Environmental Rebound in the Protohistoric Americas: Untangling Cause and Effect

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

Archaeological data have demonstrated that prehistoric Americans had considerable influence on the structure of their environments; however, this influence often went unacknowledged by the accounts of European colonizers, who were struck by what seemed to them "pristine" landscapes. One proposed cause for this contradiction is environmental rebound: indigenous populations were so reduced by disease, violence, and other consequences of colonization that there was a rebound of resources to historically observed levels. Although widely invoked as an explanation for the pristine myth, environmental rebound in the protohistoric Americas is not well understood, in part due to the methodological challenges involved in exploring multi-causal explanations. How did disease, warfare, and other aspects of colonization combine to produce demographic change? Was rebound ubiquitous in the Americas? Did it occur after initial contact with non-indigenous populations or only after sustained colonization? In testing for rebound in the archaeological record, how do we disentangle the effects of climate change and in situ cultural change? This symposium will explore these and other challenges in identifying protohistoric changes in environment and subsistence.

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  • Documents (6)

  • Artiodactyl Exploitation in Northeastern California during the Terminal Prehistoric/Protohistoric Time Periods: Evidence of Environmental Rebound? (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kasey Cole. Frank Bayham.

    Artiodactyl representation in the archaeological record can be a particularly sensitive indicator of past human-environmental interactions due to their status as a high-ranking prey item. In this study we explore terminal prehistoric and protohistoric patterning of artiodactyl exploitation in the archaeofaunal record in Northeastern California. Specifically, this study examines previously published zooarchaeological data derived from residential sites situated along the Pit River in conjunction...

  • Demographic Collapse and Deintensification in Protohistoric Alta California (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jacob Fisher.

    Decreased human population densities associated with European exploration and colonialism in western North America may explain the historic observations of bountiful game that contrasts so drastically with the archaeological record on resource intensification. At Kathy’s Rockshelter in the northern Sierra Nevada foothills, California, there is a clear prehistoric trend towards resource depression of artiodactyls and increased dependence on small mammals, freshwater mussels, geophytes, and other...

  • The Environmental Conquest of West Mexico: The Lake Pátzcuaro and Malpaso Valley Case Studies (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Christopher Fisher. Michelle Elliott.

    Though the next century will bring great environmental challenges the impact of global warming pales in comparison to the dramatic environmental changes associated with European Colonialism, beginning in the late 15th century. Chief among them is the Conquest of the Americas involving the breakdown of millennial-aged systems of land engineering and tenure, compounded by depopulation, and the introduction of the Euro-agro suite. Throughout Central Mexico the initial century of Conquest...

  • Rebound, stress, persistence, or subsistence? The pre-Pueblo Revolt fauna from Isleta Mission Convento (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Laura Steele. Emily Jones. Jonathan Dombrosky.

    Although the Spanish documentary record from 17th century New Mexico describes challenging environmental conditions, faunal analyses from this time and region largely suggest a period of environmental amelioration. However, many of the assemblages that have been used to argue for improved conditions are from indigenous sites. Here, we present data on taxonomic relative abundance from the 17th century zooarchaeological assemblage from the Isleta Pueblo Mission Complex, and then use those data to...

  • Testing for environmental rebound: untangling a multi-causal event (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Emily Lena Jones.

    "Environmental rebound" has been proposed by a large number of researchers to explain the disjuncture between the reports of American environments by early Spanish explorers and the long-term human impacts evidenced in the archaeological record of North, Central, and South America. However, by definition environmental rebound may be caused by multiple factors: changes in human population numbers, settlement patterns, resource acquisition and/or land use may all have contributed to a rebound of...

  • Trophic Cascades, Kelp Forest Dysfunction, and the Genesis of Commercial Abalone (Haliotis spp.) Fishing in California (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Todd Braje.

    For over 12,000 years, hunter-gatherers of coastal California harvested abalone as an important subsistence and raw material resource. Archaeological evidence from the Northern Channel Islands suggests that human-induced reductions of local sea otter populations may have triggered a trophic cascade beginning 8000 years ago and released abalone and other shellfish from predation pressure, helping to sustain intensive human harvest for millennia. With the arrival of the Spanish in AD 1542 and the...