How Climate Change Archaeology Can Help Adaptation Challenges

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Could lessons in the past help us fight our present adversary – climate change?

A group of earth scientists and anthropologists believed it could through new science, the archaeology of climate change.

This new discipline will allow us to see how humans cope with their environments in the past through archaeological excavations and climate records to inform our adaptation and dealing with our present battle with climate change.

The study, “The archaeology of climate change: The case for cultural diversity,” looks at the factors that promoted human resilience in the past, a knowledge that offers a long-term view and a much-needed perspective to climate research.

Archaeology focuses on adapting to climate change through cultural diversity, as shown in past examples, rather than from biodiversity alone.

Discourse on climate change mainly revolves around the western and industrialized societies despite the evidence pointing to the non-industrialized communities that will bear the brunt of climate.

Furthermore, focusing on cultural diversity offers an alternative solution in contrast to those provided from within the Western agro-industrial complex.

The study says that the efforts to curb global warming are insufficient, and trends for the global rise in temperatures will likely reach + 4.8°C, and as much as +8°C in the Arctic by the end of the century.

The ecological changes that will occur due to this warming will be alarming and will require us to plan for a sustainable response to climate change and identify critical climate thresholds capable of disrupting social, economic, political, and culturally efficient strategies to cope with climate change consequences.

Climate change is also transforming landscapes that will continue to accelerate well into the future. Changes in the landscapes will disproportionately affect the indigenous communities and small-scale subsistence farmers who rely heavily on their relations to land for their food, livelihood, and culture.

Adriane Burke, the lead author of the study, says that we place a lot of emphasis on biological diversity. Still, we should also look at the wide variety of strategies humans have implemented for living on this planet.

Burke adds that global climate change doesn’t affect everyone in the same way but will have different regional and local impacts.

How people coped with environmental changes can be seen in their traditional farming practices to offer lessons to make industrial farming more sustainable. 

Examples are taken from the ancient Incan farming of quinoa, a crop known for its extraordinary ecological adaptability and its staple food for 5000 years. Another is the reinstituting of a Native American’s multi-cropping agriculture techniques.

The most famous of which is the “three sisters” crops of corn, squash, and beans where, when planted together, forms a symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship.

It’s not only through farming that cultural diversity is displayed but also in fire management. Indigenous fire management practices in Australia have shown how they can reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires. Those that happened last year in the country are currently happening in the western US and Canada.

Developments in climate modelling have led to the increased availability of paleoclimate information, allowing archaeologists to study and understand human-environmental interactions and movement in the past.

According to Burke, “Climate modellers also use the past as a ‘testing ground’ where they can try their hand at modelling climate systems far different from today’s, such as the rapid warming that occurred between 14,700 and 12,700 years ago.  Doing so helps them model possible outcomes of climate change in the future. ”

Jennifer Pournell of the University of South Carolina said that through archaeological data, we can see how catastrophic events in the past like a sea-level rise have reorganized a Mesopotamian society and the collapse of a Khmer Empire in Southeast Asia (Vetter, 2021).

According to the authors of the study, the environmental challenges that we are experiencing right now and the speed at which it is happening have also happened in the past. Humans have dealt with it successfully.

They presented that through archaeology, we can look at their past experiences and learn the factors that promoted their resilience, providing us with a range of possible solutions to the problems that we are facing today.

To read the entire study, click the link below:

Source Citation:

Vetter, D. (2021, July 23). How Archaeology Could Help Deal with a New, Old Enemy: Climate Change. Forbes. Retrieved from

Burke, A., Peros, M. C., Wren, C. D., Pausata, F. S. R., Riel-Salvatore, J., Moine, O. et Boisard, S.. (2021). The archaeology of climate change: The case for cultural diversity. Proceedings of the national academy of sciences118(30), e2108537118. doi:10.1073/pnas.2108537118

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