Environmental Archaeology -- Anthropology 142
Dr. Lisa Kealhofer
Office: O’Connor 319 Office Hours: 10:30-11:30 MW (and by appt.)
Phone: 554-6810 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We know that people “impact” the environment, and we often speak of this human impact in negative terms. In this
class we will take a different perspective on people in the environment. We will look at how the environment
preserves evidence of how people lived and worked in the past. The fundamental question we will address is: How
can we use the environment –particularly the fossil environment – to understand past societies? One definition of
being human, or having culture, is having the ability to modify materials and create artifacts. As soon as we begin to
modify the material world around us, we affect the landscape. In fact we could argue that simply by living in the
landscape any organism modifies it. So how are humans different? What is the significance of manipulating the
The overall goals of this course are (1) to introduce you to new material and ideas related both to archaeology and the
environment, (2) to encourage you to critically analyze how people interpret archaeological and environmental data,
and (3) to help you develop problem-solving skills. On a more specific level, you should also gain a better
understanding of archaeological and anthropological theory, human prehistory and history, and how landscapes are
The first two weeks focus on the range of approaches that are used by those who study past human environments. The
remaining weeks look at the types of data that environmental archaeologists use to reconstruct past environments and
human land use. As each type of data and methodology are introduced we will integrate them with an ongoing study
of the past human environmental interaction in the Santa Clara Valley. In addition to classroom discussion, students
will work individually and in small groups to define a project (problem), figure out what methods can address the
problem, and collect some data toward answering the problem. The local area around Santa Clara will provide the
context for defining and studying the term’s past human environmental issues.
The emphasis in this class will be on active student learning. Lecturing will be only a small part of course content.
Studies of learning suggest that students develop a better grasp on concepts, methods and content when they take
“ownership” over what they are learning. While there are a variety of ways this can be achieved, taking on a problem
and figuring out how to answer it (and dealing with the subsequent ambiguities that arise) is one way to achieve
deeper learning outcomes. The class format will therefore include about 25-30% lecture, 30-35% student presentation
(equally split between formal and informal), and 30-35% lab/field exercises. Informal student presentations include
students responding to and integrating their readings with the problem they are trying to address in their projects.
The readings for this class are on electronic reserve (ERES). Please see class schedule for article titles and scheduling.
Read the articles BEFORE the day they are assigned. ERES password= environment.
Useful Environmental Bibliography is in a Bibliography file on ERES.
Beginning Week 3, each week will be divided into a different activity for each class. Monday classes will present
relevant material over lapping with the readings for the week – either as a case study, a video, or a lecture. On
Wednesday, students will present, as a group, articles they have found that are relevant to the topic (with instructor
consultation). These can focus on methodology, history, or other disciplines, but must be linked and consciously
related to the topics discussed on Monday. On Friday, students will split into two groups. Each group will have a lab
Anthro 142--Environmental Archaeology – Fall 2001 2
or field experience every other Friday. On the intervening Friday they will work on a problem set from environmental
Information use: learn how to find and use a variety of different types of data sources
Problem defining and solving: identify basic archaeological principles for analyzing and interpreting
Teamwork: work cooperatively with other students and staff to explore the steps involved in problem solving
Observation: “read” the landscape from more than one perspective (visual, historical, biological, geological)
Interpretation: compare your interpretation of your data with how archaeologists interpret comparable data
Gain familiarity with the basic concepts and methods used in environmental archaeology
Learn the types of theoretical issues that archaeologists and environmental archaeologists confront
Gain an appreciation of the complexity of human-land interactions, and
Learn the significance of scalar relationships in environmental and human environmental problems
Grading and Assessment:
Four general activities will determine your grade in this class. You should spend 10-15 hours per week
studying for this class. Assessment will be based on the quality of your performance for each of these categories:
Class participation (including attendance, handing in project reports, and interaction): 25%
Problem discussions and outlines (formal and informal): 25%
Labs and exercises: 25%
Final project: 25%
Attendance: Please note that if you do not attend classes and participate in the discussions you will not pass this class.
Extensions for assignments or make-ups are only possible with proof of illness or of an unavoidable event.
Discussions: Each student will sign up to lead two problem discussions. See guidelines for discussions below [after
Labs: There will be three lab assignments, due on the Monday after the lab/field project. The write up should include
5 sections: a short description of the goal of the lab (both learning objectives and problem), the methods used, the data
collected, analysis of the data, and interpretation of the results.
