Biological Exchange in the Anthropocene: Archaeological and Genetic Perspectives

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 81st Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL (2016)

Human trade, travel and transport have led to the movement of a vast number of plants, animals and pathogens, and the creation of cosmopolitan assemblages of organisms across all continents. Perhaps the best-known example of large-scale human-mediated translocation is the Columbian Exchange, which famously led to the exchange of a diverse array of domesticates, weeds and diseases between the Old and New Worlds in the decades after 1492. Archaeological and genetic research have nonetheless begun to reveal the earlier roots of biological exchange in various global contexts. This session will adopt a multidisciplinary perspective, exploring biological exchange in the Anthropocene using the latest techniques in archaeology and genetics.

Geographic Keywords
AFRICAEuropeCaribbeanMesoamericaNorth America-Canada

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-15 of 15)

  • Documents (15)

  • 10,000 years of bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria): archaeology of the first global crop (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Andrew Clarke.

    The bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) has been cultivated for at least 10,000 years and was the only plant species cultivated in both the Old and New Worlds before Columbus; in this sense, it can be considered the world’s first global crop. Its durable fruit shells are used for containers, apparel and musical instruments throughout the tropics, subtropics and some temperate zones worldwide. Despite the importance of bottle gourd, its distribution across many cultures, and a long-standing...

  • Anthropogenic plant translocations in the western Indian Ocean: Archaeobotanical perspectives on the Anthropocene from Madagascar and the Comoros (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alison Crowther. Nicole Boivin. Leilani Lucas. Henry Wright. Chantal Radimilahy.

    Although Madagascar is probably best known for its unique endemic flora and fauna, humans have also played a key role in shaping biological diversity on the island. Indeed, it is estimated that humans have been responsible for the introduction of some 10% of Madagascar’s flora in the centuries since the island was first colonised. For many of these plants, the precise dates of introduction are unknown; and while many are undoubtedly relatively recent introductions, a number are suggested to have...

  • Bio-cultural exchange and human health - past and present (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Naomi Sykes. Holly Miller. Karis Baker.

    There is growing concern about the impact of biological exchange on human health, the WHO correlating shifts in biodiversity with the decline of medicinal biota and the emergence and spread of infectious diseases. Paradoxically, human desire to improve health and well-being has been the very motivation behind the worldwide translocation of many species. This is, in part, because ethnomedicine tends to target preferentially species that are exotic, the belief being that geographical distance is...

  • Biological exchange in the Swahili world: archaeofaunal and biomolecular evidence (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Mary Prendergast. Michael Buckley. Heidi Eager. Alison Crowther. Nicole Boivin.

    The Swahili coast, stretching from Somalia to Mozambique, has a long history of engagement in western Indian Ocean trade, from at least the first century CE according to documentary evidence. One result is the widespread use of animals of Asian origin – particularly zebu cattle (Bos indicus) and chicken (Gallus gallus) – in African subsistence systems today. However, tracing these animals’ arrival and spread is complicated by their osteological similarities to indigenous taxa and by poor...

  • An empty gut: the recent loss of our microbial symbionts (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Christina Warinner. Krithivasan Sankaranarayanan. Thomas Stoellner. Frank Ruehli. Cecil Lewis.

    The increasing connectedness of global human populations during the Anthropocene has spread microbial pathogens far and wide. Yet at the same time, the human gut microbiome has simplified, leaving industrialised societies with less complex and diverse microbiota, and increased risk for chronic inflammatory disorders. Among the many taxa that have been lost is the bacterial genus Treponema. Treponema are present in the gut microbiota of great apes, present day hunter-gatherers in Africa and South...

  • Genetic insights into commensal small mammal invasions of Madagascar in prehistory (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Nicole Boivin. Heidi Eager. Jeremy Searle. Greger Larson. Steve Goodman.

    A number of invasive small mammal species, including various commensal rodents, have achieved significant range expansion as a result of accidental transportation by humans. In the Indian Ocean, this is true of the black rat, Rattus rattus, the house mouse, Mus musculus, and the Asian house shrew, Suncus murinus. The spread of these species across the Indian Ocean appears to have been facilitated by the emergence of trading networks beginning thousands of years ago. We conducted molecular...

  • Genome analysis of medieval Yersinia pestis suggests an ancient European source population for the majority of modern plague strains (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Johannes Krause. Maria A. Spyrou. Michal Feldman. Alexander Herbig. Kirsten I. Bos.

