Environmental archaeology is a sub-field of archaeology and is the science of reconstructing the relationships between past societies and the environments they lived in. The field represents an archaeological-palaeoecological approach to studying the palaeoenvironment through the methods of human palaeoecology. Reconstructing past environments and past peoples' relationships and interactions with the landscapes they inhabited provides archaeologists with insights into the origin and evolution of anthropogenic environments, and prehistoric adaptations and economic practices.
Environmental archaeology is commonly divided into three sub-fields:
- archaeobotany (the study of plant remains)
- zooarchaeology (the study of faunal remains)
- geoarchaeology (the study of geological processes and their relationship to the archaeological record)
Other related fields include:
Environmental archaeology often involves studying plant and animal remains in order to investigate which plant and animal species were present at the time of prehistoric habitations, and how past societies managed them. It may also involve studying the physical environment and how similar or different it was in the past compared to the present day. An important component of such analyses represents the study of site formation processes. This field is particularly useful when artifacts may be absent from an excavated or surveyed site, or in cases of earth movement, such as erosion, which may have buried artifacts and archaeological features. While specialist sub-fields, for example bioarchaeology or geomorphology, are defined by the materials they study, the term "environmental" is used as a general template in order to denote a general field of scientific inquiry that is applicable across time periods and geographical regions studied by archaeology as a whole.
Environmental archaeology has emerged as a distinct discipline in the course of the last 50 years. In recent years it has grown rapidly in significance and is now an established component of most excavation projects. The field is multidisciplinary, and environmental archaeologists as well as palaeoecologists work side by side with archaeologists and anthropologists specialising in material culture studies in order to achieve a more holistic understanding of past human lifeways and people-environment interactions.
A notable pioneer of environmental archaeology has been Karl Butzer.
Each focus within environmental archaeology collects information about a different aspect of human relation with their surrounding environment. Together these components (along with methods from other fields) are combined to fully understand a past society’s lifestyle and interactions with their environment. Past aspects of land use, food production, tool use, and occupation patterns can all be established and the knowledge applied to current and future human-environment interactions.
- What is Environmental Archaeology?
- A-Z of Archaeology: S - Seeds (Botanical Remains)
- A-Z of Archaeology: T - Taphonomy (Site Formation Processes)
- Aspects of Archaeology: Archaeozoology
- Animals, Food and Ancient Culture
- Association for Environmental Archaeology
- Historic England - Environmental Archaeology
- Archaeology Data Service - Environmental Archaeology Bibliography
- "What is Environmental Archaeology?". Florida Museum of Natural History. University of Florida. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
- Wilkinson, Keith (2003). Environmental Archaeology: Approaches, Techniques & Applications. Stroud: Tempus. ISBN 0752419315.
- Branch, Nick (2014). Environmental Archaeology: Theoretical and Practical Approaches. London: Routledge. ISBN 0340808713.
- "Online Archaeobotany Tutorial". Integrated Archaeobotanical Research Project. University of Sheffield. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
- Kris, Hirst. "Site Formation Processes". about education. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
- Butzer, Karl W. (2012). "Collapse, environment, and society". PNAS. 109: 3632–3639. doi:10.1073/pnas.1114845109. PMC 3309741
- "An interview with Professor Karl W. Butzer". YouTube. Anne Buttimer. 1987. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
- Environmental archaeology: theoretical and practical approaches. Place of publication not identified: Routledge, 2016.