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Societal stability and environmental change: Examining the archaeology-soil erosion paradox

Record type: Article

This paper critically examines the soil exhaustion and societal collapse hypothesis both theoretically and empirically. The persistence of civilizations, especially in the Mediterranean, despite intensive and presumably erosive arable farming creates what is described here as the archaeology soil erosion paradox. This paper examines the data used to estimate past erosion and weathering rates before presenting case studies that engage with the theoretical arguments. Study 1 shows 5000 years of high slope erosion rates with both soil use and agriculture continuously maintained in the catchment. Study 2 shows how ancient agricultural terraces were constructed as part of an integrated agricultural system that fed the ancient city of Stymphalos—now abandoned. Study 3 presents a recent example of how after the removal of terraces high soil erosion rates result during intense rainstorms but that arable agriculture can still be maintained while external costs are borne by other parties. What these case studies have in common is the creation of soil, and increased weathering rates while productivity is maintained due to a combination of soft bedrock and/or agricultural terraces. In societal terms this may not be sustainable but it does not necessarily lead to land abandonment or societal collapse.

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Brown, Tony and Walsh, Kevin (2017) Societal stability and environmental change: Examining the archaeology-soil erosion paradox Geoarchaeology, 32, (1), pp. 23-35.

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Accepted/In Press date: 2 November 2016
e-pub ahead of print date: 26 December 2016
Published date: January 2017
Organisations: Palaeoenvironment Laboratory (PLUS)


Local EPrints ID: 405764
ISSN: 0883-6353
PURE UUID: 5187d5a5-92ee-46d0-8bb6-51a44493da67

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Date deposited: 18 Feb 2017 00:21
Last modified: 11 Aug 2017 02:41

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Author: Tony Brown
Author: Kevin Walsh

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