Agro-Pastoralism, Climate, Fire, and a Mountain Steppe: An Investigation of Social and Ecological Reorganization After Disturbance Events In The Bronze and Iron Age Southern Caucasus

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In this dissertation, I take a transdisciplinary approach to human and environmental interactions in the steppes of the southern Caucasus. Framed in terms of historical ecology, disturbance, and resilience theory, this research investigates the reorganization of ecological and social communities after disturbance events. These disturbance events include the fire regime, agriculture, pastoralism, and climate change. Chronologically, this dissertation spans the Bronze and Iron Ages, when multiple agro-pastoral societies inhabited this mountainous landscape with distinct social and political histories. I integrate theories and methods from archaeology, paleoecology, ecology, and statistics to examine resilience. I use pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs, and macro- charcoal of two sediment cores extracted from wetlands in the Kasakh Valley, Armenia, as my primary analytical methods. Through the lens of these cores, I provide a vegetation and fire history of the Kasakh Valley. I also compiled published oxygen isotope records from regional lakes and speleothems archives to create a regional climate history and discuss human adaptation to climate change. To discuss agriculture and pastoralism's role in disturbance and resilience, I combine results from these cores with previously published archaeobotanical and zooarchaeological studies. My research finds that agro-pastoralism, landscape fire, and climate have driven multiple shifts in these steppe ecosystems. Since the Early Holocene, climate and fire have driven and maintained this steppe grassland. Agricultural and pastoral land use, however, have also caused ecological reorganization of the steppe vegetation land cover into a landscape of agricultural weeds. Pastoralism and climate also shaped this vegetation enough to halt the fire regime. These human-driven disturbance events were also socially and politically mediated by each community that used the Kasakh Valley. I also show how climate events during the Early Bronze Age Kura-Araxes horizon and Urartian Empire drove human communities to reorganize and adopt agriculture adaptation strategies like crop choice to strengthen resilience. I find that multiple human and non-human actors, combined with Earth System and ecological processes, shaped the steppe landscape seen today.

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354 pages


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Bronze Age; Disturbance Ecology; Fire-Regime; Human and Environment; southern Caucasus; Steppe Ecosystems


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Khatchadourian, Lori

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Russell, Nerissa
Smith, Adam

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Ph. D., Anthropology

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International


dissertation or thesis

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