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Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, Chair 305 E. 23rd Street • CLA 3.306 • A3100 • Austin, Tx 78712 • 512-232-1595

Karl W. Butzer

Professor D.Sc., Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

Professor - Raymond C. Dickson Centennial Professor of Liberal Arts
Karl W. Butzer



Born in Germany, August 19, 1934, Karl Butzer emigrated to England and then Canada as a child. He received two degrees at McGill University, Montreal: the B.Sc. (hons) in Mathematics (1954) and the M.Sc. in Meteorology and Geography (1955). With an Exchange Fellowship he studied in Bonn, Germany, where he received the doctorate in science (Dr.rer.nat.) for Physical Geography and Ancient History (1957).

After two years as a research associate of the German Academy of Sciences and Literature, he was Assistant, then Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1959-66). In 1966 he accepted an offer as Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the University of Chicago where he was named the Henry Schultz Professor of Environmental Archaeology in 1980. At Chicago he was elected to various subdepartments, namely the Committee on African Studies, Committee on Evolutionary Biology, Committee on Archaeological Studies (Humanities), and as Professor in the Oriental Institute.

During 1981-82, Karl Butzer was Chair Professor of Human Geography at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), Zurich, but returned to Chicago. Since 1984 he has been the Dickson Centennial Professor of Liberal Arts in the Department of Geography and the Environment, at the University of Texas, Austin. In 1995 he was Cecil and Ida Green Visiting Professor at the University of British Columbia.


Karl Butzer has been awarded the Busk Medal of the Royal Geographical Society (1979), the Fryxell Medal of the Society for American Archaeology (1981), the Henry Stopes Medal of the Geologists’ Association of London (1982), and the Pomerance Medal of the Archaeological Institute of America (1991).

Other honors include the Association of American Geographers (1968); the American Geographical Society (1985); the Geological Society of America (1985); and the Conference of Latin American Geographers (1997, 2002).

Butzer was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1976-77 and elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984. In 1996 he was elected Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences. In 2011 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Stirling, Scotland.

Academic Service

During the course of his career, Butzer was executive officer of the Society of African Archaeologists and the Society for Archaeological Science, and served as national councilor and as honors committee chair in the Association of American Geographers. He has given endowed lectures at Yale, Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas at Arlington, and the University of California in Berkeley as well as Los Angeles.

From 1978-2009 he served as Editor of the Journal of Archaeological Science, and was series editor of Prehistoric Archaeology and Ecology for the University of Chicago Press (16 volumes 1973-88). He has also been an editorial board member of journals such as Paleorient, Catena, Geographical Review; Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory; Progress in Human Geography; Physical Geography; Quaternaria; Geomorphology; Palaeocology of Africa; and Stratigraphic Newletters.

Karl Butzer has participated in or co-organized six Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research Symposia (Burg Wartenstein, Austria), 1960-1974.

Courses Developed and Students

At the University of Wisconsin (1960-66), Butzer regularly offered a course on Pleistocene environments, including what is now called geoarchaeology, in addition to introductory physical geography, and graduate seminars in climatology and coastal geomorphology.

At the University of Chicago (1966-84), he taught advanced courses in physical geography, applied geomorphology, and environmental archaeology, as well as graduate seminars in settlement archaeology and geography.

At the ETH-Zurich (1981-82), he introduced a new program in human geography, which continued to be implemented after his departure.

At the University of Texas (since 1984), he offers graduate courses in geoarchaeology and environmental history; cultural ecology; historical geography; and landscape, society, and meaning.

In 2005 he received an Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award of the University of Texas.  He has had 30 Ph.D.’s (9 of them women) and 16 M.A.’s (7 women), at Wisconsin, Chicago and Texas. Currently, he supervises two ABD Ph.D. students.

