The University of Arizona

Ethnoarchaeology Can Be Used for Ecological Conservation Because It Can Detect Shifting Baselines

Erana Loveless

Abstract


 “Shifting baselines” describes the human difficulty with perceiving long-term change across overly short timeframes. This is due to humans having lifespans that are too short to accurately perceive long-term change, as well as the difficulty of developing continuous perceptions across successive generations. The bigger picture is obscured by focusing on short-term fluctuations. Fortunately, archaeology allows us to gain greater perspective because of its profound time depth, which is especially important because no realistic definition of “sustainability” is possible without time depth. However, trying to apply archaeology to modern “shifting baseline” problems will be of limited use until combined with high-resolution ethnographic methods. While cultural anthropologists and archaeologists have increasingly come to utilize one another’s work for their own purposes, applied fusions of the two are still unpopular. Ethnoarchaeology has great potential for connecting modern ethnographic data with archaeological data because both disciplines can interface across a common data source – physical, preservable artifacts. Additionally, ethnoarchaeology can be used to detect potentially dangerous shifting baselines in modern perceptions of ecosystems health. This paper demonstrates what shifting baselines can look like in an anthropological context through a case study of a subsistence fishing community in northeastern Brazil. Future research directions for fusing ethnoarchaeology and archaeology are suggested for expanding today’s baselines of ecological health.


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