Organized Panel Session
Archaeological research in the mid-20th century assumed an ‘environmental determinism’ by which the natures and contents of cultures and societies were largely determined by the environmental resources available to them. This idea was challenged in the 1980s with the emerging emphasis on ‘ideology’ as a cause of cultural change, and from 2000, ideas of human ‘agency’ in prehistory have been developed. Cultural and environmental determinism form binary poles between which are possible and probable combinations of both. And the ability of humans to change their environment, not just adapt to it or succeed in spite of it, is leading to the designation of a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene.
In order to assess the intricate causal relationships between humans and their environment, it is necessary to monitor cultural change and environmental change in fine gradations. In Japanese prehistory, cultural change is measured in generational units (ca. 20 years), based on nuanced changes in ceramic typology and manufacturing technologies. Development of new scientific dating techniques, such as tree-ring cellulose oxygen isotope ratios (TRCOIR) able to distinguish inter-annual through multi-decadal change in the environment, has allowed a much closer correlation of cultural and environmental shifts in the prehistoric record.