Critical Zone Archaeology
The Critical Zone. Illustration after J. Chorover – R. Kretzschmar – F. Garcia-Pichel – D. L. Sparks, Soil biogeochemical processes in the critical zone, Elements 3, 2007, 321–326 (drawing by R. Kindlimann); amended by Jacobus Bracker (archaeological places and network elements).
Suddenly we, as an alleged human totality, find ourselves in this unpleasant state of the Anthropocene, having become an unprecedented geomorphic force, being responsible for mass extinctions of species and a looming climate catastrophe which gives the uneasy sense that we may not be as detached from nature as modern western conceptions of Earth and society – following a categorial difference between nature and culture – made us believe. However, climate crisis and the notion of the Anthropocene point to the fact that human agency and nature are densely and complexly entangled. But how did it come that we are here now as we are?
Although geologists are discussing the Anthropocene as globally marked in the geologic strata we have to reckon that these markers have their causes in human behaviour and not only in actions with global effects but in many actions at many, many singular places in very diverse ways summing up to the global phenomena. The Anthropocene is an accumulation of actions at countless little places, incomprehensibly diverse. Therefore, the project will take a comparing archaeological view on alternative concepts of nature and culture respectively Earth and society at different places.
The project aims at developing a theoretical and methodical framework to analyse the relations between humans and their environments. It is proposed to develop a Critical Zone Archaeology. The Critical Zone is “the heterogeneous, near-surface environment in which complex interactions involving rock, soil, water, air, and living organisms regulate the natural habitat and determine the availability of life-sustaining resources” (National Research Council, Basic Research Opportunities in Earth Science, Washington, DC 2001, p. 2, https://doi.org/10.17226/9981). The Critical Zone has been established as an interdisciplinary research perspective by diverse natural sciences like biology, geology, and hydrology. The complexity of phenomena like climate change made it necessary to take a holistic view on the possible causes and their connectedness. The human involvement, as it becomes apparent in the debate on the proposed new geochronological era of the Anthropocene, now invites humanities, especially social and cultural studies to take part in this interdisciplinary discussion.
The Critical Zone is nothing which can be observed as a global totality but only at local scales. Therefore, the project comparingly explores different places like the classical Athenian acropolis in Greece, the Cham temple complex of My Son in Vietnam and ancient Angkor in nowadays Cambodia to grasp the diversity of human interaction with environments and climate change. Especially the remains of buildings, their surface designs (i. a. mythical reliefs, floral ornaments), the used materials, and their placement reveal many information on how the builders viewed their society’s relation to nature and Earth.
We want to learn how societies connect to their environment, to other organisms, soil, water, by which ideologies, geopolitics, technology and so on. To do this we follow the geobiopolitical actors of climate change – being humans, organisms, and things – and describe their networks. By that we can grasp the differences in and the diversity of human action. We do not all live in the same way and also past societies have not. So, we may see how we have arrived here – at what from an archaeological perspective would maybe more appear as the Late Anthropocene – and what we could do differently to re-connect to Earth in a more sustainable way to culturally enter the Early Post-Anthropocene. Because: the past may also keep the key for solutions for a future Earth.
The Indian Ocean in Late Antiquity (University of Hamburg, Summer Term 2021)
From Athens to Angkor. A comparative archaeological excursion to Cambodia (University of Hamburg, Winter Term 2020/201)
The Archaeology of the Anthropocene. Human-Environment Interaction in Ancient Societies (seminar and excursion to Taiwan, teaching project of the University of Hamburg and the National Taiwan University, with Birte Meller, Summer Term 2020)
Same same but different? Environments of Hellenism (University of Hamburg, Winter Term 2019/2020).
Climate crisis and future earth (Hamburg University of Technology, Winter Term 2019/2020, Summer Term 2020, Winter Term 2020/2021, Summer Term 2021).
Cultural concepts and the climate crisis: films and TV series as reflexions of the Anthropocene (University of Hamburg, Winter Term 2019/2020).
Before the Anthropocene. Configurations of nature and culture in ancient societies (University of Hamburg, Summer Term 2019).
Talk “Framed by the lotus – comparing ancient Mediterranean and Southeast Asian ecocultures”, Frames and Framing in Antiquity II Conference, 16–18.10.2021 (online).
Talk “Transmediations between Nature and Culture”, Panel “Images as Agents of Cultural Transformation Processes”, 16th International Congress 2020 of the German Semiotic Association “Transformations of Signs and their Objects”, Chemnitz, September 2021.
Talk “Savage is the new civilized: lessons from archaeology”, Workshop “Uniting Ecology and Civilization: Histories, Theories, Futures”, Renmin University of China (in cooperation with the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich), Beijing, 26–30.05.2021.
Talk “Ruinen als Erzählungen in einer mehr-als-menschlichen Welt“, Ringvorlesung „Ruinen aus der Sicht der Kulturwissenschaften: Materialität im Verfall – Nachnutzungen – Umdeutungen”, Universität Hamburg (online), 20.05.2021.
Talk “Mediating Gaia: The Ecological Layer of the Image”, The Layered Image, University of Hamburg (online), 17–19.03.2021.
Talk “Storied Matter of Critical Zones. Econarratology of Ancient Images”, PAGES-INQUA Workshop Past Socio-Environmental Systems, online, 09.–11.11.2020.
Talk “Critical Zone Archaeology”, New Earth Histories Conference, University of New South Wales, Sydney/Australia, 04.–06.12.2019.
Panel “Material Manifestations of Environmental Change”, European Association of Southeast Asian Studies Conference 2019, Humboldt-Universität Berlin, 10.–13.09.2019 (with Monika Arnez, Brigitte Borell, Volker Grabowsky, and Simone Voegtle).
Talk “Archaeological Explorations into Critical Zones in the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia”, European Association of Southeast Asian Studies Conference 2019, Humboldt-Universität Berlin, 10.–13.09.2019.
Talk “Archaeology in the Anthropocene: from the past to the present to the future”, First Conference on Pan-Pacific Anthropocene (ConPPA), National Taiwan University, Taipei/Taiwan, 14.–16.05.2019 (with Birte Meller).
Talk „Exploring the Critical Zone“, Conference „Critical Zone. A trans- and interdisciplinary conference at the University of Hamburg“, 21 February 2019 (with Stefanie Johns).
Conference “Critical Zone. A trans- and interdisciplinary conference at the University of Hamburg”, 21/22 February 2019 (with Stefanie Johns).
Panel “Same same but different – contacts between distant worlds”, 22nd Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association conference, Hue/Vietnam, 23.–28. September 2018 (with Birte Meller and Lilian Schönheit).
Talk “From Athens to Angkor and back”, 22nd Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association Conference, Hue/Vietnam, 23.–28. September 2018.
Tagungsbericht Critical Zone, Visual Past 6.1, 2019, 1–8 (mit Stefanie Johns).
Project supervision: Jacobus Bracker
- Dauer: 2018–
- Projektleitung: Jacobus Bracker, M.A.