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Past Socio-Environmental Systems (PASES)

Quaternary records inform and enhance our knowledge of past interrelated human-environmental dynamics (Figure). Yet their interpretation is complex due to their intricate multivariate nature, which often leads to conclusions drawn by too simple deterministic approaches (natural or human, or both). The objective of this workshop will be to exchange results, ideas, methods, and approaches among ECR paleoscientists working at the interface of climate-culture-environment nexus that leverage proxy and model records of changes in paleoclimate, archaeology, and paleoecology.

This dual determinism, either environmental or human, particularly manifest itself during the interpretation of apparently abrupt changes in the environment (deforestation, droughts, floods) or societal collapses (epidemic diseases). This type of determinism survives essentially because of the lack of alternative evidence to falsify it and the unproductive links between different disciplinary approaches to tackle the same complex question. While the dominant role of climate on environmental determinism is defended by paleoclimatologists, the criticism comes mostly from the social side of paleoscience (archaeologists, historians), and vice-versa.

The most common approach in Quaternary studies, probably driven by the needs of the current research system (e.g., publication in high-impact journals, resolving short-term specific problems of social and/or economic interest) is to follow a ruling-theory approach (e.g. climate change, societal collapse, regime shifts, European colonization). In this context, many studies have claimed that it is easy to connect a given past environmental event, inferred using proxy data, with some identifiable changes in the archaeological and historical records – the so-called correlation thus implying causation. Examples include the Mayan collapse or ecocide in the Eastern Island, among others. These examples have raised awareness about the implications for current societal threats, thereby minimizing the complexity of the causal relationships involved. We advocate for interdisciplinary collaborations among ECR to shed light on the full array of human and environment interactions and trajectories of change. ECRs bring new ideas, interdisciplinary networks, and data synthesis skills to tackle such complex questions. Synthesizing the enormous amount of data and knowledge on past environments should inform sustainability strategies for current and future socio-environmental challenges.

Paleoecological and paleoclimatic reconstructions and related models may not be seen as a final result about how coupled human-environmental systems organized, but instead as a venue towards opening discussions and generating innovative questions and hypotheses that initiate new scientific collaborations between PAGES and INQUA ECRs. We welcome contributions at the interface of three main components, which are at the core of both PAGES’ and INQUA’s missions: humans, climate and environment.