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Environmental Archaeology

Environmental archaeology is the study of early civilizations using techniques of biological markers that are intrinsic to the layer of human prehistory under investigation.  Our understanding of ancient man is enhanced by concurrent study of pollen cores,  plant and animal remains, fossil records;  even abiotic evidence such as sediment layering, changes in river meanders, ocean levels, salinity records and other inanimate data provide great context to life in earlier times.

The environmental data can not only provide insights as to the time horizons of early civilizations, but also gives direct insights to the lifestyles of those who came before us;  namely the dietary habits, proximity to water supplies, wood and clay used in primitive structures are all elucidated by collecting data on environmental features that pertain to the earlier time period.

Examples of archaeological conclusions that can be derived from certain environmental data include: intensity of resource exploitation; population levels and density; nature of society organization; division of labor.  Conversely the joint study of conventional archaeological excavation combined with environmental data collection yields important information that is useful to researchers who are concentrating on historical ecology, since the data can be reduced to yield insights as to distributional range of plants and animals relative to human populations; in addition, insights are provided regarding methods of harvesting plants and animals in the prehistoric landscape, that abet our understanding of the time change of species numbers and the influence of man on extinction processes.

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