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Keywords:

  • agriculture;
  • archaeology;
  • domestication;
  • fire;
  • prehistory;
  • Carl Sauer

ABSTRACT. Carl Ortwin Sauer (1889–1975) is widely regarded as one of the most influential geographers of the twentieth century, admired particularly for his studies in cultural and historical geography. His contribution to the study of prehistory is less widely acknowledged, but, between 1944 and 1962, he published a series of speculative yet scholarly papers that contain many prescient insights into humanity's remote past and the relationships of our ancestors to the environments they occupied—and modified. In this essay, based on the Carl O. Sauer Memorial Lecture given at the University of California, Berkeley, in October 2001, I reflect on Sauer's contribution to the science of prehistory by examining, in the light of recent advances in knowledge, two major themes of Sauer's work: the early dispersal of Homo sapiens in the Old World, and the origins and prehistoric spread of agriculture.