Problem sets: Three problems will be handed out based on real data sets. A series of short questions will be asked in
the problem set which the student should answer as specifically as possible. The overall goal is to interpret a sequence
of environmental data to understand how the human environment changed during the period represented. In every
case a variety of interpretations will be possible, so brief discussions of alternative explanations must be included as
well as a rationale for why you chose the interpretation that you did.
Final Project: The final project for this class is due during the last week of class. The project must be presented to the
class as a 15 min powerpoint presentation (15-20 “slides”). The project that you turn in should be a formal write up of
your results, including the problem addressed, why it is significant, what method(s) you used, how you interpreted
your data, and what conclusions you reached. This is a group paper, so you need to organize who will write which
sections, compile the bibliography, do the graphics, etc. The total paper length for the group should be ca. 20 pages of
text (3-5 pgs/person).
Note that beginning at the end of the third week of class several project-related texts are due [problem definition,
methodology, bibliography, outline] over the course of the quarter to encourage your progress towards completing the
TOPIC: Your project will address a human environmental problem based in the environs of Santa Clara. The project
may relate to the recent, historic past (post 1769, pre 1960), or the prehistoric past. The project problem should be
specific enough that you can collect data that answer the question. For example, what can the soil distribution of a 10
km region around SCU tell us about the vegetation resources available to the Ohlone in the early 18 th c? (and
indirectly, what other factors are going to affect the distribution of vegetation?). What do historic accounts of land use
over the last 230 years tell us about changing perceptions of the environment (and what are the implications of this)?
How did the missionaries create a new system of land use at Santa Clara (what were the constraints and opportunities
for supporting a mission population)?
Groups: groups should include 3-4 students. After you form a group, carefully work out who is responsible for what
part of the project, and how you will integrate your results at the end (into the presentation and the paper).
Anthro 142--Environmental Archaeology – Fall 2001 3
Performance quality – or your grade – will be judged by: 1) your understanding of the subject, 2) your ability to apply
what you learn in readings and discussion to problems, questions, and your final project, 3) your completion of all
four categories noted above, and 4) your degree of competence, analytical ability, and intellectual initiative. Grades
will be assigned as follows:
A: student goes beyond what is expected, shows a high level of abstract thinking [by generalizing into new
contexts], making new applications or drawing original conclusions. Student shows evidence of wide reading, carries
out genuine research for project (i.e. gathers data, putting in extra time and effort)
B: student performs at a level that is expected of good students: completes the assignments, synthesizes the
material, and occasionally shows original thought.
C: student shows some understanding and ability to use concepts, but does not fully integrate the ideas [e.g.
Lists information]. Little transformation of material learned [“rote”] or thought.
D: Student understands only one or a few of the basic aspects of the course, is unable to transform the
information into thoughtful argument or synthesis.
F: Student fails to learn, synthesize, or integrate the material.
PART 1: DEFINITIONS, HISTORY, AND METHODS
Week 1: Introduction: Approaches to Past Landscapes and Environments
Sept 17 Mon Introduction to Environmental Archaeology? Description of the course requirements
19 Weds How and Why do We Study Past Environments?
Readings: Reitz et al. 1996: Chapter 1; Dincauze 2000: Chapter 1
21 Fri History of Environmental Studies
Readings: White 1985; Goudie 1994:1-8
Week 2: Approaches to Past Landscapes and Environments continued
Sept 24 Mon How do People Impact the Environment?
