PROGRAM TITLE:  	Human Ecological History
ACTIVITY STREAM:  	Process Studies
SCIENCE ELEMENT: 	Earth System History

 SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY (NMNH)

SCIENTIFIC MERIT:  Human groups have been manipulating and changing 
plant and animal communities over thousands of years.   Human 
modification of world ecosystems intensifies daily.  Research on these long 
histories of expanding human alteration of ecosystems provides the essential 
developmental context for understanding present-day research on modern 
ecosystems.

This program focuses on the long history of human modification of 
ecosystems and human responses to changing environments.  The objective 
is to document and understand major turning points in mankind's ability to 
change the earth's environment, from human origins up through the 
agricultural revolution and the development of the state.

Collaborative fieldwork in East Africa, especially Kenya, focuses on the 
behavior and ecological interaction of early humans in the face of changing 
tropical environments over the past 5 million years, including detailed 
analysis of tools, animal remains, and paleoenvironmental indicators.   
Modern agriculture increasingly alters ecosystems and reduces biological 
diversity worldwide.  The initial development of agriculture marks the first 
emergence of humans as powerful agents of environmental change.  
Worldwide field and laboratory research aims to explain the origins, 
intensification, and impact of agriculture in different world areas.  Analysis of 
plant and animal remains is used to construct a rich and detailed record of the 
development of agriculture and its environmental consequences.  Parallel 
research on early states documents and analyzes the emergence, subsequent 
development and impact of specialized agricultural economies.

The program directly addresses the USGCRP objective of improving our 
understanding of the physical, biological and social processes that influence 
Earth system processes and trends on global and regional scales.  It is designed 
to answer the fundamental question of how and why humans and human 
systems influence physical and biological systems, and to characterize the 
relevant processes of change in human systems over the greatest possible 
periods of time and spatial dimensions.

Existing programs in archaeobiology/paleoanthropology have created a strong 
base of accomplishments over the past several years, which has placed this 
program in the forefront of international efforts to understand man's impact 
on the environment through time.  New resources are urgently needed to 
enlarge the scope of field and laboratory studies and to speed up the time 
frame for analysis and distribution of results.  The existing methodology has 
now been fully tested and significant successes have been achieved and 
reported, but progress is impeded by lack of personnel.

STAKEHOLDERS:  International scientific communication and cooperation is 
a cornerstone of this program, with NMNH serving as the base for an 
international consortium of 40 researchers on human origins and ecological 
history.  The consortium of 30 U.S. and foreign research institutions will 
coordinate collection and analysis of a vast body of data on climatic, biotic, 
and human evolutionary history of the past several million years.  Current 
collaboration exists with the Carnegie Institution, eight U.S. universities, and 
several universities and museums in Africa, Europe and Asia.

POLICY RELEVANCE:  The explicit objective of this group is to formulate an 
ecological history of the Hominidae, the taxonomic family to which modern 
humans belong, in order to explain the processes by which humans have 
emerged as dominant players on the ecological scene.  Recent articles in 
Science magazine have documented the successes and widespread support 
among colleagues for the paleoecological approach to human ecological 
history taken by Richard Potts and Bruce Smith, the scientists in charge of this 
program.

PROGRAM CONTACTS:

SI SGCR Representative:	Ted A. Maxwell
		NASM MRC 315
		Smithsonian Institution
		Washington, D.C.  20560
		202 357 1424
		FAX:  202 786 2566
		Email: tmaxwell@ceps.nasm.edu
	
Bureau Representative:	Marsha Sitnik
		NMNH MRC 106
		Smithsonian Institution
		Washington, D.C.  20560
		202 357 2670
		FAX: 202 786 2934
		Email: nmhod004@sivm.si.edu