Summary of Publications

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Dr. Butzer was Author and editor of 14 books and monographs.

His dissertation, Quaternary Stratigraphy and Climate in the Near East, was published in 1958 and reprinted by Johnson Reprint Corp., New York, in 1969.

Environment and Archaeology: An Introduction to Pleistocene Geography was first published in 1964. It was the subject of a ‘book of the month’ style commentary by multiple authors in Current Anthropology 7 (1966) 501-26. A new and expanded edition, with the subtitle “An Ecological Approach to Prehistory”, appeared in 1971. This study was originally based on coursework developed at the University of Wisconsin since 1960 and served to shift the idea of environmental archaeology from that of a ‘technical cookbook’ to a more synthetic and interpretative overview of world prehistory. Several chapters have since then been republished in multiple anthologies.

Butzer’s early research in Egypt and Nubia was brought together in his works Desert and River in Nubia (with Carl Hansen, 1968) and Early Hydraulic Civilization in Egypt (1976). The latter is one of the most widely cited works in archaeology to this day.

Recent History of an Ethiopian Delta (1971) recorded part of Butzer’s work with the University of Chicago Omo Expedition to document modern depositional environments for interpretation of Plio-Pleistocene and younger fossil finds. Applications to the paleoecology and geochronology of early hominids were published in a series of papers, including Nature (Nature 22 [1969] 1133-1135, 1139-1143 and Nature 226 [1970] 425-430), Quaternaria (11 [1970] 15-30), Naturwissenschaften (58 [1971] 7-16), Science (175 [1972] 1069-1076), Earliest Man and Environments in the Lake Rudolf Basin (1976, 12-23), and Physical Geography (1 [1980] 44-58). Butzer’s surprising case, that both archaic and modern Homo sapiens were contemporary with each other in the Kibish Formation of southwestern Ethiopia during the Early Upper Pleistocene, has been vindicated by recent research (McDougall et al. in Nature 433 [2005] 733-736). On his stratigraphic dating of anatomically-modern fossils at Border Cave and Klasies River Mouth in South Africa into the same time frame, see Journal of Archaeological Science (5 [1978] 317-41) and South African Archaeological Bulletin (33 [1978] 141-51).

After the Australopithecines: Stratigraphy, Ecology and Culture Change in the Middle Pleistocene (1975) was published after contributions were brought together at the International Wenner-Gren Symposium in Austria by Butzer and Glynn Isaac in 1973 and compiled into one book. Related papers on the ecology of East and South African hominids appeared in Quaternary Research (4 [1974] 136-148); Current Anthropology (15 [1975] 367-382, 420-426); American Scientist (65 [1977] 572-584); and African Hominidae of the Plio-Pleistocene (ed. Cliff Jolly 1978, 191-217).

An advanced textbook, Geomorphology from the Earth (1976), also appeared in Hungarian translation in 1986. Old copies are still used at several African universities, studying the treatment of tropical geomorphology.

An edited volume on Dimensions of Human Geography (1978) was analyzed by J.L. Allen for Reviews in Anthropology (6 [1979] 257-67).

Archaeology as Human Ecology (1982) represents a fresh integration of theoretical and empirical notions, including urban archaeology and issues of site formation, integrity and destruction,  as well as also incorporating humanistic dimensions. Cambridge has put out an on-line edition (2006) and the Spanish translation (1989) has been reprinted (2006).

Medieval Muslim Communities of the Sierra de Espadán, Valencia (with Elisabeth Butzer and Juan Mateu) is a monographic publication on the “Espadán Project” (Viator 17 [1986] 339-413). It has been followed by contributions on “Roman versus Arab irrigation networks and practices in the Annals”, Association of American Geographers (75 [1985] 495-522) (translated into Catalan, 1989); in “Los Paisajes del Agua” (1989); and elsewhere. On Early Modern subsistence and ecology, see: “The Earth as transformed by Human Action” (ed. B.L. Turner and others 1990, 685-701). On the inability of ‘medium-range theory’ to predict processes elucidated by archical data see: “The Ecosystems Approach in Anthropology” (ed. E.F. Moran, 1990, 91-130)

Karl Butzer edited The Americas before and after 1492 (1992), including his contributions to indigenous mapping and Spanish urban planning in the New World. These themes are developed further in Karl and Elisabeth Butzer’s “Domestic architecture in early colonial Mexico: Material culture as (sub)text” in Cultural Encounters with the Environment (eds. A.B. Murphy, D.L. Johnson 2000, 17-37).


Professional Papers

In addition to some 120 book reviews, Dr. Butzer was the author or first co-author of over 250 scientific papers and book-chapters, including journals or series such as Science, Nature, American Scientist, Cambridge Ancient History, Cambridge History of Africa, Die Naturwissenschaften, Journal of Geology, Soil Science, Quaternary Research, South African Journal of Science, Current Anthropology, Ecumeme, American Antiquity, Geoscience and Man, Advances in World Archaeology, Quaternary Science Reviews, Journal of Archaeological Science, Journal of Field Archaeology, and Geoarchaeology. Ten articles have been translated into Spanish, Catalan, French, Russian, or Chinese. Several major themes are identified below.


