Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Explaining Fortifications in Indo-Pacific Prehistory

Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Explaining Fortifications in Indo-Pacific Prehistory

Article excerpt


This paper puts forward the premise that fortifications are uniquely suited to addressing questions of climatic variation and human response, as they are large, permanent repositories of human history, and also reflect behaviors directly associated with conflict, territorialism, and the limits of local environments. A revision of theoretical perspectives and a model of conflict derived from human behavioral ecology can better direct future research. In application, this model outlines a program of research for fortifications, which can be used to more critically assess the impact of paleoclimatic change on human prehistory.

Keywords: fortifications, paleoclimates, conflict, human behavioral ecology


There have been a number of books produced in recent years that focus on the human responses to climate change in prehistory (Caviedes 2001; Fagan 2001). There have also been a number of studies that have sought to detect human responses to climate change via changes in diet, subsistence, and settlement patterns (Gamble 2005; Jousse 2006; Turney, et al. 2006). These studies have piqued the interest of archaeologists around the world, and ushered in a renewed emphasis on the study of ecology, geography, and the complex system of our oceans and atmosphere. These studies elicit a direct question: how can we detect the pulse of paleoclimatic variation when it is just one factor among many that shape human prehistory? Other issues such as population size, environment, and social conditions are also known to influence human strategies to varying degrees. As our knowledge of earth's climatic history grows, we have an ever increasing need for a mode of inquiry that can measure the effects of climate change on a prehistoric populations. Equally, we must be able to exclude alternative explanations.

Fortifications have the potential to fill this role. They have been found in association with early agricultural and foraging societies, and they are also ubiquitous, occurring on most continents and across the islands of the Indo-Pacific. Significantly, they are the product of group investment, and usually the locus of occupation for at least part of the population. Thus, they can have long histories, and record within their deposits periods of abandonment, reoccupation, and refurbishment. Most importantly, fortifications can be theoretically linked with models of human conflict and territoriality. Their use for defense, control of home territories, and also expansion into new territories is well known from both historical and anthropological accounts. Consequently, the construction of fortifications has often been linked to external influences that spur on human conflict, such as periods of environmental change or disasters (Arkush and Allen 2006; Bawden and Reycraft 2000; Kuckleman 2002; Lekson 2002).

Given the level of interest in prehistoric climate in the Indo-Pacific, and also the common conceptual linkage between environmental degradation and the emergence of conflict and territoriality, this is an appropriate time to reassess and revamp the theoretical perspectives that have directed archaeological research into fortifications. This paper outlines a theoretical perspective, and also advocates a specific program of study for fortifications within larger studies that include paleoclimatic research. It utilizes an evolutionary model of conflict and territorialism, and emphasizes the contextualization of settlement and subsistence strategies within high-resolution ecological data. It also advocates the use of paleoenvironmental data from the local area, and demands evidence for a direct linkage between environmental change and human reactions. The goal of this program of study is to connect human conflict to the wide range of ecological variables that influence the human condition, and to parse out instances in which climates or climate change played a major role in the emergence of competitive and territorial strategies. …

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