BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Since 2004, University at Buffalo
anthropologist Ezra Zubrow has worked intensively with teams of
scientists in the Arctic regions of St. James Bay, Quebec, northern
Finland and Kamchatka to understand how humans living 4,000 to
6,000 years ago reacted to climate changes.
"The circumpolar north is widely seen as an observatory for
changing relations between human societies and their environment,"
Zubrow explains, "and analysis of data gathered from all phases of
the study eventually will enable more effective collaboration
between today's social, natural and medical sciences as they begin
to devise adequate responses to the global warming the world faces
A slide show describing the work of Zubrow and colleagues can be
viewed at http://bit.ly/d1dqVD.
This study, which will collect a vast array of archaeological
and paleoenvironmental data, began with the Social Change and the
Environment in Nordic Prehistory Project (SCENOP), a major
international research study by scientists from the U.S., Canada
and Europe of prehistoric sites in Northern Quebec and Finland.
Phases I and II of the study were headed by André
Costopoulos and Gail Chmura of McGill University (Montreal), Jari
Okkonen of Finland's Oulu University, and Zubrow, who directs UB's
Social Systems Geographic Information Systems Lab.
Phase III, underway now, is the International Circumpolar
Archaeological Project (ICAP) funded by $845,796 from the National
Science Foundation's Arctic Social Sciences Program of the Office
of Polar Programs, which is supported by the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Headed by Zubrow, it focuses on a third
sub-arctic region: Siberia's remote Kamchatka peninsula, a rough
and extremely volcanic wilderness region the size of
"With forecasts of sea-level rises and changing weather
patterns, people today have been forewarned about some likely
ramifications of climate change," Zubrow says, "but those living
thousands of years ago, during the Holocene climatic optimum, could
not have known what lay ahead of them and how their land -- and
lives -- would be changing.
"This was a slower change," he says, "about one-third the rate
we face today. In the Holocene period, it took a thousand years for
the earth to warm as much as it has over the past 300 years --
roughly the time spanned since the beginning of the Industrial
"As in other phases of the study," Zubrow says, "our goal in
Kamchatka is to clarify ancient regional chronologies and
understand the ways prehistoric humans adapted to significant
environmental changes, including warming, earthquakes, tsunamis,
volcanic eruptions and the seismic uplift of marine terraces that
impacted the environment during the period in question."
He points out that, despite our more sophisticated prediction
technology, and technologies overall, many of the world's people
have residences and lifestyles that are just as vulnerable to
climatic shift as those of our prehistoric ancestors. They, too,
live along estuaries and coastlines subject to marked alteration as
Most of the ARRA stimulus money used in the project is spent in
the United States on salaries and research at various universities.
Zubrow reiterates a point he often makes with his students: "This
research funding is good for science, good for the economy, good
for the government and good for the international reputation of the
Ultimately, information gathered over the next year by the
geologists, archaeologists, geochemists, volcanologists and
paleoecologists on Zubrow's team will be compared with data from
the two other ICAP sites.
During an additional study phase funded by a $300,000 grant from
NSF, through the ARRA, Zubrow will conduct archaeological research
in Mexico to ascertain how arctic climatic changes during the mid-
and post-Holocene era affected human populations in a changing
In addition to his position at UB, Zubrow holds academic
positions at the University of Toronto and Cambridge University
(UK). He is also senior research scientist at the National Center
for Geographic Information Analysis Laboratory, which he helped
found. His work reflects a diverse set of academic interests --
arctic archaeology and anthropology, climate change, human ecology
and demography -- and a deep interest in such social issues as
heritage, disability and literacy.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive
public university, a flagship institution in the State University
of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus.
UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests
through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional
degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a
member of the Association of American Universities.