Washington People: T.R. Kidder

Humans today struggle with environmental problems such as a depleted ozone layer, global warming and too much mercury in oceans — influences of humans on the environment that put our own existence at risk.

But humans altering their environment with disastrous results is nothing new. Just ask archaeologist T.R. Kidder, PhD, who has spent the past four summers excavating the Han Dynasty village of Sanyangzhuang in central China.

Sanyangzhuang was buried by silt when the town was flooded 2,000 years ago, leaving a nearly perfectly preserved example of an ancient Chinese farming village, complete with tools, grinding stones and remains of looms. It’s a Chinese “Pompeii” — only this disaster was more of an act of politics than an act of nature, says Kidder, professor and chair of anthropology in Arts & Sciences.

As the Han government sent people to grow food and cultivate the easily eroded soil near the beginning of China’s Yellow River, more sediment flowed downstream. At the same time, large levees were built along the river to prevent flooding of farmland. As sediment built up at the river bottom, it raised the river above the floodplain until it was too high for the levees to contain. The result: catastrophic flooding for villages like Sanyangzhuang.

“The flood wasn’t random,” says Kidder, also professor of environmental studies in Arts & Sciences. “It happened because the Han people changed the environment.” 

Read more at The Source. 

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