Nature as Agent: Mass-Event, Incremental, and Biotic Perspectives

Author(s): Monica L. Smith

Year: 2018


The recent development of the "Anthropocene" as a distinct geologic era, added to a century’s worth of scholarly discussion about the role of humans in their ecosystems, has solidified an interpretive view of humans as prime mover. Yet nature has a "mind of its own" relative to human knowledge, action, and volition. In this session, presenters will discuss the ways in which natural entities, ranging in size from mega-storms to viruses, have presented challenging conditions to which humans can only respond. We will examine mass-event phenomena as large-scale events that are interpreted as "catastrophic" visitations on the human landscape; incremental processes of vegetation, oxidation, and material fatigue and their effects on artifacts, architecture, and agricultural landscapes; and biotic agents from disease-causing microbes to intelligent commensals, birds, and domesticated animals. As an example of the co-dependent interactions between humans and nature, the introductory paper will also consider the way in which fire as a natural occurrence has been coopted by humans to result in profound changes at every scale of interaction, from the intimacy of the domestic hearth to landscape-transforming anthropogenic fire regimes.

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Nature as Agent: Mass-Event, Incremental, and Biotic Perspectives. Monica L. Smith. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 444448)

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Abstract Id(s): 21721