With roots tracing back to the nineteenth century and the study of ‘natural’ ecosystems, in the 1970s urban ecology emerged as a sub-discipline integrating the natural, engineering, social, and humanist sciences (McDonnell 2011). Adding to the primary scope of urban ecology focusing on the recent past, the present, and planning for the future (e.g. Forman 2016), archaeologists use a deep temporal frame of reference for analyzing socio-ecological processes in urban systems (e.g. Redman 2011). Typically employing an anthropocentric perspective on these interactions and combining data from disparate and complementary sources, archaeologists study what people have done, explain why they did so (by testing and evaluating a multitude of social, economic, cultural, and/or ecological interpretive frameworks), and link outcomes to specific legacies, consequences, and trade-offs of anthropogenic transformations of landscape (Isendahl and Stump 2019). Archaeology can extend the frame of reference and spatial and temporal scale of analysis for urban ecology scholars and planners addressing the wide range of issues and challenges presently associated with cities and urban systems (Isendahl and Barthel 2018).

In urban ecology (e.g. Douglas and Ravetz 2011: 253), food is often conceptualized as a provisioning ‘ecosystem service’, defined as the benefits an ecosystem affords human wellbeing, directly and indirectly. But the specific foodways of a particular area are the result of both environmental affordances (sensu Gibson 1986) and human selection processes, such that not all edible foods are cultivated and promoted. As a result, urban foodways result from a complex ‘chain of activities connecting food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management, as well as all the associated regulatory institutions and activities' (Pothukuchi and Kaufman 2000: 113). Counihan (1999: 19) suggests that, ‘In every culture, foodways constitute an organized system, a language that—through its structure and components—conveys meaning and contributes to the organization of the natural and social world.’ Waterman (2018: 521) argues further that ‘foodways have primary importance in how the forms and occupation of built environments come into being’and thus have ‘power to determine urban form’ and shape future development trajectories of landscape ecologies. These positions provide the starting point for this chapter. Which urban built forms and socio-ecological landscapes have foodways determined in the ancient tropics? Drawing on data from the Indian subcontinent,

I The regions discussed in the chapter

Figure 2.I The regions discussed in the chapter

Source: Map by Federica Sulas (modified from map of tropical forest ecological zones based on Global Ecological Zones, second edition, FAO; Creative Commons)

Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Maya lowlands (Figure 2.1), we examine archaeological evidence for the linkages between food ways and urban forms.

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