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Encyclopedia of Archaeology, ed. by Deborah M. Pearsall. © 2008, Academic
Press, New York.
Author's personal copy


Beyond human agency, such a theoretical orienta- Dobres M-A (2000) Technology and Social Agency: Outlining
tion also holds much promise for furthering our mod- a Practice Framework for Archaeology. Oxford: Blackwell
els and understandings of material culture. Given that Dobres M-A and Robb J (eds.) (2000) Agency in Archaeology.
social agency is not co-terminous with the human London: Routledge.
body, we may begin to consider how objects, as ma- Gell A (1998) Art and Agency. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
terial extensions of the agency of those who produced Gero J (2000) Troubled travels in agency and feminism. In: Dobres
M-A and Robb J (eds.) Agency in Archaeology, pp. 34–39.
them, participate in this system of social relation-
London: Routledge.
ships. Following Alfred Gell’s pioneering work in Giddens A (1979) Central Problems in Social Theory. Berkeley:
this area of investigation, we may begin to think University of California Press.
about how personhood is augmented, extended, Giddens A (1981) A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materi-
and distributed among the many objects fashioned alism, Vol.1: Power, Property, and the State. Berkeley: University
and employed in social action. of California Press.
Giddens A (1984) The Constitution of Society: Outline of a Theory
of Structuration. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Johnson M (1989) Conceptions of agency in archaeological interpre-
See also: Engendered Archaeology; Evolutionary Ar-
tation. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 8(2): 189–211.
chaeology; Philosophy of Archaeology; Postproces-
Ortner S (1984) Theory in anthropology since the sixties. Compar-
sual Archaeology; Processual Archaeology. ative Studies in Society and History 26: 126–166.
Pauketat T (2000) The tragedy of the commoners. In: Dobres M-A
and Robb J (eds.) Agency in Archaeology, pp. 113–129. London:
Further Reading Saitta D (1994) Agency, class, and archaeological interpretation.
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 13(3): 201–227.
Bourdieu P (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Silliman S (2001) Agency, practical politics, and the archaeology of
Cambridge University Press. culture contact. Journal of Social Archaeology 1(2): 190–209.


M G Elgar, Washington State University, Pullman, Introduction
The study of agriculture incorporates natural vari-
ã 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. ables (e.g., climate, geology) with cultural variables
(e.g., technology). The off-site emphasis of field sys-
tems requires different methodological and theoreti-
Glossary cal frameworks to the overall study of agriculture.
anthrosol A soil horizon created by human activities such as Detailed investigations of fields reveal the practices
cultivation, irrigation, middening or mining. behind agricultural production and contributes to
biolipid A hydrocarbon-containing organic compound derived understanding human agency and long-term human–
from plants or animals that is relatively stable over time. Analysis
landscape interactions. These inquiries also place
of biolipid residues may be used to help identify the original
source of decayed plant or animal material. agriculture in its ecological setting revealing relation-
bioturbation The disruption and mixing of soils and sediments ships between fields, topography, and environmental
by organisms, especially by burrowing or boring (e.g., roots, conditions. For instance, we frequently find terraces
earthworms), which has the effect of homogenizing the original in hilly regions, whereas irrigation networks are
found in arid lands. Practices of this kind transform
lynchet A bank of earth commonly formed at the edges of fields
from plowing. natural land into agricultural substrates following
midden A prehistoric refuse deposit that may contain artifacts as culturally defined blueprints. Alterations to the land-
well as organic remains such as plants, bones and shell. scape – landscape modifications – are generally
plaggen soil A surface anthrosol formed by long-term enduring and are frequently cumulative in their
manuring and mixing of the soil, usually from cultivation.
impacts. These qualities lend regional investigations
soil micromorphology The study of soil morphology by
microscopic methods, usually by studying thin-sections under a of fields to questions of agricultural intensification
polarizing microscope. and the long-term maintenance of farming systems.

