Tel Arad, Israel. The site is not alien to its environs, but integral to the landscape. This ancient desert-fringe town will not have the same cultural value without its surrounding desert, which in turn provided its ancient inhabitants many services.

Image by eretzvateva, in Openverse (CC BY 2.0 license)

By Ofir Katz.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; check back soon for a link to the full paper.

Archaeology, ecology and economy have plenty on common, all three disciplines studying how organisms (usually Homo sapiens) manage resources. Ecology is the economics of nature, economics is human ecology, and archaeology is the physical history of both.

However, many years of independent development have hampered the dialogue among the three. For some years now, ecologists and economists can communicate through the framework of ecosystem services (ES), the services that organisms and ecosystems provide to humanity and their physical (including monetary) values. I suggest that archaeology should also join the ES framework.

Many ES can contribute to archaeology, for example by framing past human-environment interactions or providing new tools for archaeological exploration and preservation. Ecology and economics, in turn, can benefit from the deep-time perspective that archaeology provides on human-environment interactions and human ecology. This triple collaboration can help us understand whether past societies were sustainable, and provide us with new knowledge to improve our own fragile sustainability.

In this paper, I review such benefits of the archaeology-ES linkage, and present various examples of how such a link can open new avenues for research within the three disciplines. I divided them, for simplicity, into three groups: studying the past, understanding the present, and future practice.

Finally, in light of the strong criticism of ES as being leaning towards the benefits we can retrieve from nature and those benefit’s monetary value, archaeology can serve as a counter-balance to economics, giving the ES framework a chance to develop into new horizons.