- Please check and comment entries here.
Tectonic Archaeology is conceived as an umbrella term for efforts to deal with evidence of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunami in the archaeological record and the consequences for society. It also can serve as a foundation for Geoarchaeology in general.
1. A New Discipline of Applied Plate Tectonics?
Few attempts have been made to incorporate tectonics into palaeogeographical reconstructions of early hominin sites and their associated landscapes. Tectonic processes, if they are not ignored completely at this local scale, are usually treated as background events, as occasional disruption of sedimentary processes, or as sources of volcanic raw material for stone tools.
2. Tectonic Archaeology Deriving from Japan
3. The ‘Geo’ in Geoarchaeology
Level 1 is ‘earth’ as dirt —the sediments of sites and their stratigraphic layering as recovered in archaeological excavation; this formed the topic of the first conference in Geoarchaeology in 1973 . The focus on sediments by Schiffer  aimed at understanding site formation as a product of human behaviour; investigating stratigraphy was thus a tool for an ‘anthropological archaeology’ approach, aiming to reconstruct people’s place in their environment (Level 4, see below). The attention given to anthropogenic layers—to the exclusion of the natural stratigraphy of archaeological sites—stimulated Karkanas and Goldberg  to propose a reorientation to the ‘sedimentary matrix’: treating artefacts, features, and anthropogenic sediments not as the primary focus but as components equal to natural sediments in an archaeological deposit.
Level 2 is ‘earth’ as landforms—this is a geomorphological approach which outlines the nature and form of rocks and sediments as they occur in different environments: wet, dry, glacial, desert, fluvial, colluvial, etc. The volumes by Stein and Farrand  address these different forms of sedimentary sources and processes but mention tephra and tephrochronology only in passing.
Level 3 is ‘earth’ as resources—raw materials that can be turned into artefacts. Identifying sources of raw materials is a geological exercise, while matching artefacts to their sources is generally the province of archaeometry involving geochemistry and mineralogy. A good example of this focus is the session on Geoarchaeology at the Geosciences ’98 Conference at Keele University; the contents of the conference were determined by the volume’s editor, Mark Pollard, who was then affiliated with the Department of Archaeological Science at the University of Bradford .
Level 4 is ‘earth’ as terrane—the geology of a region which produces materials as both sediments and raw materials. Terrane is different from ‘terrain’, the latter essentially topographic. The geological meaning of terrane is, according to ITA :
A rock formation or assemblage of rock formations that share a common geologic history. A geologic terrane is distinguished from neighboring terranes by its different history, either in its formation or in its subsequent deformation and/or metamorphism … An exotic terrane is one that has been transported into its present setting from some distance.
Although Japanese geologists consider the geotectonic belts making up Japanese landmass as terranes bounded by faults, recent research elsewhere suggests that terranes need not be fault bounded and that the boundary between terranes evolves over time . The origin and formation of terranes, both autochthonous (including cratons) and allochthonous, are one aspect of what Tectonic Archaeology seeks to provide for understanding the locale of archaeological research.
Level 5 is ‘Earth’ as a sphere covered by mutually moving and self-reorganising tectonic plates which entail billions of years of Earth’s history. The changing tectonic context of any particular plate or fragment thereof is what provides the geological variety created over time. That variety is the product of specific geological processes, particularly at the edges of the plates and their fragments in active subduction zones, as plates subduct one under the other, collide to form mountain ranges, or accrete intra-oceanic terranes. The various processes that occur within subduction zones include some of the natural hazards that affect society as mentioned above: volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunami—obvious targets of a Tectonic Archaeology. Once activity ceases in a former subduction zone, the geological products of those processes are frozen into the body of the Earth’s crust in mobile belts, suture zones, and fossil subduction zones—or eroded to provide trench fill for future AC or metamorphic belts. These zones may currently occupy inland positions, so that Tectonic Archaeology is not limited to currently active subduction zones.
Level 6 is ‘earth’ as environment: the living and non-living stage for habitation on the continents and oceans carried by tectonic plates. This is the realm both of Environmental Archaeology (à la (Butzer ) and the Earth Sciences themselves, as the oceans, atmosphere, even other heavenly bodies are taken into account. Geologists no longer find themselves between a rock and a hard place but in the company of vapours, liquids, thunder and lightning, and a lot of biomatter.
4. Tectonics in Geoarchaeology
The initial impact of the plate tectonic concept, in the fields of marine geology and geophysics and seismology, was quickly followed by the realization of its relevance to igneous and metamorphic petrology, paleontology, sedimentary and economic geology, and all branches of geoscience. More recently its potential relevance to the Earth system as a whole has been recognized. In the past, processes associated with plate tectonics may have produced changes in seawater and atmospheric chemistry, in sea level and ocean currents, and in the Earth’s climate… This extension of the relevance of plate tectonics to the atmosphere and oceans, to the evolution of life, and possibly even the origin of life on Earth is particularly gratifying in that it emphasizes the way in which the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and solid Earth are interrelated in a single, dynamic Earth system.