Encyclopedia of Archaeology (2008), vol. 1, pp. 110-115

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Table 1 Methods and applications for the study of agricultural fields by scale of analysis

Scale Primary methods Archaeological features Human practices

Region/ Aerial photography Field systems: walls, raised or ridged Adaptation to local conditions
Landscape Geographic Information Systems fields, terraces, lynchets, leveled land Degree of landscape modification
Pedestrian survey Water management: irrigation Extent of bounded land
Published maps (e.g., political, channels, aqueducts, drainage, General production capacity
property, geological, soil) water storage features Land units where field units visible
Regional palaeoclimate reconstruction Occasionally: furrows, plow marks Water management and
Remote sensing catchment area
Satellite imagery

Garden/Field Architectural analysis Architectural style Cultural associations

Feature mapping Artifact assemblages (e.g., hoe tips) Construction techniques and
Pedestrian survey Construction materials material sources
Dimensions of field features such as Landscape history (construction,
raised platforms or furrows remodeling, abandonment)
Evidence of reconstruction Planning
Tillage methods
Seed bed Coring and excavation Exposed soil to reveal: plowzone, Climate change
Botanical: pollen, phytoliths, amendment and depletion, Crops
macrobotanicals anthropogenic soils, plow features Cultural associations
Dating methods Botanical remains Long-term landuse impacts
Geoarchaeology: bulk soil analyses Buried artifacts, crop, furrow and Soil amendment (e.g., burning,
(e.g., organic matter, nutrients, irrigation features fertilization, middening),
particle size, biolipids); soil Dates of architectural features Soil depletion or overuse
micromorphology Infilling and disruption of irrigation Tillage methods
Soil properties

Field system research strategies are scalar and three survey of actual field systems on the ground. Geo-
levels of analysis are considered here: (1) regional/ graphical information systems (GISs) are employed
landscape, (2) garden/field, and (3) the seedbed to integrate these multiple spatial data sets, speed
(Table 1). These strategies are not exhaustive and mapping of landscape architecture, and calculate the
the primary literature offers additional approaches. cultivated area.
Irrigation systems rely on natural rainfall and hy-
draulic patterns, which should underpin their archae-
Identifying Field Systems
ological investigation. Changing water tables and
Intensive agriculture frequently involves the con- tectonics may complicate the reconstruction of irri-
struction of landscape architecture such as field gation systems and need to be addressed in field
walls, terraces or lynchets, raised or ridged field fea- investigations. Abandoned irrigation features can be
tures, and irrigation systems (e.g., canals, aqueducts, excavated to help deduce why they failed (e.g., grad-
wells, water storage features) (Figure 1). These ual silting up, catastrophic infill). In a study that
features enclose natural land, aid crop production, critically applies many of the methods highlighted
and engender land tenure. Field boundaries may here, Tony Wilkinson (2003) investigated Near
appear in political and property maps and, as they Eastern agricultural landscapes and the role of irriga-
are frequently maintained for generations, historical tion. Divergent agricultural adaptations were identi-
maps may identify archaeological fields in regions fied in the rain-fed northern uplands and the irrigated
with long agricultural histories. fields of southern Mesopotamia. Reflecting the role
Aerial photography and satellite imagery capture of agriculture in complex polities, this study provided
landscape architecture where it is still standing or is insight into different configurations of community
near the surface and modern vegetation is minimal organization, political inequality, and authority sys-
(Figure 2). Remote sensing (e.g., ground-penetrating tems. This exemplifies the potential contribution
radar, magnetrometry) can identify subsurface field of field system research to central questions in
systems, particularly buried field walls and irrigation archaeology.
features. Geological and soil maps help evaluate The identification of extensive agriculture (i.e.,
natural resources. The value of these proxy records swidden or slash-and-burn) provides a greater chal-
should be evaluated through reconnaissance and lenge to archaeologists. Scarce landscape architecture

Encyclopedia of Archaeology (2008), vol. 1, pp. 110-115

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Figure 1 Inca terraces at Moray, Peru.

Figure 2 Aerial photograph of a Later Bronze Age field with plaggen A horizon defined by dark soil mark at Welland Bank Quarry, south
Lincolnshire, UK. Copyright Charles A. I. French.

limits the utility of aerial images and maps. Short Ideally, a statistically representative number of fields
occupation may leave little trace on the soil. When will be selected for study from the total cultivated
abandoned, extensive fields may blend into the sur- area. Variations in elevation, topography, architec-
rounding uncultivated ecology. In some instances, ture, and associations to other archaeological features
burning and fertilization alter vegetation and soils should be considered in field selection.
aiding in identification. In other instances, rare As in other kinds of architecture, variations in de-
constructed features within areas of swidden cultiva- sign, construction materials, and quality of field archi-
tion support the identification of cultivated areas. tecture can provide information into such issues
as planning, labor, and prestige. The collection of arti-
fact assemblages from fields may shed light on farming
Gardens and Fields
implements and cultural associations. The surface veg-
Pedestrian survey, feature mapping, and assessment etation in old fields is another line of evidence as it often
of architecture are used to study gardens and fields. differs from adjacent uncultivated land.

