World Prehistory and the Anthropocene

Hot off the presses from Thames and Hudson:  World Prehistory and the Anthropocene


How do we connect students today to our human world prehistory? This first edition covers essential topics of world prehistory through the lens of the Anthropocene. Each chapter focuses on how and why humans have transformed the Earth through time, linking prehistory to today’s global challenge of climate change. Supported by unmatched digital learning resources including an adaptive learning tool, InQuizitive, this book engages and inspires students to understand how we got here and how we can draw on the past to make better choices in the future.


Joy McCorriston


Joy McCorriston is Professor at The Ohio State University, and has taught Methods, Theory, and World Prehistory courses in archaeology for 22 years. Joy is a National Curriculum Committee Member for the Society for American Archaeology, and was part of the application assessment of SAA principles for teaching archaeology in the 21st century. She is the author of Pilgrimage and Household in the Ancient Near East (Cambridge University Press), and is the Director of the Roots of Agriculture in Southern Arabia. Joy researches agricultural origins and development in the ancient Near East.

Julie Field


Julie Field is Associate Professor at The Ohio State University and teaches World Prehistory, Archaeological Method and Theory, and Archaeological Field and Laboratory Methods. Julie is a specialist in environmental modelling and spatial technologies, and holds a National Science Foundation Senior Research grant in Archaeology for her multi-disciplinary studies of island colonization and agricultural transformations in Fiji.

Geology of Waya, Fiji

The peak of Vatu na Reba, “Rock of the Hawk”, Waya Island, Fiji, 1997. The basalt that makes up this peak formed underwater 6-8 million years ago, and it was subsequently pushed up and tilted to an incline of 25 degrees as the Fiji archipelago spun like a top across the Pacific basin. You can see the dramatic edges of this uplifted island, which emerged above the waves approximately 5 million years ago, along the western side of Waya.

Tui Waya

A rare photo of me! Wayalevu Village, Waya Island, Fiji, 1998. This was the tomb of one of the Tui Waya, the high chief of Waya. Throughout Fiji certain families are chiefly families, which means they have duties to lead and are considered to have sacred and ancient connections to the land, the people, and the gods. The title ‘Tui’ means chief, and that is written on this tomb, that of Jolami Naulutegu. However, in the Wayan dialect the word for chief is “Momo’, and ‘tui’ (which means ‘chief’ in eastern Fijian dialects) means ‘dog’. Waya is an amazing place.

Wayan meke

1997. Meke at Yalobi Village, Waya Island, Fiji. A meke is a traditional song and dance performance, although the singing is predominantly a chorus of chants that are sung by men. The women in this photo are dancing with pandanus-mat fans, and wearing sweet-scented flower bracelets and garlands. One of the things I love most about being an archaeologist in the Pacific Islands is the richness and warmth of the culture. The connection of the people to the land, the sea, and to each other is a priceless treasure. Malama ‘aina.

Archaeology on Waya Island, Fiji

Naptime for archaeology students, Waya Island, 2001. This photo is from a University of Hawaii archaeological field school, which I co-directed with Ethan Cochrane. These students are resting on the backdirt pile after a morning of excavation at the site of Olo, a Lapita site on the shores of Yalobi Bay on Waya. Olo is about 100 meters inland, which is where the shoreline used to be when Lapita people first settled on Waya. Sea levels rise and fall all over the world, and in the ancient western Pacific sea levels were 1.5 meters higher than they are now. Archaeologists have to look inland to find Lapita sites, which are often buried under several meters of later deposits. At Olo, we had to excavate 2 meters down to find the beach sand that the Lapita peoples called home.

Birds on Mauna Kea

View of Mauna Kea from Pohakuloa, 2006. Mauna Kea is as beautiful as it is sacred, and in winter is often covered in snow. It erupted many times in prehistory, and is just one of the volcanoes on Hawaii Island. Lava flows of different ages spread out across the island, making unique habitats for plants, animals, and insects. In antiquity the lava fields on Hawaii Island were colonized by seabirds, who laid eggs inside of the numerous pits, crags, and bubbles in the lava fields. Hawaiians collected chicks and eggs during the nesting season, but it took the introduction of mongooses and rats to ultimately extirpate the colonies sometime in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 2006 I took a group of students into a lava tube cave to examine (not to collect) a bird ‘cooking stone’ that had been left inside the cave; the stone would have been heated in a fire and then placed inside a plucked and cleaned seabird, allowing the meat to cook on the inside.

Offerings for Pele

Offerings left at the rim of Kilauea crater, Hawaii Island, 2006. Throughout the Pacific Islands, people feel a strong connection to the land, the ocean, the ancestors, and to the gods. In East Polynesia, people build stone platforms and wooden racks (lele) to stack their offerings, which include food items such as vegetables and fruit, and also flowers, coral, and in the past slaughtered pigs and sometimes slaughtered humans. In the old stories, the tongues of the gods would come down from above and lick up the offerings. These modern offerings of papaya and orange on plates were left for Pele, the goddess of creation that resides at Kilauea. Malama ‘aina.

Kohala Field System ‘Sweet Spot’

The Kohala Field System, as seen from the air. The field system stretches along a rainfall gradient that is just below the crest of the Kohala Peninsula. This gradient is the ‘sweet spot’, which receives just enough rain to allow for dryland farming of sweet potato, but not too much to leach out the nutrients in the soil needed for adequate growth. The linear ridges you can see in this photo were built of stone and earth approximately 600 years ago, and placed perpendicular to the wind in order to create a low windbreak. These breaks may also have been used for growing sugarcane and banana, which would have broken the wind even further, and sheltered the tender sweet potato plants below. The field system, and all of Kohala, was an incredibly productive garden in antiquity. Malama ‘aina.

Urchin. It’s what’s for dinner.

Aloha kakou. This is what archaeological midden looks like in Hawaii. Sea urchin (wana) were collected by wading or diving in the shallows by the reef, and their internal organs and roe (eggs) were consumed raw. What was left over were their tests (shells), spines, and the hard parts of their mouths, which form a unique structure that biologists call ‘aristotle’s lantern’, due to its five-sided lightbulb-like shape. In this picture you can see the remains of the thick-spined red slate pencil urchin (ha’uke’uke ‘ula’ula), the spines of which were used to grind fishhooks, and also the diadem urchin (wana), and perhaps also a few other species. These urchins were collected and consumed in Kohala, Hawaii, approximately 300 years ago. Malama ‘aina.