The entry is from 10.3390/land10050453
- Tourloukis, V. The Early and Middle Pleistocene Archaeology Record of Greece: Current Status and Future Prospects; Amsterdam University Press: Amsterdam, The Nederland, 2010.
- King, G.C.P.; Bailey, G.N. Tectonics and human evolution. Antiquity 2006, 80, 265–286; quote from p. 271.
- Hager, B.H.; Clayton, R.W.; Richards, M.A.; Comer, R.P.; Dziewonski, A.M. Lower mantle heterogeneity, dynamic topography and the geoid. Nature 1985, 313, 541–545.
- Bailey, G.N.; King, G.C.P. Dynamic landscapes and human dispersal patterns: Tectonics, coastlines, and the reconstruction of human habitats. Quat. Sci. Rev. 2011, 30, 1533–1553.
- King, G.C.P.; Bailey, G.N. Dynamic Landscapes and Human Evolution; GSA Special Paper 471; Geological Society of America: Boulder, CO, USA, 2010.
- Butzer, K.W. Archaeology as Human Ecology; Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK, 1982.
- Rapp, G.R.; Gifford, J.A. (Eds.) Archaeological Geology; Yale University Press: New Haven, CT, USA, 1985; quotes from p. 15.
- Rapp, G.R.; Gifford, J.A. Archaeological geology. Am. Sci. 1982, 70, 45–53; quotes from p. 52.
- Goldberg, P.; Macphail, R. Practical and Theoretical Geoarchaeology; Blackwell: Malden, MA, USA, 2006; quotes from p. 2.
- McKenzie, D. A geologist reflects on a long career. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 2018, 46, 1–20; quote from pp. 15-16.
- Schmincke, H.-U. The Quaternary volcanic fields of the East and West Eifel (Germany). In Mantle Plumes: A Multidisciplinary Approach; Ritter, J.R.R., Christensen, U.R., Eds.; Springer: Berlin, Germany, 2007; pp. 241–322.
- Riede, F. Splendid Isolation: The Eruption of the Laacher See Volcano and Southern Scandinavian Late Glacial Hunter-Gatherers; Aarhus University Press: Aarhus, Denmark, 2017.
- Stein, S.; Stein, C.A.; Elling, R.; Kley, J.; Keller, G.R.; Wysession, M.; Rooney, T.; Frederiksen, A.; Moucha, R. Insights from North America’s failed Midcontinent Rift into the evolution of continental rifts and passive continental margins. Tectonophysics 2018, 744, 403–421.
- Murray, K.D.; Murray, M.H.; Sheehan, A.F. Active deformation near the Rio Grande Rift and Colorado Plateau as inferred from continuous global positioning system measurements. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 2019, 124, 2166–2183.
- Eldridge, C.M.; Wolf, L.W. The tectonic framework of the New Madrid Seismic Zone from lidar, gravity, and magnetic modeling. Symp. Appl. Geophys. Eng. Environ. Probl. 2019.
- United States Geological Survey. North America Basement Rocks. 2019. Available online: (accessed on 19 March 2021).
- Bailey, G.; King, G.; Sturdy, D. Active tectonics and land-use strategies: A Palaeolithic example from northwest Greece. Antiquity 1993, 67, 292–312.
- Force, E.R. Impact of Tectonic Activity on Ancient Civilizations: Recurrent Shakeups, Tenacity, Resilence, and Change; Lexington Books: Lanham, MD, USA, 2015.
- Taira, A.; Kiyokawa, S.; Aoike, K.; Saito, S. Accretion tectonics of the Japanese islands and evolution of continental crust. Earth Planet. Sci. 1997, 325, 467–478, (in English with French title and abstract).
- Isozaki, Y.; Aoki, K.; Nakama, T.; Yanai, S. New insight into a subduction-related orogen: A reappraisal of the geotectonic framework and evolution of the Japanese Islands. Gondwana Res. 2010, 18, 82–105.
- Riede, F.; Barnes, G.; Elson, M.D.; Oetelaar, G.A.; Holmberg, K.G.; Sheets, P. Prospects and pitfalls in integrating volcanology and archaeology: A review. J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 2020, 401, 106977.
- Soda, T. Tephroarchaeology and its history in Japan. In TephroArchaeology in the North Pacific; Barnes, G.L., Soda, T., Eds.; Archaeopress: Oxford, UK, 2019; pp. 24–40.
- Barnes, G.L.; Soda, T. (Eds.) TephroArchaeology in the North Pacific; Archaeopress: Oxford, UK, 2019.
- Barnes, G.L. Earthquake archaeology in Japan: An overview. In Ancient Earthquakes; Sintubin, M., Stewart, I.S., Niemi, T.M., Altunel, E., Eds.; GSA Special Paper 471; Geological Society of America: Boulder, CO, USA, 2010; pp. 81–96.
- Barnes, G.L. The search for tsunami evidence in the geological and archaeological records, with a focus on Japan. Asian Perspect. 2017, 56, 132–165.
- Merriam-Webster Editorial Staff (Ed.) (n.d.). Geo-Combining Form. The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary. Available online: (accessed on 19 March 2021).
