Three Tropical Thoughts: Vern Scarborough and the Migration to Tropical Ecology

Author(s): Joel Gunn

Year: 2016


Vern’s collaborative research fosters a number of insights both across investigators and disciplines. My top-three picks are tropical ecology, water cities, and Gulf Coast origin of Lowlands occupation. (1) Vern focuses on understanding implications of tropical ecology, central to which is high diversity and therefore low density. Working through the implications of this for human settlements has perhaps been his most important accomplishment. (2) Maya water cities are obvious attempts to break the bondage of tropical ecology. They mark both the strength of Classical Maya culture creating one of the great world civilizations, and a fatal vulnerability in their social engineering. While building dense, urban, commercial networks, they exposed themselves to extremes of climate typical of the boundary between the tropics and subtropics, among them long-term drought. (3) Finally, the first thing in Vern’s writings that caught my attention was that Maya probably started conquest of the Lowlands from the Gulf Coast. Understanding this has been an objective since the 1990s. With the help of coastal ecologist John Day and William J. Folan, our study of the origins of civilizations with Sea Level Stabilization has brought the Gulf Coast hypothesis to fruition in the context of world-wide, low-density urbanism.

Cite this Record

Three Tropical Thoughts: Vern Scarborough and the Migration to Tropical Ecology. Joel Gunn. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403514)


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Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;