KEYNOTE SPEAKERS

SessionKeynote speaker 
Real understanding of past societies can only come with a holistic view of their place in the world. Today’s societies sometimes imagine that they act independently of the ecosystems that support them. We need only to look at the economic and health impacts of recent extreme weather and fires to see the fallacy of this view. The environment shapes how we understand ourselves as humans. Past societies may have had a more obvious relationship to their environment than people today, but investigating this relationship relies on fragmented evidence. This fragmented evidence is studied by archaeologists to understand past societies and by palaeoecologists to understand past ecosystems. Bringing these two fields together presents a number of challenges: reconciling issues of spatial scale, temporal span and different scholarly mindsets can frustrate attempts to investigate past socio-environmental systems. New techniques promise to relieve some of these frustrations. For example, land-cover modelling can reveal the extent of past human modification of regional-scale ecosystems, rewriting the history of human activity on the earth’s surface. Ancient DNA exposes past migrations and genetic bottlenecks in relation to environmental forcings, providing lessons relevant to current and future challenges. Sedimentary biomarkers help disentangle processes previously hidden from view. New statistical methods allow us to analyse patterns that our scientific forebears could only dream about. Like any new tool, there are important limitations and ethical issues that come into play, especially when dealing with the cultural and genetic heritage of Indigenous peoples. As researchers, we need to remain mindful of the peoples who created and maintained complex socio-environmental systems over millennia. While new technology and techniques hold much promise, a truly holistic view requires us to consider multiple sources of evidence and to learn from the descendants of the societies and environments we are trying to study.

Simon Connor works in the Archaeology and Natural History unit at the Australian National University. His research includes studies of air pollution history in Sydney, interactions between prehistoric cultures and vegetation in the Caucasus region, climatic change in the Balkans, forest disappearance along the Portuguese coastline, fire history in Mediterranean mountains, the creation of cultural landscapes in Tasmania's World Heritage Area, human impacts on island ecosystems, interactions between past fire and biodiversity change on the Iberian Peninsula, and early European impacts on the savannas of NW Australia.
While Social sciences question on unequal human agencies for the Anthropocene, Geosciences are mostly focused on identifying best candidates for Stratotype Sections and Points. Such problematizations for one the most influential concepts over recent decades, reflect predominant reductionist perspectives to portray feedback processes that might compromise the stability and resilience of socio-ecological systems. Still, the Historical Ecology approach has the potential to promote a real paradigm shift to understand interactions that have shaped the human-dominated Earth state through time and, apparently, into the future. In this talk, I will outline some challenges in implementing this research program by revising study cases delineated for the Atacama Desert and central Chile for the last 3.5 ka. I will also highlight the importance of integrating of large datasets for biophysical conditions and socio-cultural behaviors in our understanding of processes that govern human-engineering capacities at several spatio-temporal scales. But more importantly, to recognize that the Anthropocene cannot be solely linked to an “universal imprint” of Industrialized societies, but that this phenomenon is intrinsically tied to (paleo)historically and geographically diverse configurations in the human-environment interactions.

Eugenia Gayo is Associated Researcher at the Center for Climate and Resilience Researcher (CR2, Chile). After graduating as a Biologist, she focused her career on studying co-evolutive feedbacks between biophysical and social systems at different timescales. Eugenia has developed a research agenda that explicitly conjugates principles and methodologies from Paleo-sciences, Ecology, Biogeochemistry and Archaeology to understand the long-term dynamic of socio-ecological systems, past societal vulnerability to environmental variations, and how these factors could impact socio-cultural trajectories. She has recently synthesized a large amount of data to contextualize in the deep-time the socio-environmental history in Chile, and its relationship with the Anthropocene. In 2012, Eugenia was awarded two prizes in Excellence in Life Sciences Research (PUC, Chile) for her pioneer and interdisciplinary PhD dissertation on the human-environment interaction in the Atacama Desert over the last 18,000 years.