Readings: Bell and Walker 1992 Chapter 6
26 Weds Historical and Cultural Ecology
Readings: Winterhalder 1994; Kaplan and Manners 1972:75-87; Netting 1977:1-7
28 Fri Environmental History
Readings: Worster 1990; Williams 1994
PART 2: ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES AND THE SANTA CLARA REGION
Week 3: Soils
Oct 1 Mon Soil Analysis
Readings: Shackley 1981: Chapter 1
3 Weds Student Planning Day
Oct 5 Fri – Project definition due – Field exercise on soils
Readings: Birkeland 1984 Chapter 1; USDA soil descriptions
Week 4: Reconstructing Environments: Botanical Data
Oct 8 Mon Assessing Environmental Change: Vegetation: [micro] plant remains (pollen & phytoliths)
Readings: Shackley: Chapter 4
10 Weds The Vegetation Communities of the Santa Clara region and their ethnobotany: Subsistence
Readings: USDA Chapter 5; Thomas 1961: Introduction; Blackburn and Anderson 1993: Introduction
12 Fri Field exercise on soils
Readings: Birkeland 1984 Chapter 1; USDA soil descriptions
Week 5: Reconstructing Environments: Faunal Data
Anthro 142--Environmental Archaeology – Fall 2001 4
Oct 15 Mon Animals, Ecology, and Husbandry
Readings: Davis 1987: Chapter 3
17 Weds The relationships between people and animals in the past
Readings: SF Estuary Project 1992 60-73; Beck & Haase 1974: 9. 10, 30, 69, 94; Harris 1992: 12-23
19 Fri : Lab exercise: microbotanical remains/KPD microfossil interpretation
Project Bibliography due
Week 6: Dating
Oct 22 Mon Dating techniques and issues
Readings: Rapp and Hill 1998: Chapter 7
24 Weds Dating the Past in Santa Clara (compile absolute dates for the area)
Readings: Make up a timeline for the last 1000 years with 10 environmentally significant dates – include
26 Fri Lab exercise: microbotanical remains/KPD microfossil interpretation
Week 7: Settlement Systems and Issues of Scale
Oct 29 Mon Settlements and Issues of Scale
Readings: Dincauze 2000:67-79; Bell and Walker 1992: 2-7; Roberts 1996 Chapter 6
31 Weds Settlement Patterns in the Santa Clara Region: prehistoric and historic
Readings: Levy 1978; Stodder 1986: 7-15; Garcia 1997
Nov 2 Fri: Lab exercise: dating techniques/KPD faunal interpretation
Project Outline due
Week 8: Fire ecologies
Nov 5 Mon People and Fire
Readings: Pyne 1982: Fire and Life; Mellars 1976
7 Weds Fire history and ecology in California
Readings: Lewis (in Blackburn and Anderson) 1993
9 Fri Lab exercise: dating techniques/KPD faunal interpretation
Week 9: Environment and Colonialism
Nov 12 Mon The Impact of Colonization: Environmental History
Rough “draft” of project due
Readings: Cronon 1983: Chapter 4; Butzer 1992
14 Weds Colonization, Environment and Land Use in California
Readings: Rezanov and Langsdorff 1806; Merchant 1998
16 Fri: Visiting Lecturer
Nov 19-23 Thanksgiving Break
Week 10: Industrialization and the Environment
Nov 26 Mon Student Project Presentations
28 Weds Student Project Presentations
30 Fri Student Project Presentations: FINAL project due
Anthro 142--Environmental Archaeology – Fall 2001 5
Presentation Guidelines: (Wednesday/Friday discussions)
The seminar presentations serve several purposes: to demonstrate
1) your understanding of the reading and your ability to apply the information in the articles to the
2) your ability to think creatively about the question posed, and
3) your ability to communicate these ideas to your peers.
The discussion question listed on the syllabus should provide you with a way to focus your reading, and to help you
think about the assigned articles more carefully and critically as you read. Prepare your discussion of the question, and
be able to talk for about 10-15 minutes (do NOT summarize the articles). Compare the general background of the
issue (burning for example) with the evidence from California/Santa Clara – what can we say (what kinds of data are
available, are they appropriate for the problem)? What are the problems with the data and/or the methodology? What
could you do to address these issues?
As you read the articles, consider when it was written, who the author is (discipline, biases), what the author's
argument consists of (the problem statement, thesis to be proved, etc.). What key points or details seem particularly
striking and why? What limitations, problems in line of reasoning, or gaps might you see in the piece? Do the authors
do what they set out to, and are you convinced by their arguments? Can you suggest ways to extend or apply the ideas
from the article to the ideas to discussions/readings from class? Are there things you don't understand and feel should
Create a handout (maximum 1 page) that summarizes the important points of your discussion. Make copies
for each member of class (or post a copy to ERES through the instructor). To structure your presentation, attempt the
1. A general answer to the question(s), making use of the ideas, methods, and data presented in the readings.
(ca. 1 pg.)
2. A list or discussion of what else you need to know in order to answer or address the question, and a set of
questions (3 or 4) that arise as you read the articles and answer the question.
