Pastoral Territory as a Dynamic Coupled System

This interdisciplinary research project will examine the environmental conditions that lead to human territorial behavior in the pastoral ecosystems as well as how territoriality shapes the environment. The project will provide new insights into whether the dynamics of woodland-grassland-woodland cycling are coupled with pulses in human social behavior. Through their examination of archaeological and paleoecological data, the investigators will provide new insights regarding the degree to which such long-term cycling-and-coupling provides alternative perspectives about human-environmental interaction. The project will challenge paradigm characterizations of a linear history of progressive human degradation of pasture lands by refining and testing a new theoretical model that explains pastoral territoriality as a dynamic coupled system. By focusing attention on the nonlinear dynamics of change and continuity in coupled human and natural systems, the project will provide a new conceptual approach for examining change and continuity in prehistoric societies. Assessment of dynamic, interlocked cycles of human territorial behavior and rangeland ecology have broader implications for development and sustainability of human environments as coupled systems. The project will provide education and training opportunities for graduate, undergraduate, and high school students in the transdisciplinary study of complex social-ecological systems, and it will further collaborations between researchers in the U.S. and the Middle East.

Using archaeological, ecological, geochemical, paleoclimate, and botanical methods in fieldwork, the investigators will recover and study proxy data as the material residues from ancient environments and human societies that have been engaged in pastoralism. The research team, which includes researchers from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Oman, will use agent-based models to examine the interactions of human and natural systems and to test the model of coupled dynamics with data from the field. They will employ an integrative and reiterative research approach, tuning models with data and generating expected patterns from models. They will address a general hypothesis that dynamic feedbacks among pastoralist demography, mobility, territoriality, and processes of succession in past vegetation regimes account for the observed pattern of chronological pulses in building stone territorial markers. Although this project will be based in the narrow plateau pasturelands of southern Oman because that region exhibits 8,000 years of exclusively pastoral economy and a rich archaeological and paleoecological record, project findings will have significant implications for examining interactions between people and pastoral environments over time in the U.S. and elsewhere. This project is supported by the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program.

Lead Investigator: