A Framework for Archaeology and Sustainability

Document Type


Journal/Book Title

Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems


EOLSS Publishers, Oxford

Publication Date



Sustainability or collapse follows from the success or failure of problem-solving institutions. The factors that lead to long-term success or failure in problem-solving have received little attention, so that this fundamental activity is poorly understood. The capacity of institutions to solve problems changes over time, suggesting that a science of problem-solving, and thus a science of sustainability, must be historical. Two archaeological cases show how complexity interacts with social and biophysical factors to make societies, over the long-term, sustainable or vulnerable to collapse. Historical science can reveal how problem-solving develops over time, and archaeology is the only field that can trace this development over extremely long periods and among societies that left no written records. Archaeology is therefore a science essential to maintaining life support systems.

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