GREYBULL RIVER SUSTAINABLE LANDSCAPE ECOLOGY
GRSLE

Overview

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        Most contemporary ecological studies can be faulted for excluding human agency from their design or concern. Most contemporary anthropological studies can be faulted for exalting human agency as the causative force. In this research program, which we call the Greybull River Sustainable Landscape Ecology (GRSLE) project, we seek a middle ground between reductionist disregard of humans as part of ecosystem processes and anthropocentric disdain for ecosystem processes as fundamental concerns for all levels of cultural understanding. .

Archaeological research provides an effective avenue for investigating coupled ecosystem processes over temporal and geographic scales unavailable to many other natural sciences.  For the last two years, students and faculty from Colorado State University have been conducting pilot studies on a variety of measures of human impacts (over archaeologically relevant time spans) on a little studied drainage system in Northwestern Wyoming.  The Greybull River, and its major tributaries head in or near the Washakie Wilderness area of the Shoshone National Forest.   This area has seen much less modification in the last 150 years than many of the other major drainages within the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, and thus has the potential to provide important baseline information on archaeological materials and ecosystem processes of relevance to a much larger area.   Using basic archaeological documentation strategies as the “methodological glue” to hold a variety of botanical, aquatic, forestry, and environmental studies we have begun to develop a bundled field research protocol in which the detail and range of data sets collected as part of an archaeological survey project can be used by a number of other disciplines.   While archaeological research has always had a multi-disciplinary focus, often archaeologists have been the consumers rather than the providers of basic multi-disciplinary data sets. The posters in this symposium presents the initial results of studies of aquatic invertebrates, fire history, thermal landscapes, prehistoric and historic mining activities at high elevations, in-field documentation approaches for non-collection survey, and techniques to monitor recreational and commercial impacts on the archaeological components of contemporary landscapes

Archaeology is almost universally portrayed, even by many of its practitioners, as a discipline that looks to the past.  While this standard usage of archaeology is based on translation of the Greek root arkhaios as meaning “ancient, we have come to prefer an alternative meaning of arkhaios that connotes an interest not just in the ancient, but on change “from the beginning.”  This emphasis gives archaeology etymological license to seek understanding of change without burden of being restricted to the ancient, to the past, or to single classes of information.  Archaeology can be viewed as a study of process that is founded on an understanding of antecedent conditions, their contemporary states, and their possible future status.  In taphonomically oriented archaeology, from which this process-oriented perspective arises, the sense of following formation processes “from the beginning” to the contemporary physical manifestations of past behaviors making up the archaeological record is becoming more widely accepted.   In pursuing these transformational goals, taphonomic archaeology has developed a body of conceptual and methodological tools for addressing issues of human-landscape-ecological interactions of fundamental importance not only for interpreting patterns of change in that led to present conditions, but also for informing today’s policy makers and public stakeholders on long-term  interactions and potential future consequences.

 

 

The GRSLE projects is beginning to implement  an archaeological ecology research program.  With the realization that human actions have been, and continue to be major factors in the development and change of nearly all Earth’s ecosystems for tens of thousands of years, the call for a closer integration of human dimensions into studies of ecosystems has become common.   This involves research that can be inclusive of both social/behavioral and natural science perspectives.  Archaeology, with its predominately behavioral research questions, coupled with it’s primarily natural scientific methods (e.g., bioarchaeology, zooarchaeology, geoarchaeology), is in a unique position to provide these disciplinary bridges. 

This coalescence of social goals and natural science methods  helps us redefine archaeology as not only the “quintessential multi-disciplinary field” but also the quintessential applied field of ecological study and educational enrichment.  The funding sought here will be used to implement an integrated, multiscaler research and education program focused on the upper reaches of the Greybull River drainage system within the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem (GYE) of northwestern Wyoming.  The primary objectives of this project are:

1) To develop a better understanding of long-term human impacts with a unique landscape that has yet to have been heavily modified by 20th-21st century developments.  Although the area has yet to receive heavy Euro American use, all indications are that recreational visitation and associated alteration of the archaeological landscape are on the verge of expanding rapidly. Success at this goal will aid in modeling options for ecosystem sustainability.

2) To implement a coordinated program of K-12, local, regional, and national education and outreach in order to fulfill our research goals but also to meet professional  responsibly to advocate for the appreciation, conservation, and protection of archaeological resources as important components of this fragile ecosystem.  If successful, this will lead to a greater sense of local stewardship of the diverse sets of processes related to landscape systems.

3) To build a regional perspective on human paleoecology in which multiple, tightly coupled data sets can be created within the constraints of limited funding and personnel. Achieving this goal will provide cost-effective science that yields solid baseline datasets, foundations for monitoring landscape change, and the potential to span many of the gaps that need to be closed between social and natural sciences in order to provide a unified approach to conservation of biological, heritage, and physical resources.

While growing out of the basic tenets of anthropological archaeology, we are of the opinion that for both empirical and pragmatic reasons, it’s time to move away from anthropocentric research concerns to research that sees the human dimension as one of many, but not the exclusive, factor to consider in virtually all studies of ecosystem processes. 

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