Global Change Threats to the Archaeological and Paleoecological Record

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 81st Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL (2016)

Archaeological sites with good organic preservation are increasingly recognized both as sources of data on past human behavior and cultural organization, and as valuable resources for paleoenvironmental reconstruction, with potential similar to other paleoenvironmental proxy records. They hold valuable information needed to place human ecodynamics in the broad spatial and temporal perspective essential to developing a meaningful and actionable understanding of socionatural systems, often without the ambiguities of correlating between archaeological deposits and distant natural proxies.

Yet, just as new methods increase our ability to retrieve and study this information, global climate change poses a dire threat, both to the wealth of organic data in such sites, and to many of the sites themselves. Global change-related threats include: increased coastal erosion (due to sea level rise, increases in number and/or strength of storms, and diminished sea ice in Polar regions), increased riverine erosion (due to increases in precipitation amount or intensity and increases in glacial melting), drying of waterlogged sites and bogs (due to hydrological changes), changes in land use (due to changes in agriculture or displacement of populations). In high-latitude areas the thawing of permafrost is a major and imminent threat to the archaeological and paleoecological record.