Archaeologies of Empire and Environment

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

This symposium brings together archaeologists studying environment and empire across time and space to discuss the role that agriculture and land use plays in imperial strategies. This session asks how plants, animals, and other environmental resources become entangled in imperial acts of conquest and colonization, exploitation and inculcation.

This archaeological approach invites theoretical and methodological perspectives that connect imperial strategies with their environmental settings and imbue the environment with political criticality. They include environmental archaeologies that investigate local/regional signatures of empire; historical ecologies that ask how land management affects imperial biographies; political ecologies that presume environmental regimes have political valence; and new materialisms that infuse the non-human world with agency.

When archaeologists view imperial land use and environmental management as forms of statecraft, the political landscape moves from metaphor to unit of analysis, and ecofacts, gain empirical heft as artifacts of empire. This perspective reinstates an appreciation for the political economies of agrarian states, with all the resource flows and divisions of labor that surplus cultivation entails. At the same time, this approach treats political economies as human-environment interactions, which opens up all kinds of new questions, challenges, and approaches to the intersections of empire and environment.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-13 of 13)

  • Documents (13)

  • The Archaeology of Ecological Imperialism in Central Mexico (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Christopher Morehart.

    In the 1960s and 1970s, cultural anthropologist Roy Rappaport criticized the effects of the West on the developing world. Well before Crosby popularized the term, Rappaport labeled this process "Ecological Imperialism" to clarify the unequal relationship between the needs of an empire and environments it absorbs. Rappaport wrote when scientists were beginning to observe global ecological degradation, but anthropologists had yet to develop a historical perspective. Over the past decade,...

  • Bureaucratic Reforms on the Frontier: Zooarchaeological and Historical Perspectives on the 1767 Jesuit Expulsion in the Pimeria Alta (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Nicole Mathwich. Barnet Pavao-Zuckerman.

    The introduction of livestock to the Pimeria Alta (northern Sonora and southern Arizona), was one prong of Spanish imperial expansion into North America initiated largely by Jesuit missionization. Unlike other areas of North America, the missions in this region experienced an enormous bureaucratic transition following the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, and the subsequent arrival of Franciscan missionaries. Historians and historical anthropologists debate the social and economic impacts of...

  • Empire, Environment and Disease: an Indian Ocean Case Study. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Krish Seetah.

    Between 1855-59, the island of Mauritius, with a landmass of only 2040 km2, was producing 10% of the world’s sugar: a staggering testimony to the power of imperial influence on ecology. The transformations that this intensification in cane production resulted in were far reaching. One facet that remains poorly understood is the context of disease, despite a well-developed historical narrative . This paper presents details of a series of malaria epidemics that plagued the island from the 1850s...

  • Engineering an Ecosystem of Resistance: Late Intermediate Period Farming in the South-Central Andes (A.D. 1100-1450) (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only BrieAnna Langlie.

    In the 15th century, the Inca built the largest pre-colonial empire in the western hemisphere. In southern Peru near Lake Titicaca, an ethnic group known as the Colla violently resisted conquest by the Inca for several years. Because of their military prowess, the Inca named one quarter of their empire, Collasuyo, after this group. The Colla’s ability to resist Inca subjugation was facilitated by their decentralized economy evident in their construction and management of a new agricultural...

  • From Empire States to Country Estates – The Story of the Fallow Deer’s Global Conquest 6k BP to Present (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Naomi Sykes. Holly Miller. Karis Baker.

    It took millennia, but the European fallow deer (Dama dama) a beautiful cervid species native to the eastern Mediterranean has gradually been transported around the world - its modern distribution ranging from New Zealand to the Caribbean. The translocation of fallow deer was accompanied by a remarkably consistent culture of hunting and emparkment that altered landscape and environment. Using a combination of (zoo)archaeology, isotope analysis and genetic research to reconstruct the timing and...

  • Hitchhiking to the New World: Archaeoentomology and the Study of Introduced Insect and Ectoparasite Species. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Allison Bain. Mélanie Rousseau.

