This volume is about synergy. It was born in my dissatisfaction with so much of environmental archaeology that focused on the application of single techniques to isolated data classes, and with the early prevailing notion of “environment” as background or stage set for human actions. As any thespian knows, the stage set is not passive; it constrains, and sometimes even inspires, particular actions and responses.
While teaching courses in environmental archaeology, I sensed the possibilities for integration based on the concept of environment as context for human actions – not an original insight. The essays that comprise the chapters of this volume explore the possibilities for interpretation of human contexts from non-artifactual, and some limited artifactual, finds. Only when I included the larger universe of off-site paleoenvironmental data at several scales did the integration begin to look feasible and powerful. In doing so I realized, as Aldo Leopold did long before, that humans are environments for other humans, for all living things, and for the physical world which they inhabit.
Detailed consideration of human environments is justified for what it tells about the conditions of life in which human choices and decisions are made. It does not entail deterministic interpretations, and no environmental determinism appears herein. Environmental effects upon human communities are mediated through technology and cognition, the specifically human means of adaptation. These impose upon the study of human adaptations certain constraints of scale which are foreign to many of the environmental sciences, so that archaeologists cannot simply shop passively for concepts, methods, and data appropriate to the study of the human past.