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Home - Agents of Change – May/June 2009

The ways in which people managed change in a specific region – Cola de Zorro and its neighboring coastline – can have important implications when viewed as part of a larger phenomenon. Nearly a third of the world’s land is arid or semi-arid. Will this percentage increase? Has it always been this way? What factors cause deserts to expand or shrink? And what does this mean for the world?

“The big question of climate change, and part of what I see missing still, is that articulation between the local, regional and global,” says Zaro. “Synergistically, the local and regional impact humans have on landscapes ultimately affects climate as well. These things add up, but we can’t understand how these things add up until we start looking at the local and the regional level.”

Zaro’s previous research at Wawakiki Spring, 20 kilometers from Cola de Zorro, found that from A.D. 1200-1400, inhabitants responded to a growing population and shrinking agricultural yields by diversifying their production and moving into a less populated intervalley area. His continued work along the coast at sites such as Cola de Zorro is beginning to demonstrate a highly engineered landscape six to eight centuries ago, complete with intensive stone-faced agricultural terraces, lengthy irrigation canals, farmsteads and coastal villages that exploited one of the world’s richest fisheries.

At UMaine, Zaro is collaborating with Stephen Norton of the Climate Change Institute and soil chemist Susan Erich to analyze samples from last summer’s fieldwork. By comparing and contrasting the findings from sites such as Wawakiki and Cola de Zorro, a more complete anthropogenic portrait of the region will emerge. Zaro hopes his approach will contribute to the ongoing debate regarding global change, and the role humans – past and present – potentially play.

“People need to start thinking globally,” Zaro says. “We can’t only think about life within our political borders. We need to start thinking about humanity as very interconnected, both spatially and historically. Climate change doesn’t know these boundaries. What happens in our area affects differentially, perhaps adversely, what happens in another area.”

by Kristen Andresen
May – June, 2009

Image Description: Agricultural terraces at the archaeological site of Cola de Zorro, constructed around A.D. 1200, abandoned sometime before A.D. 1600.

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