Impact: The Effect of Climatic Change on Prehistoric and Modern Cultures in Texas (First Progress Report)




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Center for Archaeological Research, The University of Texas at San Antonio


The pages of this report contain an assortment of materials which reflect the status of climatic change studies at The University of Texas at San Antonio. The effort is interdisciplinary, drawing on the talents of persons trained in geography, prehistory, anthropology, and mathematics and other fields. The goals of the project include (1) efforts to understand how prehistoric and modern economies respond to significant climatic changes and (2) the application of such understanding to our own time and nation. Long-term climatic change as an important factor in the everyday life of 20th century people is a relatively recent issue. With notable exceptions, attitudes toward climate during the last century have been fostered by increasingly warmer and more comfortable winters, longer growing seasons and consequently higher agricultural productivity. Only in the last decade have the energy crisis and increasingly severe winters combined to create a general public awareness of the instability of global climate. Public awareness has risen to the point that there is a best-selling book on the topic, entitled Climates of Hunger by Bryson and Thomas. One can hardly open a newspaper today without seeing an article on the impact of climates. By contrast, prehistorians are often brought face-to-face with evidence of cataclysmic climatic shifts. The climatic concerns expressed in the following pages originated out of prehistoric archaeology where climatic change is often a direct mechanism affecting cultural change. For instance, an article Wenland and Bryson published in the journal Quaternary Research demonstrates that most of the prehistoric cultures identified by archaeologists started and ended during recognized periods of radical climatic change. Although our research interests started with prehistory, we very soon widened the scope to include problems of modern climatic change. The reason was that ideas which explain prehistoric relationships between climate and culture are, at least in part, most easily tested by examining weather data carefully collected by the weather services of various nations over the last few years. The realization that the past could be studied through the present, and vice-versa, eventually led to expanded research into historic and modern records for climatic patterns. Also, our sense of the usefulness of these efforts has grown. In the context of a growing demand for practical applications from all fields of research, we feel that our research will lead to a better understanding of the climatic forces affecting our own times, and to direct assistance to those responsible for planning our future national needs. As the table of contents indicates, the first section of the report is devoted to brief summaries of talks presented during a planning symposium at The University of Texas at San Antonio on March 4, 1978. The six presentations summarize the status of various fields of research and projected funding needs for the next two years. The summaries were prepared by Royce Mahula of the Center for Archaeological Research staff. Subsequent pages contain (1) an abstract of a paper the research group is planning to prepare for the International Conference on Climate and History to be held in England during 1979, (2) the proposal letter for a project now underway to monitor the effect of climatic change on vegetation via satellite, and (3) a recent newspaper article relative to our research group's activities. This last item is included as a demonstration of our intention to inform the public of our activities and to assure the tax-payer that the knowledge gained from our efforts is put to practical use. Another item published here is a summary of a proposal recently funded by the Ewing Halsell Foundation of San Antonio for the study of climatic change in southern Texas. Finally, we have listed the major participants in the evolving climatic research effort.



Texas History, Paleoclimatology--Texas, Texas--Climate, Texas--Antiquities