Among the challenges facing humanity today is the sustainability of our coupled ecological and social systems. With its insights into tens of thousands of years of human activities in all parts of the globe, archaeology can provide unique and invaluable understandings of the sustainability of human societies. The archaeological record encodes hundreds of situations in which societies were able to develop long-term sustainable relationships with their environments, and thousands of situations in which the relationships were short-lived and mutually destructive. This course discusses the challenging issues of sustainability and collapse from an archaeological perspective. Following the discussion of fundamental concepts, issues and perspectives on resilience, vulnerability, adaptation, collapse, and reorganization, an array of alternative conceptual models and analytic approaches will be introduced to investigate coupled social and ecological systems in the past. We will examine selected cases of collapse and resilience among diverse kinds of ancient societies from American Southwest, Mesoamerica, the Mediterranean, Angkor, and Easter Island, assessing the interacting societal and environmental factors in transforming societies during the period of radical change often termed “collapse”. The discussion will emphasize the multi-causality of prehistoric and historical collapses, the diversity of human responses to environmental and societal crises, and the regeneration of complex societies after periods of decentralization and collapse.
- Students will become acquainted with basic concepts, diverse models and perspectives to define and explore research questions of human-environmental interactions in past societies.
- Students will develop analytical skills to examine archaeological and ecological data, and to evaluate interacting factors contributing to the resilience and vulnerability of ecological, social and political systems in the past.
- Students will improve their abilities to work together as a team and to demonstrate excellent written and oral skills in presenting an archaeological case study.
- Students are expected to build up a fundamental understanding and deep appreciation of long-term perspectives that can inform contemporary sustainability issues and debates.