2020 - 2025
This project will focus on environmental and social changes that accompanied the long-term movement of people and plants along the Pacific coast. Previous scholarship has identified the emergence sedentary communities based on food production as a critical turning point in the development of the modern world, shaping current day environment, economy, and social order. This project explores the long-term ecological feedbacks that set the stage for this key transition in human history, within this unique context. Archaeological research has demonstrated how human modifications of the landscape helped drive long-term changes, especially along the coastline, where forest clearance interacted with stabilizing sea levels to create highly productive wetland environments. Given that a large proportion of the global population today lives within proximity to the coast, there is great value in reconstructing the breadth of human adaptations within this dynamic ecosystem, along with the economic and societal resilience that they may afford. In coastal regions throughout the world, better understanding the nature and timing of changes in ecosystem structure, the availability of habitable land, and the long-term sustainability of economic strategies is of great significance. The research team will examine the (1) impacts of early foragers and later farmers on the coastal forests, (2) the development of coastal ecosystems and societies, and (3) how humans adapted to changing opportunities and constraints afforded by the emergence of novel habitats. The team will accomplish these goals through a detailed landscape and occupation history of a Pacific coastal region by sampling the region?s sedimentary and archaeological records. The research team is composed of archaeologists specializing in geoarchaeology, archaeometry, archaeobotany, and prehistory, and will employ an integrated analysis of paleobotanical, isotopic, and radiocarbon data acquired from coastal and interior sediment cores alongside extensive archaeological survey and site testing. This combined approach will allow the team to document not only the timing and nature of initial human settlement and use of plant domesticates but also facilitate reconstruction of forest management practices that shaped both interior and coastal ecosystems in this region. This highly collaborative research will generate new data and interpretations for better understanding coastal communities and landscape transformations, while creating educational and training opportunities for students and local stakeholders. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.