Grantham Scholar

Theresa Nelson

A missing ingredient in our understanding of human influence on global environmental change is the quantitative measure of the energy interactions of societies operating under varied technological and geographical conditions.

This project seeks to employ the archaeological and historical data for the comparative investigation of energy use in different societies. The project lies at the interfaces between physics, archaeology and ecology and it will be addressed by developing models to calculate entropy generation rates within the case study systems. Entropy generation (as opposed to energy use) allows the “quality” or “usefulness” of different energy resources to be measured. We will explore how we might calculate entropy generation in a series of sub-systems coupled with the environment with the aim of learning about the conditions of social change. A critical aspect of the study should be the development of methods and models that provide baseline data for both the critical analysis of existing studies and to inform current and emerging policy decisions about the future of our planet.

Over time, human communities have existed in a variety of social configurations ranging from localised hunter-gatherer communities to extensive imperial hierarchies and more recently as interconnected nation states. Accompanying the transitional development of human societies is the fundamental and significant reorganisation of how communities access, exploit and dissipate energy. Although energy allows human communities to sustain themselves under a myriad of cultural conditions, few studies have sought to understand social transformation in terms of the development of energy systems.

It is proposed to investigate not only details of a range of human ecologies in terms of settlement, but also in terms of wider environmental and social relations such as settlement catchment area, the proximity of key resources i.e. water, food, ores and minerals, etc..

The goal is to calculate the entropy generation rate of each of the coupled processes in a particular model social configuration. These computations will be done for each of the thermodynamic couplings within the overall system configuration and over time with steps of days, weeks and years depending on the configurations being researched. The project will be divided into the following tasks: