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
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