Friday, September 23, 2011
In Memoriam: Frederick E. Winter and Environmental Archaeology
The Institute was in the process of organizing a colloquium here in Athens at the end of June 2012 to honor Professor Winter and his research in Greek architecture. Now it will be held in his memory with at least 17 Canadian researchers and professors presenting papers on a broad range of architectural topics ranging from the prehistoric period in the Aegean basin through Frankish Greece. More details and the program will be presented in the near future in this blog and on the Institute’s website.
In my last mini-review I examined a book dealing with archaeological sediments. This is, of course, but one component of the biological and geological material observed in and recovered from an archaeological excavation or documented on the surface or seen in an exposure on a pedestrian survey. The sub-discipline that encompasses all of this and more is called environmental archaeology. This is a clear extension of the biological and earth sciences. It deals with ecofacts (i.e. flora, fauna and insect remains), with geomorphology, with subsistence patterns, with palaeoenvironmental studies and with palaeoeconomic studies.
For many archaeologists without a background in the natural sciences and for other researchers using data obtained in one way or the other by archaeological fieldwork, “environmental archaeology” in general, and the data sets produced from this research as well as the specialist reports written about the findings are ill-defined territories of knowledge and esoteric scientific genres. Keith Wilkinson and Chris Stevens have written a book to dispel this ignorance. It is entitled, Environmental Archaeology. Approaches, Techniques & Applications (Stroud: The History Press, revised edition 2008). Their aims are broad and comprehensive. They start with first principles and then take “…the reader step-by-step through approaches, methods, theory and in particular, interpretation” (p. 9). Whenever possible the use the case study approach to explain and to illustrate particular points. The wide-ranging case studies cover Britain, Europe, Greece and the Near East with an emphasis on the prehistoric period and the Iron Age.
The first section addresses the various approaches to environmental archaeology. The next sections deal with archaeological landscapes as palaeoenvironments, the reconstruction of the palaeoeconomy, the role of ideology, and the use of theory in environmental archaeology. The final section surveys how one goes about doing this research as well as the collection, analysis and interpretation of the resulting data sets. The basic issues involved in writing about the findings of this research and publishing are commented on too.
If you do not know that environmental archaeology is divided into two major divisions, bioarchaeology and geoarchaeology, and have difficulty understanding discussions where technical terms are used such as mircofossils, palaeosol, ecotone, chaîne opératoire, transgressions, indicator species, and C-transforms, this book is what you need! The language is very accessible to the non-specialist and the terms used are defined. The illustrative materials (tables, charts, maps, 2-D and 3-D reconstructions, drawings, B/W photographs and visualizations) are excellent. Each section has a useful bibliography for further in depth reading. Don’t wait any longer to read it along with other related books in our Library!!!