Turning Stones - George McKale


The nuts and bolts of historical ecology

Tonight, June 13 at 7 p.m., Dr. Amer El-Ahraf will speak at the Sonoma Community Center.  As the Chair of the Sonoma-Aswan Sister City Committee, I am very excited to hear his lecture on “The Ecology of the Nile”.  The presentation is the last of the Windows to the World Lecture Series brought to you by the Sonoma Community Center and Sonoma Sister Cities Association.

Dr. El-Ahraf is an esteemed scholar in the fields of environmental health and Egyptian studies. He is a professor of health sciences and vice president emeritus at California State University of Dominguez Hills. He is a registered environmental health specialist for the State of California, named by the Journal of Environmental Health as one of the “15 Leaders of Environmental Health.” He is past president of both the National Environmental Health Association and the Association of Egyptian American Scholars.

Social, economic and political factors influence the distribution of resources required for humans to survive and it just so happens that the river Nile presents us with a great example. The Blue Nile originates in Ethiopia, and a potential conflict is brewing, as Ethiopia is currently constructing a dam to generate electricity for its citizens. Egypt is very concerned that the construction of the dam will limit water down stream.

To Egyptians, the Nile is like blood.

Ecologists study the interactions of organisms with the physical and chemical environment.  While many associate ecology with pollution, the science of ecology focuses on research from a variety of perspectives. Today, much of the research is applied to the management of our natural resources.  For us here at home, the ecology of Sonoma Creek is also an important topic, as we interact with our local water resources in very significant ways.

Understanding the basics of ecology is important for the survival of the human race.  As an archaeologist, I am keenly aware that the Coast Miwok, the first inhabitants of the area, lived adjacent to water.  In fact, in general, all indigenous peoples lived in proximity to water or quickly developed the means to divert water over long distances. While the Nile is like blood for Egyptians, it plays a similar role for all of humanity.

The study of the interaction between humans and the environment in which they live is known as historical ecology. Historical ecology attempts to understand this interaction across time and space.  Because humans shape the environment, they continuously transform the landscape in which they live.

Historical ecology defines landscape as the area of interaction between culture and the non-human environment. Just look outside your window. Our own landscape is always changing. It is the physical manifestation of history. While ecosystems tend to be cyclical, landscapes are historical.

Personally, the historical aspects of ecology are truly fascinating. Understanding the actions and behavior of humans through time and their interaction with their environment, is a fundamental aspect of historical ecology and the basis for the development of sound management plans.  Management plans that focus on sustainability.

The actions of the past have concretely influenced what we see around us today.  Conversely, the actions we take today, as a community, will concretely influence what our children will see tomorrow.   So, for a lively presentation and discussion on the Ecology of the Nile, do head over to the Sonoma Community Center tonight.  I bet attendees even learn a thing or two about our own backyard.

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