Earthwatch Expedition: Rediscovering the Canary Islands

Archaeology & Culture

Rediscovering the Canary Islands

How can small farmers work in harmony with nature? Investigate how Spanish colonists tried to answer this question.

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The facts

Why the research is important

Why the research is important

Modern agriculture practices can drive deforestation, pollute water supplies, and sap the soil of nutrients that future crops require.

What happened in the Canary Islands hundreds of years ago could help subsistence farmers around
the world today.

The archaeologists behind this expedition want to find out what makes some agricultural practices successful and others less so. The Spanish colonists who came to Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands, provide an
excellent case study.


You’ll record the GPS location of archaeological features.

When they arrived on this dry volcanic island, the Spanish started cultivating sugar cane using the same terrace-farming method they used at home in Europe. That crop eventually failed for lack of water, and then they tried switching to wine grapes, and then to cacti (better suited to the arid environment) which host an insect used to make dyes.

They also left many written records behind, which is a boon to archaeologists, who can compare the accounts of what worked and what didn’t to the actual traces of the farms on the ground.

You will help discover and map these traces, so the researchers can determine what specific strategies the Spanish tried and how much success they had. Your work will provide insight into how agriculture can work with the natural features of a place (geology, rainfall, erosion, nutrients in the soil) which could be applied to similar landscapes around the world.

About the research area

Canary Islands, Spain, Europe & Russia

Daily life in the field


This is a summary:



The Scientists


Assistant Professor of Anthropology, School of World Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University

ABOUT Christopher Stevenson

Dr. Stevenson conducts archaeological surveys and explores how soil quality, climate, and other factors shape the agricultural productivity of a place. In addition to his current research in the Canary Islands, he has led an Earthwatch Expedition on Easter Island to investigate prehistoric rock gardening (a technique that helps keep soil from eroding).


Accommodations and Food

Accommodations and Food


Comments & Questions

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