Aquaculture in the ancient world: ecosystem engineering, domesticated landscapes, and the first blue revolution

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Abstract

Aquaculture is the world’s fastest growing food sector and accounts for more than 50% of the world’s fish food supply. The significant growth in global aquaculture since the middle of the 20th century has been dubbed by the Blue Revolution. However, it is not the first Blue Revolution to take place in human history. While historically classified as low-ranking, seasonal, or starvation resources in the archaeological discourse, marine foods were vital resources that ancient communities developed and exploited using a vast array of strategies. Among these aquatic strategies was aquaculture. This first Blue Revolution was initiated during the Early Holocene, some 8,000 years ago in China, with archaeologists now documenting aquaculture across the globe. This review considers the commonalities between ancient aquacultural systems including evidence of ecosystem engineering and the development of domesticated landscapes as production systems. People of the past constructed agroecosystems to not only enhance and diversify aquatic resources, but to control the reliability of key subsistence foods and to meet the demands of ritual practice and conspicuous social stratification. These aquaculture systems were maintained for centuries, if not millennia. Worldwide research conducted on ancient aquaculture can provide critical insights into developing more ecologically sustainable, resilient, and diverse marine production systems for coastal communities today, thus, achieving industry sustainability and limiting negative environmental impacts to the world’s shorelines and overexploited fisheries.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages65
JournalJournal of Archaeological Research
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023

Keywords

  • Archaeology
  • Domesticated landscapes
  • Ecosystem engineering
  • Historical ecology
  • Resilience
  • Sustainable aquaculture

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