    This paper presents an overview of North American archaeoentomology, focussing on the study of introduced species. Seminal works on the introduction of plant and animal species during colonization suggested multiple parameters allowing for the colonization of the Americas by Old World species (Lindroth 1957) and introduced the term "European biological imperialism" (sensu Crosby 1972) to our vocabularies in environmental archaeology. Research in archaeoentomology, focussing primarily on beetles...

  • Imperial Context and Agricultural Content: Dimensions of Space and Practice in Agricultural Lifeways in Dhiban, Jordan, 500 CE – 1400 CE (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alan Farahani.

    In this paper the results of an archaeological case-study are presented to argue that considerations of space, taken here to be a physical location in Cartesian terms, are essential to identifying changes in agricultural practice in premodern imperial contexts. The recording of the location of samples intended for paleoethnobotanical analysis, whether through digital or other means, allows for more nuanced reconstructions of the depositional routes of archaeological plant remains. In turn, these...

  • Irrigation Canals as Subaltern Agents of Resistence: An Example from 19th Century Russian Turkestan (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Elizabeth Brite.

    In the mid 19th century, Imperial Russia established domination over "Russian Turkestan," a large territory in Central Asia. A core part of the colonial mission was the transformation of Turkestan's arid environments into productive farmland. Though this was eventually achieved by the Soviets who constructed massive new irrigation systems in Central Asia, earlier imperial authorities failed in this task and struggled for decades to wrest control of water management from local populations. In...

  • Localizing the Imperial Grain Economy in Mamluk Syria: Expressions of Village-Level Initiatives in 14th-Century Transjordan (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Bethany Walker.

    How did the medieval Islamic state realize its objectives in natural resource management? How can we distinguish the "hand of the state" from that of local initiatives in land use? This paper is an attempt to evaluate planting and watering strategies, differentiating imperial agro-policies from local practice at the village level. The focus is the intensification and diversification of grain production in 14th century Syria. Grain fields were the most valuable of the agrarian iqṭaʿāt (grants of...

  • Resilience and Regime Shift at the Ancient Maya City of Tikal (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only David L. Lentz. Nicholas Dunning. Vernon Scarborough.

    Over the time span of nearly a millennium, the ancient Maya polity of Tikal went through periods of growth, reorganization and adaptive cycles of various connected scales. Recent data show that following the reorganization of the Late Preclassic period, Tikal experienced an extended period of technological innovation and population growth that stretched the carrying capacity of the available landscape. A hydraulic system was constructed that provided water for the community during the dry...

  • Swahili Agriculture and Power Dynamics in Regional Perspective (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Sarah Walshaw. Jack Stoetzel. Matthew Pawlowicz.

    Urbanization along the Swahili coast coincided with an increasing importance of Islam, stone architecture, and materials traded through connections built inland as well as with Indian Ocean merchants. Archaeobotanical data from the town of Chwaka on Pemba Island, Tanzania (AD 1100-1500) suggest that foodways turned towards Asian crops, including rice and legumes, during the urbanization process. Beyond subsistence, crops held political power. Jeffrey Fleisher (2010) has suggested that feasting...

  • Thinking Through Zooarchaeological Approaches to Empire and Environment (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Sarah E. Adcock.

    In this paper, I explore the intersection of empire and environment in imperial and post-imperial contexts using the collapse of the Hittite empire and its aftermath in central Turkey around 1200 BC as a case study. More specifically, I mobilize zooarchaeological evidence from the Hittite capital of Hattuşa and from Çadır Höyük, a rural town, in order to discuss how we might distinguish between political, economic, and climatic factors in our interpretations of the relationships between empire...

  • Zones of Refuge: Resisting Conquest in the Northern Philippine Highlands through Agricultural Practice (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Stephen Acabado.

    The origins of the extensive wet-rice terrace complex in Ifugao, Philippines have been recently dated to ca. 400 years ago. Previously thought to be at least 2,000 years old, the recent findings of the Ifugao Archaeological Project show that landscape modification for terraced wet-rice cultivation started at ca. 1600. The archaeological record implies that economic intensification and political consolidation occurred in Ifugao soon after the appearance of the Spanish empire in the northern...