PRISM/PCCM SEMINAR SERIES FALL 2022: Agne Civilyte, Lithuanian Institute of History

Nov 30, 2022, 12:00 pm1:00 pm
Bowen Hall Auditorium 222
Event Description

A Multidisciplinary Approach to Sustainability in Archaeology 

Abstract: I plan to employ a multidisciplinary approach to the study of sustainability in archaeology. My presentation will undertake a brief review of the methods used in the Material, Natural, Engineering Sciences, and Archaeology to reconstruct the development of technologies and environmental practices, with a focus on ancient metal alloys. The expansion of ancient human industrial activity (including mining, smelting, and synthetic compound creation) has caused an exponential increase in the amounts of heavy metals released into the atmosphere, water, and soil. This increase is a major threat for human health. Furthermore, I will discuss how the composition of metal alloys can improve sustainability in archaeology.

Archaeologists are uniquely situated to study interactions of social and environmental dimensions over time because they can show that sustainability is historically contingent, while controlling for different outcomes. There are many examples of sustainable practices in prehistoric and protohistoric societies, ranging from agricultural methods, organizational forms and economic traditions on a large scale, to specific materials and technological innovations on a small scale. 

This lecture will commence by rehearsing archaeological findings about how ancient people created sustainable and long-term solutions to their problems. Archaeologists have usefully considered the role of capital, rent, and labor in forming investment, quality control, technology, and energy production. For example, past human ecology (particularly in regard to agriculture) can be useful for achieving a sustainable future. One needs to analyze primary, secondary, and tertiary sources as well as recycling to understand the above.   

Increasing the number of components in alloyed materials makes their production and recycling more difficult and comes at the risk of exhausting scarce elements. Hence, the question of sustainability of alloy-based strategies will be addressed in further detail. Namely, that civilizational advancement can still be achieved through carefully reducing the consumption of alloy elements, especially since much of our soil remains polluted from the Anthropocene of the Bronze Age. E.g., from the incineration of timber and combustion. 

More relevant to the end of sustainability in modern times, from jeans to jets and beyond--economizing on the use of elements in the production of items may pave the way for higher environmental sustainability. For analysis of Bronze Age technologies shows that the hardening of copper can be accomplished by using only few components, which was one of the earliest indications of sustainability-conscious behavior the sort of which we can build upon. 

Archaeologists adopt the selfsame methods of determining and characterizing ancient materials as do engineering scientists—including but not limited to 14 C, XRFA, XRD, etc. Moreover, we use concepts such as the “Life Cycle” (in our case, of artefacts) where the cycle begins with comparative decision trees, investment of time, labor and capital in the harvesting and extraction of resources, production, marketing, consumption, recycling, and waste.  For archaeologists, the “Life Cycle” can be the bridge between innovation and sustainability. This concept may also be analyzed through information flows and the application of multi-disciplinary research. 

Bio: Professor Agne Civilyte is a senior researcher and archaeologist at the Lithuanian Institute of History with areas of competence in European prehistory, particularly, in the Bronze Age. She participated in excavations in Southeastern Turkey (Giobekli Tepe) and Greece (Tiryns) as a doctoral student at the University of Heidelberg in Germany where she earned her Ph.D and went on to lead her own excavations in Lithuania. As a Fulbright scholar, Prof. Civilyte taught a graduate level class on European Archaeology at Buffalo University last year. She is currently working with archaeometallurgy, with a focus on the chemical composition of metal artefacts and provenience of the metal ores. She strongly believes that archaeological methodologies are transferrable to more than one scientific discipline, especially sustainability, an area in which she continues to develop a growing interest.