Population history in a dangerous environment: How important may natural disasters have been?

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    The longer the time-depth considered, the more human history is dependent on the beneficence of the planet we inhabit. The disastrous Aceh tsunami of 2004 stimulated geological research which has revealed similar mega-tsunamis resulting from earthquakes of 9.0 magnitude or more every few centuries in the past. Even more destructive to civilization and agriculture are the massive volcanic eruptions such as Tembora (1815), which caused crop failures around the world, let alone in underresearched Indonesia itself. The new geological research strengthens a growing sense of Indonesian population history as one unusually exposed to the disruptive rhythm of the planet. In periods of relative quiescence on the ring of fire, such as the twentieth century, a benign climate and fertile volcanic soils can produce rapid population growth and development. But rather than forming a constant, this pattern appears to have been interrupted by periodic disasters. Interdisciplinary research is desperately needed to locate past traumas, and relate them to what we know of the historical record. It may also reveal, on the positive side, that the Archipelagos celebrated human and biological diversity owes something to the periodic disruption to agriculture-based civilization.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)505-526
    JournalMasyarakat Indonesia: Majalah Ilmu-Ilmu Sosial Indonesia
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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