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Anthropocene Dynamics in the Prehistoric Pacific

Modeling Emergent Socioecological Outcomes of Environmental Change

Thomas P. Leppard

How will human societies evolve in the face of the massive changes humans themselves are driving in the earth systems? Currently, few data exist with which to address this question. I argue that archaeological datasets from islands provide useful models for understanding long-term socioecological responses to large-scale environmental change, by virtue of their longitudinal dimension and their relative insulation from broader biophysical systems. Reviewing how colonizing humans initiated biological and physical change in the insular Pacific, I show that varied adaptations to this dynamism caused diversification in social and subsistence systems. This diversification shows considerable path dependency related to the degree of heterogeneity/homogeneity in the distribution of food resources. This suggests that the extent to which the Anthropocene modifies agroeconomic land surfaces toward or away from patchiness will have profound sociopolitical implications.