GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 98-12
Presentation Time: 4:40 PM


SCHULDENREIN, Joseph, Geoarcheology Research Associates, 92 Main Street, Suite 207, Yonkers, NY 10701

The Anthropocene is a recent concept whose foundations are linked to dramatic and drastic changes to the human ecology of our planet. At its core is the spiraling dominance of the human factor in reshaping landscape, climate, and geography. The fear, of course, is that the sustainability of the planet is at risk and the dynamic is quite simple: nature’s bounty may be irreversibly compromised.Climate is at the center of the dynamic insofar as it impacts are registered across landscapes, on a variety of scales is clear and apparent.

Yet concept is no cover for evidence. In this paper we argue that urban areas are the ones most immediately impacted by the Anthropocene in the short and long terms. Geoarchaeology is a magnificent tool for monitoring these symbiotic changes between human and natural systems. At the most fundamental level natural and cultural sequences, or stratigraphies, register spatio-temporal contexts, and patterns and rates of change. Thus, while we don’t offer solutions we DO offer precedent.New York City is a prime example of the transformation of a pristine environment to one in which nearly all sustaining natural systems have been compromised. In this area, the transition occurred over the course of four hundred years, since the arrival of the Dutch and the imposition and expansion of an urban grid. Our study shows how geoarchaeology is applied to illustrating how and why the initial glacial landscape was leveled and how the estuary was systematically modified as sea level rose. We show how the various Euro-American groups affected drainage systems and created artificial landscapes that often benefitted certain groups at the expense of others.

The bright spot here is that “old school” geological and archaeological strategies combined with high tech methods—remote sensing, GIS, new sea level curves, new dating techniques and archaeo-science--serve to expand our interpretive potential in ways never imagined as recently as a decade ago. We can hone in on archaeological features and identify them with fragmentary evidence. We show, paradoxically, how quantum leaps in geoarchaeological method are equal to the task of documenting the climate crisis and its manifestations. The rest is up to us.