Understanding Imperiled Earth
by Todd J. Braje (Tonga 1998-20)
Smithsonian Books

208 pages
April 2024
$17.99 (Kindle); $22.87 (Hardcover)


This book is a unique introduction to how understanding archaeology can support modern-day sustainability efforts, from restoring forested land to developing fire management strategies, and is an essential and hopeful book for climate-conscious readers.

The world faces an uncertain future with the rise of climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, overfishing, and other threats. Understanding Imperiled Earth meets this uncertainty head-on, presenting archaeology and history as critical guides to addressing the modern environmental crisis.

Anthropologist Todd J. Braje draws connections between deep history and today’s hot-button environmental news stories to reveal how the study of the ancient past can help build a more sustainable future. The book covers a diverse array of interconnected issues, including:

  • how modern humans have altered the natural world
  • conservation work of Indigenous communities
  • extinction of megafauna like dire wolves and woolly rhinoceros
  • the risk of deforestation highlighted by Notre Dame’s destruction
  • the extinction crisis reflected by endangered bird species in Hawai’i
  • fish scarcity driving demand and price, like the single blue-fin tuna fish that sold for three million dollars
  • importance of “action archaeology”

Braje examines how historical roots offer a necessary baseline for a healthier Earth, because understanding how the planet used to be is fundamental to creating effective restoration efforts moving forward through urban forests, sustainable food webs, and more. Understanding Imperiled Earth offers an illuminating, hopeful, and actionable approach to some of the world’s most urgent problems.


Todd J. Braje (Tonga 1998-2000)

Todd Braje is the executive director of the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

Dr. Braje spent nearly 15 years as a faculty member at San Diego State’s Department of Anthropology, where he conducted archaeological research specializing in long-term human-environmental interactions, the archaeology of maritime societies, historical ecological approaches to understanding coastal hunter-gatherer-fishers, and the peopling of the Americas.

Dr. Braje also is a former Oregon middle school teacher, a  Peace Corps volunteer (Tonga), and the former Irvine Curator of Anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences. Along with over 100 academic manuscripts, Dr. Braje has published several books — Understanding Imperiled Earth: How Archaeology and Human History Can Inform Our Planet’s Future [2016], Shellfish for the Celestial Empire: The Rise and Fall of Commercial Abalone Fishing in California [2021] and Modern Oceans, Ancient Sites: Archaeology and Marine Conservation on San Miguel Island, California [2009] —as well as monographs, and he has also edited volumes.


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