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CAN ARCHAEOLOGY HELP US NAVIGATE CLIMATE CHANGE?

CAN ARCHAEOLOGY HELP US NAVIGATE CLIMATE CHANGE?

December 6, 2021 — Archaeological records have long helped scientists discover past important events, learn about extinct species and explore past ways of life. Might ancient history inform efforts to deal with climate change as well? Researchers from the U.S., Canada and France think so. In their recent study, the researchers tapped archaeological records to show how humans have faced climate challenges in the past — providing valuable insights into how various degrees of warming affect current and future droughts, erratic weather, sea-level rise, and more.

The researchers note that many current efforts to deal with global warming are ineffective. “Planning a sustainable response to climate change requires us to identify the critical climate thresholds capable of disrupting social, economic, or political systems and culturally appropriate strategies for countering such disruptions,” they write. Because the archaeological record encompasses cultural, geographic and temporal diversity, it can show how a wide range of human cultures have responded to a wide range of unpredictable climate events in the past — and shine a light on how we might best do so in the future.

We have a lot more technology for understanding and interpreting the archaeological record now than we did in the 20th century. And methodological and theoretical advances in climate research in recent decades have made it possible to study past human-environmental interactions, which enhance understanding of the underlying reasons for change in the archaeological record. A glance at the record, with help from increasingly sophisticated climate modeling and advanced computing, is shedding light on human responses to a changing climate. Awareness of past distribution of plants and animals, for example, helps climate scientists fine-tune models that predict future conditions.
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