Assessing the Long-Term Sustainability of Agricultural Systems: An Archaeological Case Study

Marston, John M. – University of California, Los Angeles

Identifying how ancient societies made decisions about patterns of agricultural land use is important for understanding why some pre-industrial agricultural systems flourished and others collapsed. Agricultural strategies may be targeted towards short-term profitability at the expense of long-term sustainability, or vice versa, and local environmental and cultural factors influence how people balance both goals in agricultural planning. Archaeological data offer a unique diachronic perspective on the ephemerality or sustainability of agriculture in a particular place over hundreds or thousands of years. In this paper, I consider paleoethnobotanical, zooarchaeological, and phytogeographic evidence for coincident changes in landscape and agricultural practices at the ancient city of Gordion in central Turkey over a period of 2000 years. I argue that political shifts led to changes in risk-management strategies that had broad implications for the long-term sustainability of agriculture in the region.