School of forestry and environmental studies

School Notes: School of the Environment
September/October 2017

Ingrid C. “Indy” Burke |

Excavation continues to reveal secrets

Nearly four decades ago, in northeastern Syria, Yale archaeologist Harvey Weiss uncovered a buried city that would reveal important new insights into ancient Mesopotamia and the origins of civilization. While the archaeological site known as Tell Leilan is now effectively closed to researchers, a casualty of the Syrian civil war, it is still giving up its secrets. In a recent Nature Plants study coauthored by Weiss, researchers applied new carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis technologies to carbonized grains recovered years ago at Tell Leilan to show how agricultural practices in northern Mesopotamia were adapted to feed growing urban centers. “These results confirm that there was more than one path to early urbanization,” said Weiss, a professor of Near Eastern archaeology at F&ES and the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations. The results, Weiss added, also support his long-held argument of the role of climate change in this ancient civilization. 

Preventing the next Flint

This spring eight F&ES students were invited to Flint, Michigan, to participate in a conference on the unfolding water crisis in the city, where lead was discovered in the public water supply. While many conference participants addressed specific infrastructure and economic actions needed to address the problem—such as engineering challenges and the urgency of replacing the city’s water pipes—the Yale students talked about systems thinking, an approach to problem-solving that explicitly examines interactions between various components of a system. The group, which took the F&ES course Science to Solutions with Profs. Paul Anastas and Julie Zimmerman, made the case for how utilizing such an approach might help prevent the next Flint. “Fixing the pipes will help in the short term,” said Alexandra Vecchio ’18MEM. “But over the long term if you still have these disparities in the community, and people are not being valued, and voices aren’t being heard, well, that’s a real problem.”

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