Much of what archaeologists do is study how humans adapt to the environment. After Gordon Willey’s (1953) groundbreaking investigation into the entire history of occupation of a small valley in Peru, understanding how humans lived in and modified their environment became commonplace. Indeed, the “New Archeology” that took the American academy by storm in the 1960s and strove to make the discipline more scientific made human-environment interactions and the understanding of human-environmental relations one of its central goals…
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As part of the 1931 Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Uaxactun expedition, geologist C.W. Cooke (1931: 286) noted, “If the bajos were restored to their former condition, the Petén would be a region of many beautiful lakes. Travel in it would be easy, for one could go from place to place by boat, with only short journeys overland, from one lake to another, across country that offers little impediment to travel at any season.” These bajos mentioned by Cooke, low-lying swampy areas prone to flooding, are spread throughout most of the northern lowlands of Petén, Guatemala, characterizing the region with seasonal and perennial wetland systems.
Procuring potable water is an important factor for daily life in the semitropics, especially for contemporary populations in rural Guatemala. Seasonal subsistence practices are crucial for survival, especially regarding agriculture, droughts, and flooding. This article focuses on the Salinas de los Nueve Cerros region in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala to highlight contemporary land-use practices among the Q’eqchi’ Maya, their adaptations to flooding, droughts, and uses of different water resources.
Two sets of rivers in what is now known as Canada are vital actors in urban landscapes. The McIntyre and Kaministiquia Rivers in Thunder Bay, Ontario and the Assiniboine and Red Rivers in Winnipeg, Manitoba are sites of colonial violence and disappearance: in both cities, dead Indigenous people have been pulled from their depths.
In his book, How Racism Takes Place, George Lipsitz (2011: 5) contends that “race is produced by space,” and that “it takes places for racism to take place.” While Lipsitz focuses primarily on the intersection of race and space in urban settings, racialized spatial practices in rural environments can be just as devastating to communities of color, if not more so.
The bones that lie below the ruins of a medieval fortress in Dmanisi, Georgia, tell a story about the exodus of early humans from Africa almost two million years ago. The remains of five early humans, known as Homo erectus, have been found at Dmanisi. This 1.78 million-year-old World Heritage site is located in the country of Georgia on a promontory above where the Masavera and Pinasauri Rivers converge.
The title of the 1976 novella by Norman Maclean, A River Runs through It, is also an apt description of the career of Minnesota archaeologist Douglas A. Birk, who passed away unexpectedly in March 2017. Actually, several rivers run through his remarkable and pioneering career, which spanned nearly 50 years. Birk was among the first historical archaeologists to conduct underwater investigations of sites relating to the North American fur trade along the “voyageur’s highway,” the chain of rivers, lakes, and overland portages that run along the Minnesota-Canadian border.
On the drive northward from the Twin Cities on the straight and flat road of I-94, and then Minnesota’s Highway 10, the landscape of urban and suburban development slowly cedes to wide open fields and scattered towns, sometimes lined with rows and patches of trees. This is not the most exciting or scenic of drives, but it’s exciting to us nevertheless, because this is the way toward another season of archaeological fieldwork on a late eighteenth-century fur trade post located on the Leaf River in Wadena County.
Questions about water are often implicitly about systems of power. The benefits and impacts of how water is used, distributed, and accessed are unevenly distributed. Water thus becomes a site where the inequalities in society are made visible and contestation arises. The readings listed here offer a sample of some of the ways water is implicated in systems of inequality and work toward social justice.