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Ariel view of Freston site, eastern England, Ancient canal features, Mexico

Introduction & Development of Agriculture: McMaster Anthropology's Dr. Tristan Carter & Dr. Shanti Morell-Hart Awarded SSHRC Grants

Two SSHRC Insight Grants were awarded to Dr. Tristan Carter and Dr. Shanti Morell-Hart in the 2019-2020 competition, with research in to the introduction & development of agriculture in different parts of the world. Dr. Tristan Carter's research is based in the Early Neolithic of Eastern England to understand the introduction & incorporation of agriculture. Dr. Shanti Morell-Hart's research seeks to understand environmental change and it's effects on landscape management & societal change of the Ancient Maya in Chipas, Mexico.

Sep 30, 2019


SSHRC-IDG, project title: The Social Dynamics of Farming Frontiers: Excavating the Introduction of Agriculture to Britain at the Freston Causewayed Enclosure

Dr. Tristan Carter. Collaborators: Amy Bogaard, University of Oxford, Joseph Boyce, McMaster University, Jacqueline Mulville, Cardiff University, Tracy Prowse, McMaster University, Lisa-Marie Shillito, Newcastle University.

Our two-year research plan is to lay the foundations of a major project designed to contribute to global debates concerning how farming was introduced as a way of life to regions outside such ‘agricultural homelands’ as the Fertile Crescent. How did these new lifeways spread? How rapid were these changes, and what was the role of migrant populations and settler farmer/indigenous hunter-gatherer relations within these processes?

We seek to contribute to these debates through a small-scale excavation of an Early Neolithic causewayed enclosure in Freston (Eastern England), a form of ritual gathering space associated with the earliest farmers - in one of the areas of Britain closest to the continent from whence agriculture is believed to have originated. Our initial aims are to (i) generate scientific dates for the site’s foundation, (ii) reconstruct the palaeo-environment of the landscape prior to the monument’s construction as a means of understanding why the site was located here, (iii) to understand the specific subsistence practices of these people to see if their lifestyle was completely new and of overseas origin, or whether they incorporated local indigenous practices, as a reflection of early interactions with native hunter-gatherers.

SSHRC-IG, project title: Ancient Maya agricultural practices: landscape management, ecological sustainability, and food resilience in the kingdom of Sak Tz'i', Chiapas, Mexico

Dr. Shanti Morell-Hart.
Collaborators: Charles W. Golden, Brandeis University, Timothy Murtha, University of Florida, Sarah Newman, University of Vermont, Andrew Scherer, Brown University.

Our SSHRC Insight grant is directed toward detailing the many strategies used by ancient Maya people to negotiate their landscape under sometimes precarious conditions. Ancient populations in the Maya Lowlands grew rapidly at the transition from the Formative to the Classic Period, and decreased sharply at the transition from the Classic to the Post-Classic Period. Environmental evidence also strongly suggests localized and potential regional climate shifts in certain areas, shifts that variably affected communities across the Maya area. Did transformations in agricultural practices lead to shifts in ecological settings, in turn leading to broader societal reactions? Did shifts in political structure lead to transformations in agriculture, with more demands for tithe or more trade of non-local plants? How does loss of food diversity---in addition to basic food quantity---affect landscape management practices, and vice versa? Our funded research project, within the broader Proyecto Arqueológico Budsilhá-Chocolja (PABC), centers on the foodways and ethnoecology of ancient communities in the Usumacinta River Zone of Chiapas, Mexico. Our research team tracks human-environmental dynamics over the course of twelve hundred years, to understand the emergence of stressors on the society (environmental and cultural), the active negotiation of these stressors through landscape modifications (including terracing), and reasons for eventual abandonment. In our study, we are 1) locating and mapping landscape modifications that may relate to agricultural practices, using LIDAR, 2) refining the chronology of local settlement, using excavated features and artifacts, and 3) assessing plant diversity in agricultural zones and residential areas to understand how foodways did (or did not) shift through time, using paleoethnobotanical analysis of plant residues.