Encyclopedia of Archaeology (2008), vol. 1, pp. 110-115

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The Seedbed Crops

In ancient fields, excavation and coring reveal the Studies of cultigens often originate in settlements
seedbed (plowzone or A horizon), which may be on where macrobotanical remains indicate the con-
the modern surface or buried. Agricultural soils are sumption and use of cultivated plants (see Plant Do-
impacted by soil type, environment, crops, cultivation mestication). In contrast, macrobotanical remains
regime (e.g., intensive or extensive), tools, and cultural excavated from within fields are only reliable from
traditions. Geoarchaeological techniques are employed intact palaeosols because of the potential for modern
to determine the fertility and stability of palaeosols. contamination, augmented by industrial tillage, bio-
Common bulk soil analyses include quantification of turbation, and organic decay. Pollen and phytoliths
crop-limiting nutrients (e.g., organic matter, phospho- may be more stable in fields and can provide in situ
rus, nitrogen), soil particle size, and magnetic suscepti- confirmation of cultigens when recovered from secure
bility. Intact soil blocks are analyzed through soil contexts. Phytoliths are preserved under different
micromorphology (thin section analysis) to reveal pres- conditions than pollen and may also reflect different
ervation conditions by identifying soil structure, the crop species than pollen (see Phytolith Analysis; Pol-
distribution of soil constituents, and bioturbation. len Analysis). Regional palaeoenvironmental recon-
Geoarchaeological analyses of fields are best com- structions, contemporary agronomic studies, and
pared to uncultivated lands for accurate assessment surface vegetation provide additional insight into an-
of human impacts. Triplicate replication of soil con- cient cropping regimes. Increasingly, research into
ditions (i.e., collecting samples from three fields with cultigens combines several methods with attention
similar physical settings) further controls for varia- to sampling and preservation conditions.
tions across agrarian landscapes (Figure 3). When
preservation is outstanding, excavation may unearth
anthropogenic features such as plow marks and
furrows (cf. Figures 2, 4a, and 4b). Bioturbation, poor preservation of macrobotanicals,
Differences in soil color, nutrient concentration, and modern disturbance also impact dating strategies.
and soil particle size are used to identify land-use Dating may be further complicated by the sequen-
impacts. Long-term soil management is seen from tial use of fields for different activities (see Dating
the development of plaggen soils, dark nutrient-rich Methods, Overview). Buried contexts under standing
anthropogenic soils resulting from repeated applica- features, such as field walls or aqueducts, may provide
tions of fertilizer-like dung (Figure 5). In arid regions, secure contexts for recovering datable material. Opti-
nutrients such as phosphorous may be retained for cally stimulated luminescence (OSL) is increasingly
millennia. In contrast, overuse and erosion are used to date humic acids in soil (see Luminescence
revealed by reduced concentrations of silt, clay, Dating). Surface and excavated artifact collections
and soil nutrients when field soils are compared to from gardens and fields provide additional chronolog-
uncultivated controls. ical information.

Figure 3 Schematic of triplicate sampling pattern (S ¼ sample collection point). Copyright Chris Stevens.

Encyclopedia of Archaeology (2008), vol. 1, pp. 110-115

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Figure 5 Plaggen soil in terraced field (highlands of Yemen).

Copyright Charles A. I. French.

