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With the emergence of modern techniques of environmental analysis and widespread availability of accessible tools and quantitative data, the question of environmental determinism is once again on the agenda. This paper is theoretical in character, attempting, for the benefit of drawing up research designs, to understand and evaluate the character of environmental determinism. We reach three main conclusions: (1) in a typical pattern of research design, studies seek to detect simultaneous shifts in the environmental and archaeological records, variously positing the former to have influenced, triggered or caused the latter; (2) the question of determinism involves uncertainty about the justification for the above research design in particular in what comes to biologism and the concept of environmental thresholds on the one hand and the externality of the drivers of transformation in human groups and societies on the other; (3) adapting the concepts of the social production of vulnerability and the social basis of hazards from anthropology may help to clarify the available research design choices at hand.