Perspectives on ecological approaches in Australian archaeology

Veth, Peter, O'Connor, Susan, and Wallis, Lynley A. (2000) Perspectives on ecological approaches in Australian archaeology. Australian Archaeology, 50. pp. 54-66.

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In this postmodern World the evocation of ecological approaches in archaeology conjures up visions of banal environmental determinism and passive human actors receiving their cues from terrifying landscapes. And yet anything but the most superficial critique of the myriad approaches that have been labelled ecology easily illustrates that social and cognitive factors may be given voice at both the individual and group level. As Pardoe (1994:182) has argued in a recent review of studies of human ecology in Australia "Humans are one species capable of rewriting deterministic ecological equations through consciousness and intentionality".

Whitley (1998:3) notes that the traditional processual approach sees cultures as " of socially transmitted behaviour patterns that relate communities to their ecological settings. Culture change is ... a process of adaptation to the environment and natural selection". A range of frameworks has now been presented in Australian archaeology (e.g. Head 1986, 1994), however, to facilitate some recognition of the convergence inherent between explanatory approaches which give primacy to social relations (e.g. Friedman 1979) and those focusing on biophysical factors (Wenke 1981; Winterhalder and Smith 1981). It is argued that such frameworks aim to accommodate both social and ecological/evolutionary approaches. The somewhat artificial historical dichotomy has also been liberated by systems approaches that engender multi-causal explanations in a move away from any simplistic prime mover (cf. Hutchet 1991).

Many studies in Australian archaeology have employed ecological explanatory frameworks, however, there is little consensus between different reviewers about which particular researchers have been exponents of the approach. This is undoubtedly a product of how these reviewers have chosen to characterise ecological explanatory paradigms. For example, Lourandos and Ross (1994:55, 56) note that "The 'Intensification Debate' in Australia was largely a reaction to the traditional paradigms which viewed Australian Aborigines as essentially static and under environmental control". Hutchet (1991:48) argues that while cultural ecology has assumed greater importance over the last two decades (e.g. Smith 1986; Veth 1989) its explicit use still remains low in his study of the history of theories in Australian archaeology.

Item ID: 24049
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 0312-2417
Date Deposited: 30 Nov 2012 04:53
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210108 Historical Archaeology (incl Industrial Archaeology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 100%
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