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Although geological study of Pleistocene cave sites goes back to the nineteenth century, a new paradigm was set in train during the 1920s, when G. Caton-Thompson and E.W. Gardner established a sequence of prehistoric occupations linked to the changing spatial and ecological contours of fluctuating lakes in Egypt's Faiyum Depression. Subsequent collaborations have carried research beyond geochronology and climate stratigraphy to address human settlement within changing environments, which served both as resource and artifact.

Geoarchaeologists, as they were eventually called, worked at multiple scales and with new skills, exploring new ground such as cultural sediments and the taphonomy of site formation, preservation, and destruction. Others, especially in the UK, investigated human modification of particular watersheds. Forty years of work on Mediterranean soil erosion issues saw researchers continue to wrestle with climate or destructive land use as possible prime movers in ecological degradation. The number of geoarchaeologists, full or part time, has increased by an order of magnitude, and the literature continues to explode in quantity and diversity. Perhaps the overarching conceptual framework for most remains a deep interest in landscape histories and the ways in which they co-evolve with human societies.

This paper encourages our confraternity to engage more assertively in the broader academic debates of the day, as empirical scientists open to interdisciplinary exchange and qualified to argue for competent and reasonable positions. We should play a more effective role in environmental history, alongside historians and political ecologists. The popular “new” environmental determinism centered on civilizational collapse in response to “abrupt” climatic change calls for strong voices of caution, on the premise that coincidence, even when true, does not prove causality. We are qualified to monitor the environmental and adaptive changes critical to future projections of global change, and we all have our ideas, even if intuitive, with regard to alternative ways of thinking about sustainability.

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