- Smith, P. (Estate); Compound Words in Greek; Pressbooks: Vancouver, CA, USA, 2016; Available online: (accessed on 19 March 2021).
- Renfrew, C. Archaeology and the earth sciences. In Geoarchaeology: Earth Science and the Past; Davidson, D.A., Shackley, M.L., Eds.; Duckworth: London, UK, 1976; pp. 1–5.
- Davidson, D.A.; Shackley, M.L. (Eds.) Geoarchaeology: Earth Science and the Past; Duckworth: London, UK, 1976.
- Schiffer, M. Formation Process of the Archaeological Record; University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, NM, USA, 1987.
- Karkanas, P.T.; Goldberg, P. Reconstructing Archaeological Sites: Understanding the Geoarchaeological Materix; John Wiley & Sons: Oxford, UK, 2019.
- Stein, J.K.; Farrand, W.R. (Eds.) Archaeological Sediments in Context; Study of Early Man, Institute for Quaternary Studies, University of Maine at Orono: Orono, ME, USA, 1985.
- Stein, J.K.; Farrand, W.R. (Eds.) Sediments in Archaeological Context; University of Utah Press: Salt Lake City, UT, USA, 2001; quote from p. xii.
- Pollard, A.M. (Ed.) Geoarchaeology: Exploration, Environments, Resources; Special Publication No. 165; The Geological Society: London, UK, 1999.
- Pollard, A.M. (n.d.) Staff Page at Oxford. Available online: (accessed on 19 March 2021).
- ITA (Information Technology Associates). Dictionary of Geology. 2019. Available online, unpg.: (accessed on 19 March 2021).
- Colpron, M.; Nelson, J.L.; Murphy, D.C. Northern Cordilleran terranes and their interactions through time. GSA Today 2007, 17, 4.
- Stein, J.K. Effects of scale on archaeological and geological perspectives. In Effects of Scale on Archaeological and Geoscientific Perspectives; Stein, J.K., Linse, A.R., Eds.; GSA Special Paper 283; The Geological Society of America: Boulder, CO, USA, 1993; pp. 1–10.
- Waters, M.R. Principles of Geoarchaeology: A North America Perspective; Paperback Edition in 1997; University of Arizona Press: Tuscon, AZ, USA, 1992; quote from p. 6
- Pollard, A.M. Geoarchaeology: An introduction. In Geoarchaeology: Exploration, Environments, Resources; Special Publication No. 165; The Geological Society: London, UK, 1999; pp. 7–14.
- Hassan, F.A. Geoarchaeology: The geologist and archaeology. Am. Antiq. 1979, 44, 267–270.
- Rapp, G., Jr. Archaeological geology. In Encyclopedia of Physical Science and Technology; Meyers, R.A., Ed.; Academic Press: New York, NY, USA, 1987; Volume 1, pp. 688–698.
- Rapp, G., Jr. Geoarchaeology. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 1987, 15, 97–113.
- Thorson, R.M.; Holliday, V.T. Just what is geoarchaeology? Geotimes 1990, 1990, 19–20.
- Rapp, G., Jr.; Hill, C.L. Geoarchaeology: The Earth-Science Approach to Archaeological Interpretation, 1st ed.; Yale University Press: New Haven, CT, USA, 2009; quote from p. 188.
- Hill, C.L. Geoarchaeology, history. In Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology; Gilbert, A.S., Ed.; Springer: Berlin, Germany, 2017; pp. 292–303.
- Barnes, Gina L.; Tectonic Archaeology as a Foundation for Geoarchaeology. Land 2021, 10, 453, 10.3390/ land10050453.
- Keller, E.A.; Pinter, N. Active Tectonics: Earthquakes, Uplift, and Landscape; Prentice Hall: Hoboken, NJ, USA, 2002; quote from p. 1.
- Inaga, S. Addressing trade from the historical perspective of pirates. In Aporia in Pre-Modern East Asia; Xu, X., Ed.; Japanese Studies Series 8; National Taiwan University Publishing Center: Taipei, Taiwan, 2014; pp. 123–152; quote from p. 123 (In Japanese)
- Morgan, W.J. Rises, trenches, great faults, and crustal blocks. J. Geophys. Res. 1968, 73, 1959–1982.
- McKenzie, D.P.; Parker, R.L. The North Pacific: An example of tectonics on a sphere. Nature 1967, 216, 1276–1289.
- Dickinson, W.R.; Burley, D.V. Geoarchaeology of Tonga: Geotectonic and geomorphic controls. Geoarchaeology 2007, 22, 231–261.
- Jing, Z. Integration comes of age: A conversation with Rip Rapp. Geoarchaeology 2007, 22, 1–14; quote from p. 11.
- National Science Foundation (n.d.) Geosciences (GEO): About Earth Sciences. National Science Foundation Where Discoveries Begin. Available online: (accessed on 19 March 2021).
- Kearey, P.; Klepeis, K.A.; Vine, F.J. Global Tectonics; Wiley-Blackwell: Oxford, UK, 2009; quote from p. ix.