Introduction: History and ecology
History is a saga of change. If people and the world around them remained the same from year to year and generation to generation, or merely repeated a cycle of growth and decay that offered no escape, there would be no history worth being written – or read. But fortunately or unfortunately, change is an inescapable phenomenon in human societies and the world of nature, and in the relations linking them. Challenges appear sometimes in the form of natural catastrophes that threaten the survival of communities, and at other times in the form of cultural and economic choices that threaten the ability of natural systems to endure and to provide necessary support for those communities. The past offers many instances of antagonism between humankind and nature, and other cases of restoration and hope. Ecological process has helped to shape the course of human history. Humans have made major changes in their environments. They have had to adapt to the changes they made, by altering the patterns of their societies, or to decline or even to disappear. This has happened in every historical period and in every part of the inhabited Earth. Dealing with the threats of the present and making informed choices for the future both depend on understanding the environmental experiences of the past.