Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Regardless of your stance on human-induced global warming, pretty much everyone agrees that our climate is constantly changing, and has done so for as long as humans (and before!) have walked the planet. The effects of climate change have long been studied by biologists, climatologists, geologists, environmental scientists, and countless others.

It hasn't always looked like this! 

Over the past decade or so, archaeologists have become increasingly aware of their unique position to study both past environments and human ecological impacts through time.This exciting research intersects with the above mentioned 'natural' sciences, and the interdisciplinary potential is immense. As these studies continue to be published, we're learning that prehistoric (and historic) populations altered their environments far more than we ever imagined. 

For example, archaeologists can study shell and bone chemistry:  

When shells grow, they record the environmental parameters around them, including temperature, salinity, vegetation, waste & pollution, and more

Human bones can highlight what sorts of animals, fish, and plants people were eating, revealing what sort of environment they were exploiting

Coring deep into archaeological sites: 
Coastal stratigraphy can tell archaeologists about sea level fluctuation, climatic events like hurricanes, and many other environmental impacts

Studying premodern animals and plants: 

Zooarchaeologists can compare past animal populations with modern ones to learn about sustainability, speciation, changes in local trophic levels, and other human ecological impacts 

Paleoethnobotanists study historic and prehistoric plant use by people, revealing what past vegetation would have been like 

The take-away is that through the knowledge of the past, archaeologists can work together with other fields to address modern environmental problems, right here in northeast Florida. FPAN staff strongly support such collaboration, and we are working to establish educational and public outreach partnerships with local facilities such as the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTMNERR) , Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, the Jacksonville Museum of Science and Industry, and Daytona's Museum of Arts and Sciences

Text: Ryan Harke, FPAN Staff. Images: NASA, Ryan Harke, Beth Blankenship, Michele Williams, Rob Tykot, and Emily Jane Murray

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