    Yersinia pestis is among the most notorious pathogens and is thought to be responsible for at least three major Eurasian plague pandemics since the Late Antique. Much has been speculated about the origin of the disease, and its potential migration routes to various parts of the world. Historical documents point toward an African origin for the first pandemic during the 6th century AD and an Asian source for the 14th century Black Death. Modern molecular data, however, suggest an East Asian...

  • Genomic insights into long-term domestic animal translocation (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Greger Larson.

    Animal domestication first began at least 14,000 years ago with the archaeological emergence of domestic dogs. A multitude of other animals followed suit more or less coincident with the origins of settled agriculture in numerous locations independently. The history of human translocations of wild animals dates back to at least 40,000 years ago, and humans were certainly responsible for the appearance of the wild progenitors of domestic animals on islands prior to their domestication. Here, I...

  • 'I rode through the desert': equestrian adaptations in southern hemisphere arid zones (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Peter Mitchell.

    The ‘Columbian exchange’ set in motion by Europe’s fifteenth- to nineteenth-century expansion overseas has produced some of the most far-reaching biological and cultural changes of the entire Anthropocene epoch. One of the most widespread aspects of its exchanges was the introduction of the horse to parts of the world where it had previously been absent. Alongside the internationally well-known Plains of North America, these regions included several southern hemisphere arid zones: Patagonia; the...

  • Identification of early anthropogenic movements of exotic species using sedaDNA (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Robin Allaby. Oliver Smith. Vincent Gaffney.

    The Anthropocene is defined as the global modification of ecosystems by anthropogenic activity and is evidenced by traces in the geological record. Debate is ongoing regarding the onset of the Anthropocene, with some regarding the first traces of human activity as a starting point, while others point to later intensification and clearer anthropogenic signatures as more suitable. An early geological signature of human activity is recorded in the DNA laid down and sealed in marine sediments...

  • The Pre-Columbian Exchange: The Anthropogenic Zoogeography of Insular Caribbean Translocations (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Scott Fitzpatrick. Christina Giovas. Michelle LeFebvre.

    The post-Columbian introduction of exotic animals in the West Indies initiated a cascade of ecological changes, resulting in extensive defaunation, reduction and homogenization of biodiversity, loss of ecosystem services, and extinction of island endemics. Yet, these changes were not without precedent in the Caribbean, one of the world’s foremost biodiversity hotspots. Evidence suggests that in the years before 1492, Amerindians in the region had already profoundly impacted insular ecology,...

  • Radiocarbon dated archaeozoological and palaeoecological evidence of initial human colonization in Madagascar (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Geoff Clarke. Aaron Camens. Simon Haberle. Atholl Anderson.

    Human impacts to Madagascar, through the introduction of non-native species, habitat modification and species extinctions, are thought to have begun in the prehistoric period. Understanding of these anthropogenic modifications to Madagascar’s ecosystems is, however, impossible without solid chronologies for human settlement and expansion across the island, which are currently lacking. Estimates of the period in which people first colonized Madagascar have varied considerably, and never more so...

  • Searching for pathogens in a New World colonial epidemic burial (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kirsten Bos. Alexander Herbig. Daniel H. Huson. Noreen Tuross. Johannes Krause.

    While methodological advancements in ancient DNA research have permitted the reconstruction of ancient bacterial genomes, pathogen detection has thus far been limited to capture-based approaches that carry with them a strong ascertainment bias. Such biases are reduced when historical or archaeological contexts implicate a particular disease, but examples of this are rare in the archaeological record. Ancient DNA could serve as an important tool for elucidating the biological consequences of...

  • Using stable isotope analyses to assess the geographical origins of pork and beef products in a historical New World population center (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Eric Guiry. Michael Richards.

    This presentation explores the utility of stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses as a method for tracing the geographical origins of meat products from major livestock species. Samples (n= 250) from pigs and cattle consumed in the historical city of York, later renamed Toronto, in Canada are compared with animals raised in other areas, in both local as well as distant regions. Results show how cultural as well as environmental isotopic variables can be used to distinguish between animals...

  • What plants existed in the Lesser Antilles just prior to 1492 and could they have been exploited by the island inhabitants? - new data from archaeological excavations at Anse Trabaud, Martinique (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Michael Field. Jaime Pagán-Jiménez. Menno Hoogland. Jason Laffoon. Corrine Hofman.

    The exploitation of plants in the tropical belt by Europeans had a major influence on the distributions of many species. The Lesser Antillean islands received their fair share of new arrivals. But what plant species inhabited the Lesser Antillean islands just prior to 1492? Establishing which plant species occurred immediately before colonial times would increase our understanding of the impact of alien introductions, provide information about biogeographical range changes, and, in addition,...