Breathing new life into archaeological soils

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Soils are essential for achieving food security as FAO indicates they sustain 95% of the world’s food production, additionally they have the potentially to help mitigate negative impacts from climate change through the capture/retention of carbon as root stock. The management of soils/sediments and water across a landscape can be the most crucial factor for increasing its agricultural potential particularly in semi-arid areas, where water stress can occur. Worldwide irrigated agriculture accounts for 20% of the cultivated land and 40% of the global food production, with Sub-Saharan Africa having the greatest potential, according to the FAO, to increase food production, ultimately providing increased food security for areas In East Africa that are suffering from the effects of acute population growth. The identification of past soil and water management systems and the reclamation of soils that were once believed to have been abandoned due to mismanagement and ecological failure can help to reduce soil degradation; estimated to be 33% of agricultural land, globally.

Over the past three years the AAREA project (Archaeology of Agricultural Resilience in Eastern Africa) has focused its attention on the abandoned agricultural landscape of Engaruka, NE Tanzania. This paper focuses on modern agricultural utilisations of the archaeological sediments and their reclamation from what was believed to be a degraded state. Furthermore, challenging assumptions that the highly visible irrigated landscape, which was employed to mitigate water run-off and prevent soil erosion, was not abandoned solely from climatic change and ecological failure.
By applying geoarchaeological techniques, new evidence has been obtained that indicates geochemical composition and structure of the soil/sediment across the abandoned site are still viable agriculturally. Evidence will be presented that point to reclamation of the agricultural soils over a short period of time using local land-management skills, thus returning the abandoned land into sustainable agricultural production.

Acknowledgements: European Research Council Starter Grand Scheme (FP/200702013/) ERC Grant Agreement No. ERC-StG-2012-337128-AAREA
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 4 Sept 2017

Cite this