A geoarchaeological survey was presented in “Archeology and geology in ancient Egypt” (Science 132 [1960] 1617-24) and republished in New Roads to Yesterday (1966). Early site microstudies include “Acheulian occupation sites at Torralba and Ambrona, Spain: Their geology” (Science 150 [1965] 1718-1722); “Geology of Nelson Bay Cave, Robberg, South Africa” (South African Archaeological Bulletin 28 [1973] 97-110. The designation “geoarchaeology” was apparently first used in his “Spring sediments from the Acheulian site of Amanzi (Uitenhage District, South Africa)” (Quaternaria 17 [1973] 299-319), and has since become a vibrant and expanding international and interdisciplinary enterprise. Contextual dating and environmental content of rock art are found in Science (203 [1979] 1201-14, with co-authors). Other geological studies are encapsulated in “Southern African Prehistory and Paleo-Environments” (ed. Richard Klein 1984, 1-64) and “Late Quaternary Environments in South Africa” (ed. John Vogel 1984, 235-264). For North Spanish sites and spatial interaction, “Paleolithic settlement and adaptation in Cantabrian Spain” (Advances in World Archaeology 5 [1986] 201-252). For urban sedimentation and flood damage in eastern Spain, Journal of Archaeological Science (10 [1983] 333-49, with coauthors), republished in Spanish. The relevance of Old World spatial and site-specific archaeology for earliest settlement in the Americas is argued in “The First Americans” ( T. Dillehay, D. Meltzer 1991, 137-56).

Human Impacts on the Environment:

Karl Butzer has studied environmental impacts from several perspectives in different regions. (a) The ecology of Mediterranean agropastoralism and the Spanish Mesta is studied in Annals, Association of American Geographers (78 [1988] 29-56), while prehistoric agropastoral strategies are treated in Journal of Field Archaeology (23 [1996] 141-50); for the crosscultural commonalities of Islamic agroecology see Ecumene (1 [1994] 7-50).
(b) A series of papers with Elisabeth Butzer, based heavily on archival sources, addresses the equivocal impact of Spanish livestock on the environment of Colonial Mexico, for example, in Global Land Use Change (ed. B.L. Turner and A. Gómez Sal 1995, 151-93); Culture Form and Place (ed. Kent Mathewson 1993, 89-124); and Quaternary International (43/4 [1997] 161-172).

(c) Parallel but 19th century questions about supposed degradation by sheep in southeastern Australia are examined from several disciplinary perspectives in “Annals, Association of American Geographers” (95 [2005] 80-111, with David Helgren).

(d) Based on a career of study in the Mediterranean Basin, the difficulties of establishing cause-and-effect relationships with respect to land use stress, climatic anomalies, and environmental degradation are brought together from scientific, crosscultural, and humanistic perspectives in Journal of Archaeological Science (23 [2005] 1773-1800).

(e) Earlier papers on the value of mid-Holocene paleoclimatic shifts to anticipate the impacts of global warming (Professional Geographer 32 [1980] 269-78; Quaternary Research 19 [1983] 279-92) have been reinforced by contemporary atmospheric modeling of expected water-budget changes.

Population Cycles and “Civilizational Collapse”:

Institutional structures, demography and climatic forcing are examined in American Scientist (68 [1980] 44-58), reprinted in several anthologies; the complex interplay of land use pressures and climatic anomalies in the decline of Axumite civilization in Ethiopia are presented in American Antiquity (46 [1981] 471-95) and Archaeology (35 [1982] 30-37); settlement discontinuities and demographic cycles are emphasized in “The Ecosystem Approach in Anthropology” (ed. Emilio Moran 1990, 91-130) and “Re-Reading Cultural Geography” (Ken Foote 1994, 403-28); evidence from Egypt and Palestine against climatic forcing is documented in “Third Millennium BC Abrupt Climatic Change and Old World Social Collapse” (eds. N. Dalfes et al., 1997, 245-95).

Coastal Geomorphology and Sea Level Change:

“On the Pleistocene shorelines of Arabs’ Gulf, Egypt” (Journal of Geology 68 [1960] 622-637) continues to be cited. A series of papers on interstratified eolian beds, soils and fossil beaches include “Coastal stratigraphy of southern Mallorca” (with Juan Cuerda, Journal of Geology 70 [1962] 398-416); “Late Cenozoic evolution of the Cape Coast between Knysna and Cape St. Francis, South Africa” (with David Helgren, Quaternary Research 2 [1972] 143-169); and “Coastal sands, paleosols, and Pleistocene geoarchaeology of the Southwestern Cape, South Africa” (Journal of Archaeological Science 31 [2004] 1743-81). On evolution of the Nile Delta and human settlement, in “Egypt and the Levant” (eds. E.C.M. Van den Brink, Tom Levy 2002, 83-97). For French coastal wetland reclamation in Atlantic Canada, “Annals, Association American Geographers” (92 {2002] 451-70).

Ancient Tufa Waterfalls, Playa Lakes, and Periglacial Phenomena:

A variety of geomorphologic subjects with environmental implications include (a) Tufa deposits in Egypt and South Africa, in Canadian Geographer (8 [1964] 125-141) and Quaternary Research (10 [1978] 310-339, with co-authors); (b) Pleistocene playas with Paleolithic occupations, Journal of Archaeological Science (1 [1974] 1-25); and (c) Difficulties of interpreting montane cold-climatic phenomena in the Mediterranean region and South Africa, in Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie (8 [1964] 7-31), Boreas (2 [1973] 1-12), and Catena (6 [1979] 157-66).

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