3. Solicit other answers to the question from your classmates, identifying alternative methods and solutions.
Written work must include the sources cited. The style of reference required is that used in the Journal American
Antiquity. This includes both how references are cited in texts and the style of bibliography.
It is your responsibility to indicate the portions of your writing (including pictures, diagrams, or other media) which
have been “borrowed” from other sources. There is nothing wrong with appropriate “cited” use of other people’s
information as long as their work is acknowledged. This includes material from the web as well as documents.
If you have any difficulty identifying what should be referenced, read it through carefully. Ask yourself whether
readers of this essay could possibly recognize any phrase, idea, facts, or interpretation as deriving from another
source. If so, then you must indicate those passages which contain the recognizable material and reference their
Borrowed material that is NOT acknowledged is plagiarized. It is not only unethical to plagiarize, but it is also illegal.
Plagiarism is severely penalized in all universities.
Pitfalls to avoid
Don’t go over the page limits – they are set to help you develop a sharp and concise style. Going under the limit is
preferable to “padding” your text. Remember, assessment is based on quality of your argument and presentation not
on volume of text.
Do not use value judgments or subjective terminology such as “backward”, “surprisingly advanced”, “superior”, or
“developed”. Words such as “primitive” and “civilized” have technical meanings and unless you are sure of these
definitions they should be avoided. Define the terms you use.
Anthro 142--Environmental Archaeology – Fall 2001 6
Issues for Wednesday discussion (integrate the readings with one additional relevant article per presenter
[local reference if possible]):
Week 1: The “environment” is an important feature of our world – it has political, social, and economic ramifications
for all of us. How has the history of our knowledge about the environment (plants, animals, soils, water) affected our
attitudes towards it? What role have Californians played in the development of different perspectives on the
Week 2: “Environment” has many different meanings to different people – and is studied in many different ways. In
class and in the readings we have talked about several approaches to studying the environment. Identify the question
that is being asked by each approach. Compare and contrast these different approaches and their contribution to
understanding the environment. What does anthropology have to contribute to a study of environment and landscape?
Week 3: No Class
Week 4: Plants provide one means to evaluate many different processes: land degradation, land use, soil quality,
climate, temperature, etc. Based on evidence of modern plant distributions in the Santa Clara region, what can we say
about environmental change and land use? What relationship does change in vegetation have to changing patterns of
political and social organization that existed in the region over time?
Week 5: Animals use their environments at very different scales (i.e. size of territory). What were the major changes
in animals (species, abundance, and distribution) that occurred over the course of the historic period in the Santa Clara
region? What human actions affected these changes…. And how were human actions shaped by these changes?
Think about animals at different scales: bears, rabbits, frogs, insects, and fish.
Week 6: Being able to date when changes occurred – assessing not only their timing but their duration and
periodicity – is critical to understanding the process of both cultural and environmental change. What environmental
and cultural processes do we have dates for in the Santa Clara Valley? How does the set of dates we have shape (and
potentially bias) our understanding of prehistoric and historic processes? How do chronometric issues shape our
ability to study past human environmental issues?
Week 7: Scale is perhaps one of the most critical factors which affect the interaction between people and the
environment. Scale includes issues related to size (physical), demography, extent, duration, etc. Our ability to assess
process is determined by the scale at which we address the problem. Using the Santa Clara Valley as an example,
think about what scales are relevant for analyzing different types of human-environmental interactions (subsistence
over time, raw material acquisition, water use, seasonality of resources, trade, etc.).
Week 8: In the last couple decades both archaeologists and historians have come to appreciate the importance of fire
for human management of environmental resources. Some scholars suggest that prehistoric groups managed nearly
every habitat with systematic fire regimes, creating “clean”, “clear” and “productive” habitats for living, hunting, and
gathering. California vegetation patterns suggest that fire has long been an important part of local ecologies. How can
we assess the difference between cultural and natural fires? What are the implications of scale (size) and
Week 9: Colonization since the 16th has had a dramatic impact on the world. Species introductions onto new
continents, the spread of diseases, extinctions, and displacement are among the many effects of colonization. What
were the impacts of European contact in California? When did they begin (pre or post colonization)? Which colonial
activities were most significant for changing the environment? for affecting indigenous groups? Is there anything left
in our environment today (in Silicon Valley) that was the same during the pre-colonial period? Where would we find
evidence of the pre-colonial environments?