Digging Nature: Rub Some Dirt On It

Conceptualising Climate Change Archaeology

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Article by Robert Van de Noort

Van de Noort addresses the importance of climate change archaeology as, “the contribution of archaeological research to modern climate change debates”. He argues that the relevance and impact of this topic decreases when archaeology is not involved in the debate. Archaeological data provides additional evidence of historical climate change from natural and anthropogenic  influences. It also aids in the understanding the effect of human adaptation to shifts in their environments. Archaeological findings can be applied to help reduce the anthropogenic impacts reflected in shifts of the present and near future.

He describes two fundamental models that interpret how humans have interacted with their environments over time. The first model depicts humans in passive roles with the expectation that environmental changes forced them to change how they lived. The second model counters the first, claiming that humans had a great amount of resilience and often changed their environments to suit their needs. Both models take into consideration the ability for humans to adapt to their ever changing environments to some degree.

Van de Noort applies these models to contemporary situations of environmental changes due to rise in sea levels. These changes result in physical damage, loss of habitable land, social upheaval, loss of resources, and human conflict. In the North Sea of Europe, saltmarshes were created as a result of receding sea levels. Local inhabitants developed ways to preserve and maintain the marshes as a valuable resource. The decision to remain on the coast shows a great amount of agency and resilience. While the groups could move inland to more environmentally friendly areas, they chose to alter the coast by constructing dikes to extend resources. Through archaeological methods, past adaptations can be identified and interpreted to provide a comprehensive view into the past.

Understanding how humans reacted to climate change in the past can help us design strategies for navigating future events. It is important to realize the reality of past and present climate change. These changes have and will continue to impact human populations for the foreseeable future. It is crucial that we learn as much as we can about these changes in order to better face them.

D.A. A.G.

Van de Noort, Robert. 2011. “Conceptualising Climate Change archaeology”. Antiquity 85 (3): 1039-1048.

Further Readings:

Solutions to Climate Change Found in Archaeology

The Archaeology of Prehistoric Climate Change

Welcome to the Anthropocene

Confused about what Environmental Archaeology is? Or why it is important? Click here to learn more!

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