5810 Socially Created Vulnerabilities and Their Human Costs: Archaeological Perspectives

Sunday, February 19, 2012: 1:30 PM
Room 211 (VCC West Building)
Michelle Hegmon , Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Archaeological research has great potential to contribute to policy and decision tools for addressing challenges today and in the future, because only archaeology can provide information on long-term sequences of socio-environmental processes in the context of climate change.   Archaeological contributions will be enhanced by perspectives that consider the human costs of such processes.  Drawing on comparative study of the US Southwest and the North Atlantic, this paper investigates how some societies maintain continuity in the face of major changes in the environment, broadly construed.   Specific focus is on Iceland and Greenland (in the North Atlantic) and Zuni, and Salinas (in the Southwest) in the “interesting times” of the 13th and 14th centuries AD.  In these times both regions experienced (1) new climatic regimes that resulted in generally more difficult and more variable biophysical conditions; and (2) migrations, violence, political changes, and religious developments that changed their social and demographic environments.  Societies in the four cases persisted, albeit with some reorganization, with varying long term trajectories and consequences: Zuni and Salinas saw increases in social inequality and long periods of stability; Greenlanders  shifted their subsistence strategies and survived until the mid-15th century, and Iceland began a period of what some have characterized as stagnation and eventually severe environmental degradation.  Research is based on a new method that considers multiple dimensions of human security, as were defined by the United Nations Development Programme.   It is possibly the first application of these concepts in archaeology, and represents a major advance in understanding the lived experience of people in the past while maintaining a comparative scientific perspective.