Major Areas of International Fieldwork

  1. Egypt and Nubia, including dissertation fieldwork (1956); archaeological survey for the German Archaeological Institute (1958); Quaternary studies and geoarchaeology for Yale University (1962-63); and geoarchaeology of the ‘Lost City of the Pyramids’ (Ancient Egypt Research Associates) (2001-02).
  2. East Africa, with the University of Chicago Omo Expedition in SW Ethiopia (1967-69); and independently at Axum, Ethiopia (1971, 1973).
  3. South Africa, including nine field seasons between 1969 and 1983, focused on Quaternary studies and the geoarchaeology of some thirty sites, including Taung and Swartkrams.
  4. Spain, including independent research in Mallorca and Catalunya (1969-71); the University of Chicago Excavations at Torralba-Ambrona (1961-63, 1967, 1980-81); and directing the Sierra de Espadan Project in anthropology, historical archaeology, and environmental history (1980-87). In 2001, Karl and Elisabeth organized and led a series of field trips in eastern Spain for the Conference of Latin American Geographers.
  5. Mexico, where Butzer carried out annual field trips 1985-91, and directed the Laguna Project 1995-2000, devoted to the Spanish Colonial imprint and to the environmental history of northern Mexico. Karl and Elisabeth Butzer organized and led urban and rural field trips in Central Mexico (1989) and Northern Mexico (2000) for the Conference of Latin Americanist Geographers.
  6. Australia, fieldwork in collaboration with David Helgren, evaluating the impact of livestock introduction to New South Wales (1999, 2003).
  7. Cyprus, studying environmental history and geoarchaeology (2004).
  8. Other fieldwork includes French coastal reclamation in Nova Scotia (1999), and geoarchaeology of Celtic hillforts in northern Portugal (2010-11).


Summary of Publications


Author or editor of 15 books and monographs.

Karl Butzer’s dissertation Quaternary Stratigraphy and Climate in the Near East was published in 1958 and reprinted by Johnson Reprint Corp., New York, in 1969.

Environment and Archeology: An Introduction to Pleistocene Geography was first published in 1964. It was the subject of a ‘book of the month’ style commentary by multiple authors in Current Anthropology 7 (1966) 501-26. A new and expanded edition, with the subtitle An Ecological Approach to Prehistory appeared in 1971. This work, originally based on coursework developed at the University of Wisconsin since 1960, served to shift ‘environmental archaeology’ from a technical to a synthetic and processual overview of world prehistory. Several chapters were republished in anthologies.

Butzer’s early research of Egypt and Nubia was brought together in Desert and River in Nubia (with Carl Hansen, 1968) and especially Early Hydraulic Civilization in Egypt (1976). The latter is one of the most widely cited works in archaeology.

Recent History of an Ethiopian Delta (1971) reflected Butzer’s work with the Chicago Omo Expedition, and extended his study of the changing Nile floodplain and its land use to the East African sources of the Nile. Applications to the paleoecology and geochronology of early hominins were published in a series of papers, including Nature (1969 and 1970), Quaternaria (1970), Naturwissenschaften (1971), Science (1971), Earliest Man and Environments in the Lake Rudolf Basin (1976), and Physical Geography (1980). Butzer’s case that both archaic and modern Homo sapiens were contemporary with each other, during the Early Upper Pleistocene, has been vindicated by recent research (McDougall et al. in Nature 433 [2005] 733-736).

After the Australopithecines: Stratigraphy, Ecology and Culture Change in the Middle Pleistocene (1975) brings together the contributions to an International Wenner-Gren Symposium, Austria, organized by Butzer and Glynn Isaac in 1973. Related papers on the ecology of East and South African hominids appeared in Quaternary Research (1974); Current Anthropology (1975); American Scientist (1977); and African Hominidae of the Plio-Pleistocene (1978), ed. C Jolly.

An advanced textbook, Geomorphology from the Earth (1976), also appeared in a Hungarian translation in 1986.

An edited volume on Dimensions of Human Geography (1978) continues to be cited.

Archaeology as Human Ecology (1982) represents a fresh integration of theoretical and empirical notions, including urban archaeology and issues of site formation, integrity and destruction, but also incorporates humanistic dimensions. The Cambridge Press has put out an on-line edition (2006), and the Spanish translation (1989) has been reprinted (2006).

Medieval Communities of the Sierra de Espadán, Valencia (with Elisabeth Butzer and Juan Mateu) is a monographic publication of the Espadán Project  (Viator 17 [1986] 339-413). It has been followed by contributions on Roman versus Arab irrigation practices in the Annals, Association of American Geographers (75 [1985] 495-522) (translated into Catalan, 1989); in Los Paisajes del Agua (1989); and elsewhere.

Karl Butzer edited The Americas before and after 1492 (1992), including his contributions to indigenous mapping and Spanish urban planning in the New World. These themes are developed further in Karl and Elisabeth Butzer’s “Domestic architecture in early colonial Mexico: Material culture as (sub)text” in Cultural Encounters with the Environment (2000), edited by A. Murphy and D. Johnson.

With P.F.Hudson and T. Beach he co-edited Fluvial Deposits and Environmental History (2008).

