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Climate change puts archaeological sites at risk

A group of archaeologists and scientists are warning that the world’s most important cultural sites and undiscovered artifacts could be a thing of the past as climate change meddles with the preservation of these important monuments to human history.

In the journal Antiquity, researchers from Europe, Asia, Australia, North America and Latin America have published four articles on how the effects of climate change are destroying archaeological environments, especially wetlands and underwater heritage sites of the world.

With global temperatures warming, exciting discoveries like a World War II landing craft and a 3,000-year-old city have been unearthed in recent months. However, study author Jorgen Hollesen says this can be a double-edged sword for excavators who may not be able to follow up on these finds if extreme weather events damage the artifacts or speed up their process of recovery. decomposition when exposed.

“If you find artifacts that are melting glaciers, of course you get more knowledge, but what about all the other artifacts that you don’t find? They’ll just decay quickly and disappear,” Hollesen said. to in a phone interview Oct. 27.

Wetlands in particular are of most concern to archaeologists as these marshy ecosystems are ideal preservation sites for artifacts since the water serves as an oxygen barrier. “The Tollund Man”, a 2,000-year-old corpse was so well preserved in Denmark’s wetlands that archaeologists were able to construct its last meal from the contents found in its intestine.

According to the Global Wetland Outlook, 35% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1970. With rising temperatures and changing rainfall, many wetlands have dried up.

Underwater archaeological sites are also at risk as extreme weather events like hurricanes and tropical storms can damage shipwrecks, as Typhoon Soudelor did in 2015, causing extensive damage to a WWII vessel. .

The authors of the study say climate change policies and cultural heritage sectors need to create more protection for archaeological sites through policies and sustainable community planning.

Currently, UNESCO recognizes 1,154 heritage sites, including the Thai city of Ayutthaya. After suffering severe flooding in 2011, the country has developed infrastructure to protect its monuments. However, with frequent flooding, the city must continue to maintain costly defenses that often come into conflict with the surrounding community.


Although global efforts are being made to combat and adapt to climate change, Hollesen says heritage sectors and archaeologists are often left out of planning. However, there are ways that environmental work and archeology not only co-exist, but help each other in preservation.

Since healthy wetlands can store large amounts of CO2, the study authors hypothesize that by re-wetting them to prevent the ecosystem from drying out, it can help nations reduce their gas emissions. greenhouse while protecting potential archaeological finds below.

“We have kind of a win-win situation where we could also use archeology to say this area is very important,” Hollesen said. “So I think there are a lot of connections where we could use archeology to make these different climate adaptation plans more valuable.”

With the COP27 climate conference just days away, the researchers hope their findings will underscore the need not just for concrete planning, but also for immediate action to preserve the world’s history.

“I’m not saying we’re going to lose everything in the next two years, but we need these artifacts and archaeological sites to tell us about the past. It’s like a puzzle and we’re losing some pieces,” he said.

Hollesen says that efforts to preserve archaeological finds can also encourage people to become more involved in climate change initiatives because learning about local history can give others a stronger connection to the cause.

“We should also use archeology to provide people with the opportunity to make these climate initiatives more relevant to them, maybe you have a local connection to these projects.”

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