Fayerweather Hall (Room 513), Columbia University, 1180 Amsterdam Avenue, New York
In this talk, Kristina Douglass addresses questions about human adaptations to climate change by analyzing an oral history archive from southwest Madagascar, and integrating its evolutionary logic into the development of a model of human niche construction. Southwest Madagascar is an excellent context in which to study human adaptation to climate change, since the region has long experienced a hypervariable climate and shifting resource distributions. The paleoclimate record of this region indicates that climatic conditions have shifted dramatically over the course of the Holocene, and that human and other biotic communities have experienced multiple extreme droughts over the past two millennia. Archaeological evidence from surface surveys and excavations suggest that short-term occupations of sites and frequent residential mobility have been a central feature of life on the southwest coast for millennia. Today, despite conservation and development initiatives that favor sedentarization of local communities, mobility remains key to the lives of fishing, foraging, herding and farming communities of the region. Our theoretical model highlights the central role of social memory in facilitating community mobility, social networking and shared resource use among groups of foragers, farmers, herders and fishers in the region. Using Niche Construction Theory, she argues that social memory, its maintenance and perpetuation contribute to a niche that makes human lifeways possible under the hypervariable conditions of southwest Madagascar. This work demonstrates the importance of preserving and engaging local, Indigenous and descendant (LID) knowledge to promote sustainability and develop robust and inclusive evolutionary theories of human adaptation to climate change.
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