Session 3 – Archaeology and the Climate Crisis

Timetable: Friday afternoon 1400-1730 in the Janet Spector Zoom Room

Format: Standard

Organisers: Nathan Gubbins, Brandon Fathy


While the archaeological record has provided evidence of prehistoric periods of global warming, climate change during the last 50 years has been unprecedented. Modern climate change threatens crop failure from desertification, and rising sea levels may flood coastal infrastructure and force millions into migration. Pressingly, global warming collapses ecosystems leading to biodiversity loss and mass species extinction. Not since the Cretaceous have so many species been endangered. With the proposal of the Anthropocene as a geological epoch, proactive responses are more important than ever, and archaeology is not exempt from engaging in this issue.

For this session we would like to encourage archaeologists working in diverse fields to present papers addressing the role archaeology has to play in either:

• Studying how humans have caused changes in Earth’s climate, especially its temperature, from archaeological or historical sources. This can include a range of human impacts on the environment, and historical human responses to ecological crises

• Discussing how modern archaeology aggravates global warming, and how archaeologist can mitigate the ongoing climate crisis. This can range from excavation techniques and conference administration to research questions and public engagement


1400 – Introduction

Brandon Fathy, University of Leicester and Nathan Gubbins, University of Leicester

1410 – Agricultural landscapes as Critical Zones: Exploring intersections between communities, technology, environment and archaeology in the context of Precision Agriculture

Rachel Opitz, University of Glasgow

Today, rural agricultural landscapes in the UK and Europe are being fundamentally transformed by the introduction of advanced farming technologies in the form of precision agriculture and by the deployment of new policies and incentives to address the climate crisis, environmental sustainability and food security. The expansion of precision agriculture, promoted as a strategy to address the effects of climate change, demands our attention because it creates new intersections between agricultural sector interests, entangled with rural communities and the technology sector, the remit of heritage, environmental and rural affairs agencies, and archaeological researchers.

This paper outlines a framework to create positive engagements between archaeology, heritage management and agro-environment domains by improving the interoperability of remote and near-surface sensing data and methods. To build this framework, the concepts of the Critical Zone and Critical Zone Observatories are used to conceptualise rural agricultural landscapes as complex entities rooted in long-term trajectories of human-environment interactions and shaped by contemporary farming. It then explores how the concrete work of collaborative development of protocols for data and methods interoperability can be used to promote transdisciplinary research, knowledge exchange, and open discourse.

The framework and examples of interoperable data and methods development are drawn from the ongoing work of the Interoperable Precision Agricultural and Archaeological Sensing Technologies – Critical Zone Observation (ipaast-czo) Project.

1430 – ‘Til the Landslide Brought Me Down: Archaeological disaster preparedness in the Anthropocene

Anton Larsson, Stockholm University

One of many devastating effects of the ongoing processes of climate change will be an increase in the frequency of landslides in many regions of the world, including Sweden, necessitating thought and planning in the cultural heritage sector regarding disaster preparedness. This paper looks at how landslides, one of few natural hazards to historically affect Sweden, have impacted archaeological sites in the country and how archaeologists have been forced to deal with them. Case studies include the deadly 1977 Tuve landslide and the 2006 Småröd landslide, two events which shifted entire landscapes and communities alike.

1450 – Questions and discussion

1540 – Digging out “Past-ability”: Preliminary considerations on settlement pattern in the foraging Jōmon Japan

Dr Junzo Uchiyama, The Sainsbury Institute

Facing with global environmental challenges, how could archaeology contribute to the development of “future-able” life models with high resilience, by offering “past-ability”, i.e. positive prospects as evidenced by the past? This paper will discuss how archaeologists could actually provide past-ability informative to the undergoing environmental crises by introducing settlement pattern shifts of the prehistoric Jōmon Japan as a pilot case.

While the Jōmon Period (ca. 17-3ka cal BP) generated diverse cultural landscapes based on hunting-gathering economies with ceramic technology, two main types of settlement pattern are evident, i.e. clumped and dispersed patterns. The clumped pattern can be defined as the combination of a few large sedentary sites and many small sites, representing the centralised social structure. On the other hand, in the dispersed pattern, site size differences disappeared, while small sites were distributed sparsely. The Jōmon settlement pattern history can be described as a cycle of alternating clumped and dispersed patterns. How different were their adaptive strategies to the environments? What factors created such cycle, were they environmental or socio-cultural, or a sort of combination of these?

This paper will consider these questions and estimate resilience of these patterns with several examples, such as the recent damages to archaeological sites in Northern Honshu by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and the surviving strategies of the Kikai-Akahoya (K-Ah) Super-Eruption in Southern Kyushu in ca. 7.3ka cal BP. Finally, the paper will discuss how observed knowledge could be applicable to developing future models.

1600 – Glacial Archaeology’s Garbled Message’

Martin Callanan, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Melting ice patches in the mountains of the north of Norway are a key indicator of the warming of our planet. Whilst we mourn the loss of this loss of alpine ice, we are often excited by the new possibilities for excavation and chance discoveries in the newly uncovered areas – often rife with well-preserved archaeology. This leaves us, as archaeologists who care for the health of the planet, with a confusing tension that this paper hopes to critically dissect.

1620 – Questions and discussion

1640 – END

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