degradation in the area and support land management.
In Part IV, contributors take a broader approach to consider major societal shifts, and examine the usefulness of historical data in providing insights to current problems. Throughout, there is an emphasis on combining different data sources, such as historical records, ethnography, archaeological sites and features, bio- and geoarchaeology, and material culture in innovative ways. This multidisciplinary approach is welcome, although the contribution of climatologists, modellers, and nature conservators might have been a useful addition.
The volume is the culmination of an ambitious and multifaceted approach to examining contemporary environmental challenges and highlights the important role of archaeology and history in providing new solutions. It is a substantial piece of work, but also an excellent, thought-provoking read.