Professional Papers

Karl Butzer is author or co-author of some 275 refereed scientific papers or chapters, including journals or series such as Science, Nature, American Scientist, Cambridge Ancient History, Cambridge History of Africa, Die Naturwissenschaften, Journal of Geology, Soil Science, Quaternary Research South African Journal of Science, Current Anthropology, Ecumeme, American Antiquity, Geoscience and Man, Advances in World Archaeology, Quaternary Science Reviews, Journal of Archaeological Science, Journal of Field Archaeology, Geological Society of America, Geomorphology, and Geoarchaeology. Six of these have been translated into Spanish, Catalan, French, Russian, or Chinese. Several major themes are identified below.

Geoarchaeology.  “Archeology and geology in ancient Egypt” (Science 1960) was republished in New Roads to Yesterday (1966); “Acheulian occupation sites at Torralba and Ambrona, Spain: Their geology” (Science 150 [1965] 1718-1722); “Geology of Nelson Bay Cave, Robberg, South Africa” (South African Archaeological Bulletin 28 [1973] 97-110. The designation “geoarchaeology” was first used in print in his “Spring sediments from the Acheulian site of Amanzi  (South Africa)”  (Quaternaria 17 [1973] 299-319). Other themes include contextual dating and environmental dating of rock art dating in South Africa (Science 203[1979]); Paleolithic settlement and adaptation in Cantabrian Spain (Advances in World Archaeology 5 [1986]); urban sedimentation and flood damage (Journal of Archaeological Science 19 [1983]); the relevance of Old World spatial and site archeology for earliest New World settlement, in The First Americans (T. Dillehay ed., 1991). Overviews of recent developments in geoarchaeology appeared in Geomorphology (2008) and the Bulletin of the Geological Society (2010).

Human Impacts on the Environment include early discussions on global climatic change (1980, 1983); articles on Mediterranean agropastoralism (1988, 1996); a series of papers with Elisabeth Butzer on the limited impact of livestock grazing on Colonial Mexico, heavily based on archival sources (1993, 1995, 1997); and the supposed degradation by sheep in Colonial Australia, with David Helgren (2005). A review article on the difficulties of establishing cause-and-effect with respect to land use stress, climatic anomalies, and environmental degradation in the Mediterranean Basin (Journal of Archaeological Science (23[2005] 1773-1800) was downloaded over 1500 times in the first year of publication.

Population Cycles and Civilizational Collapse, including articles on institutional structures, demography, climatic forcing, and degradation appeared in 1980-82, 1990, 1994, and 1997. Butzer organized symposium on “Collapse, Environment and Society” in 2010, and a review presentation will appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in conjunction with a set of specialist papers, co-edited with Georgina Endfield, in 2011 or 2012.

Other themes addressed in terms of geo-science, include research on coastal geomorphology (Egypt, Spain, South Africa, and Atlantic Canada, between 1960 and 2002), and tufa waterfalls, playa lakes, or periglacial phenomena in South Africa and Spain (between 1964 and 1979).

Biographical themes bring published recollections on emigration, ethnic prejudice, and academic freedom in the authoritarian state (2001-04), one of which has been translated into French.  


Geo-archaeology, ethnicity and place, sustainability, Colonial Mexico, Africa

GRG 382K • Geo-Archaeol And Envir History

37900 • Spring 2014
Meets F 1200pm-300pm CLA 3.710
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Long-term ecology as reconstructed from settlement and land-use histories. Empirical case studies in environmental history from the Mediterranean region, the Near East, and Mesoamerica. Applications to degradation, desertification, sustainability, and global change. Only one of the following may be counted: Anthropology 382N, Geography 356C, 382K.

Prerequisite: Graduate standing.


GRG 390C • Landscape, Meaning, & Society

37963 • Fall 2013
Meets F 1200pm-300pm CLA 3.710
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The creation, transformation, and meaning of landscapes within different societies through time. Iconographical analysis of the built environment; impress of belief and ideology on landscape; analysis of nationalistic and authoritarian landscapes; problems of defining and mapping ethnicity; civilizational process and behavior; institutional vandalism, place annihilation, and the destruction and effacement of landscape symbols; cultural and geographical foundations and unintended consequences of global economic integration.

Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

GRG 390C • Landscape, Meaning, & Society

37285 • Fall 2010
Meets F 1200pm-300pm GRG 408
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The creation, transformation, and meaning of landscapes within different societies through time. Iconographical analysis of the built environment; impress of belief and ideology on landscape; analysis of nationalistic and authoritarian landscapes; problems of defining and mapping ethnicity; civilizational process and behavior; institutional vandalism, place annihilation, and the destruction and effacement of landscape symbols; cultural and geographical foundations and unintended consequences of global economic integration.

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