farming methods are recorded in art and hieroglyphs

(e.g., collections of the British Museum). The Romans
employed centurion field systems and recorded field
allocations. Experimental farming with replica tools
and old crops provide heuristic models to reconstruct
annual yields, labor requirements, and soil responses
Figure 4 Thin sections of soils from ancient fields. (a), Plow marks to different treatments (e.g., the experimental Butser
in well-preserved buried palaeosoil, Welland Bank Quarry, south
Ancient Farm, United Kingdom). Ethno-archaeological
Lincolnshire, UK. Copyright Charles A. I. French. (b), Bioturbated
palaeosoil from a pre-Columbian terrace (Paca, Peru). studies with nonindustrial farmers provide further
data for reconstructing crop rotation cycles, labor
allocation, and natural constraints on farming.
Agriculture, Landscape, and Society
Research methods for off-site agricultural land-
Field system research reveals the human ingenuity scapes reflect analytical scale, environmental condi-
behind food production systems adapted to diverse tions, field architecture, and palaeosol preservation.
ecosystems. For instance, tropical adaptations include Ground reconnaissance to verify published data in
Asian rice paddies, Mesoamerican chinampas, and maps and aerial images provides a baseline for region-
raised fields in South America. Each system provides al studies and also detailed assessments of individual
a signature on the landscape. This can be illustrated fields. Field system research is multidisciplinary and
by rice paddy fields which are made by leveling and often requires specialist research methods to provide
walling to pond water, dramatically changing natural evidence for specific cultivation practices.
topography and soils. In contrast, responses to arid
lands, limited by water and soil nutrients, are seen
in an array of different technologies. For instance, Acknowledgments
abandoned grid-like landscape features in Arizona
were found through an intensive multidisciplinary Thanks are due to Charly French and Chris Stevens
study to have produced agricultural crops in a deso- for permission to use figures.
late landscape. Cultural and environmental contexts
are therefore essential components of field system See also: Dating Methods, Overview; Geoarchaeology;
research. Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction, Methods; Phy-
Additional lines of evidence may be found in art, tolith Analysis; Plant Domestication; Pollen Analysis;
historic documents, and modern correlates. Egyptian Soils and Archaeology.

Encyclopedia of Archaeology (2008), vol. 1, pp. 110-115

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AGRICULTURE/Biological Impact on Populations 115

Further Reading Goldberg P and Richard IM (2006) Practical and Theoretical

Geoarchaeology. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Doolittle WE and James AN (2004) The Safford Valley Grids: Miller NF and Gleason KL (1994) The Archaeology of Garden and
Prehistoric Cultivation in the Southern Arizona Desert. Tucson: Field. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
University of Arizona Press. Thomas K (ed.) (1990) Soils and early agriculture. World Archae-
Hastorf CA (1993) Agriculture and the Onset of Political In- ology 22(1).
equality before the Inka. Cambridge: Cambridge University Wilkinson TJ (2003) Archaeological Landscapes of the Near East.
Press. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.


Biological Impact on Populations
Social Consequences

Biological Impact on and therefore changes associated with the adoption

of an agricultural mode of subsistence. The ground-
Populations breaking volume, Paleopathology at the Origins of
Agriculture, published in 1984, represents the first
Patricia M Lambert, Utah State University, major effort to gather together such studies from
Logan, UT, USA
a number of world regions to address questions
ã 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. concerning the impetus for and biological conse-
quences of agriculture. Much of the research avail-
able at that time focused on skeletal samples from
Glossary the Americas, particularly North America, and these
bioarchaeology The study of the human biological component studies still predominate in the literature. However,
of the archaeological record. research efforts over the intervening years have
dental attrition The wearing or grinding down of teeth. expanded this geographic purview to include different
fertility Birthrate of a population. types of agriculture and agricultural transitions in
malocclusion Abnormality in the way the teeth of the upper
many world regions. As research accumulates, some
and lower jaw fit together.
morbidity Disease rate, proportion of diseased to healthy in a general trends are emerging in certain aspects of
population. health and workload, but it is also becoming apparent
morphology Shape, form. that the ‘transition’ and consequent health impacts
mortality Death rate of a population. were not uniform in all times and places, or even
occlusal Chewing surface of a tooth.
unidirectional. This growing awareness of variability
palaeopathology The study of disease in former/ancient times
as evidenced in human remains from archaeological contexts. in the agricultural experience has led to an increasing
robusticity Expression of relative size and strength of bones or research emphasis on how different environmental
teeth, or of a skeleton more generally, for example, increased and behavioral correlates of agriculture influence
robusticity of long bones. the skeletal markers used to reconstruct the different
lifeways and health impacts associated with this
economic transition.
Questions concerning the biological impacts of the
Osteological Evidence for Dietary Change
economic transition from foraging to farming have
formed a central focus of research in bioarchaeology One of the important challenges of studying the tran-
since the late 1970s. Researchers examining this transi- sition from foraging to farming has been documenting
tion have generally compared diet, health, and work- the timing and nature of this transition. Traditionally,
load of mobile/semimobile forager antecedents and archaeologists have studied palaeobotanical, faunal,
later sedentary agriculturalists to identify differences and artifactual evidence to document the types of

Encyclopedia of Archaeology (2008), vol. 1, pp. 110-115