Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Testing the limits of where humans can live

Date:
February 21, 2011
Source:
University of Washington
Summary:
On an isolated segment of islands in the Pacific Ring of Fire, residents endure volcanoes, tsunamis, dense fog, steep cliffs and long and chilly winters. Researchers have studied the history of human settlement on the Kuril Islands. Understanding how residents survived the islands' severe environment could inform how we adapt to modern vulnerabilities, including climate change. The findings also have implications for how we rebound from contemporary catastrophes.

Ben Fitzhugh, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Washington, collects charcoal samples to be used for radiocarbon dating of different layers of an eroding archaeological site in the Kurils.
Credit: Photo credit: Mike Etnier, U. Washington.

On an isolated segment of islands in the Pacific Ring of Fire, residents endure volcanoes, tsunamis, dense fog, steep cliffs and long and chilly winters.

Related Articles


Sounds homey, huh?

At least it might be for inhabitants of the Kuril Islands, an 810-mile archipelago that stretches from Japan to Russia. The islands, formed by a collision of tectonic plates, are nearly abandoned today, but anthropologists have learned that thousands of people have lived there on and off as far back as at least 6000 B.C., persevering despite natural disasters.

"We want to identify the limits of adaptability, or how much resilience people have," said Ben Fitzhugh, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Washington. "We're looking at the islands as a yardstick of humans' capacity to colonize and sustain themselves."

Understanding what made residents stay and how they survived could inform how we adapt to modern vulnerabilities, including climate change. The findings also have implications for how we rebound from contemporary catastrophes, such as the Indonesian tsunami in 2004, hurricanes Katrina and Rita and last year's earthquake in Haiti.

Fitzhugh is leading an international team of anthropologists, archaeologists, geologists and earth and atmospheric scientists in studying the history of human settlement on the Kuril Islands.

The team's findings will be discussed Feb. 20 during a lecture, Scales of Vulnerability and Resilience in Human Settlement of the Kuril Islands, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

The scientists are studying islands in the central portion of the Kurils, from Urup Island in the south to Onekotan Island in the north -- about 75 percent of the island chain. During three expeditions, they've found small pit houses, pottery, stone tools, barbed harpoon heads and other remnants of the islanders' fishing and foraging lifestyle.

The scientists believe that human settlements existed in three different waves, the earliest in 6000 B.C., the most recent in 1200 A.D.

Fitzhugh finds evidence that following volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, people left the settlements but eventually returned. Fitzhugh and his research team have found that mobility, social networks and knowledge of the local environment helped indigenous people survive.

"Having relatives and friends on other Kurils meant that, when something disastrous happened locally, people could temporarily move in with relatives on nearby islands," he said.

Understanding the local environment also helped people survive the persistently foggy, dark and chilly environment. Since fog can shroud the islands, residents couldn't navigate between islands by simply pointing their boats toward destinations. Fitzhugh and his collaborators suspect that indigenous Kurilians instead used bird behavior, water currents and water temperature to navigate.

Fitzhugh says that the Kurils' population decline has less to do with environmental challenges and more to do with changes in social and political influences, such as skirmishes between Russia and Japan over control of the Kurils.

He adds that as a global society in a time of environmental changes, we have to protect abilities of small and vulnerable populations to sustain themselves.

"This is not something that will naturally rise to the top of priorities of large political systems without concerted effort," Fitzhugh said.

The work is part of the Kuril Biocomplexity Project, funded by the National Science Foundation and the University of Washington, with additional support from the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Washington. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Washington. "Testing the limits of where humans can live." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110220142803.htm>.
University of Washington. (2011, February 21). Testing the limits of where humans can live. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110220142803.htm
University of Washington. "Testing the limits of where humans can live." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110220142803.htm (accessed November 23, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Anglerfish Rarely Seen In Its Habitat Will Haunt You

Anglerfish Rarely Seen In Its Habitat Will Haunt You

Newsy (Nov. 22, 2014) For the first time Monterey Bay Aquarium recorded a video of the elusive, creepy and rarely seen anglerfish. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Buffalo Residents Digging Out, Helping out

Raw: Buffalo Residents Digging Out, Helping out

AP (Nov. 22, 2014) Hundreds of volunteers joined a 'shovel brigade' in Buffalo, New York on Saturday, as the city was living up to its nickname, "The City of Good Neighbors." Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Green Car Soon Available in the US

Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Green Car Soon Available in the US

AFP (Nov. 21, 2014) Toyota presented its hydrogen fuel-cell compact car called "Mirai" to US consumers at the Los Angeles auto show. The car should go on sale in 2015 for around $60.000. It combines stored hydrogen with oxygen to generate its own power. Duration: 01:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Google Announces Improvements To Balloon-Borne Wi-Fi Project

Google Announces Improvements To Balloon-Borne Wi-Fi Project

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) In a blog post, Google said its balloons have traveled 3 million kilometers since the start of Project Loon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins