International Journal of Historical Archaeology

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 242-258

First online:

“Manure Manufactories”: Materializing the Metabolic Rift in Nineteenth-Century Deerfield, Massachusetts

  • Quentin LewisAffiliated withDepartment of Archaeology, Durham University Email author 

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The modern world has seen a variety of agricultural crises deriving from a problem known as the “metabolic rift,” in which capitalist agriculture depletes soil nutrients through intensive monocropping and fertilizing. This problem is fundamentally historical and material, and visible in the archaeological record. A manuring platform found in Deerfield, Massachusetts, offers a material vantage point through which to explore the contradictions of early capitalist agriculture. Increasing market penetration into the New England backcountry in the early nineteenth century spurred farmers to increase productivity, at the cost of sustainability. Wealthier farmers were able to capitalize on this transition, while poorer farmers were forced into wage labor or out-migration.


Improvement Capitalism Ecology Agriculture