Engaging the Public with Archaeology Threatened by Climate Change

Posted on October 22, 2015


A very topical subject- Archaeology and Climate change. To continue with the posting of videos I made from the 2015 EAA conference in Glasgow here is a session in which archaeology tackles a very big global issue:

Session Abstract:

Dr.Tom Dawson, SCAPE Trust / University of St Andrews. Dr.Courtney Nimura, UCL / MOLA. Dr.Marie-Yvane Daire, University of Rennes. Dr.Elias Lopez-Romero, Durham University

There is a long-established tradition of rescue archaeology at sites threatened by development, and the principle of the ‘polluter pays’ is referenced in the planning guidance of many countries. But what happens when there is no developer? Who should take action when natural processes put sites at risk? The threats are many, including flooding, erosion, desertification, sea level rise, thawing of permafrost, and the drying of waterlogged deposits. Worryingly, climate change predictions suggest that the problem is likely to increase in the future. Heritage managers around the world are developing mechanisms for dealing with the severe challenges, and there is much to learn from the natural heritage sector, which has long worked with the public in practical recording projects. Increasingly, archaeologists are engaging with this tradition, and citizen science projects involving communities are being developed. These initiatives develop partnerships that include using mobile technology to collect data; sharing new digital recording techniques; undertaking a range of practical projects; and using innovative outputs to make information available to all. By involving the public in projects and making data accessible, archaeologists can help engage society and policy makers in the debate on threatened heritage at a time of climate change. With examples from across Europe, the US and Australia, this session will detail the scale of the problem and will show how heritage professionals are engaging with the public to raise awareness. It will examine differing responses and will question what more we can do to engage with the growing number of sites that are under increasing threat of destruction.

The Pocantico Statement on Climate Impacts and Cultural Heritage

Tom Dawson

In February 2015, representatives of over twenty US and international organisations met to consider strategies for preserving and continuing cultural heritage in a changing climate. The meeting was organised by the Society for American Archaeology, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the J. M. Kaplan Fund. The group gathered at the Pocantico Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund – near New York, and at the end of three days of discussion, the
participants put their names to the ‘Pocantico Statement on Climate Impacts and Cultural Heritage’.

Key to the discussion was the recognition of the crucial role that communities have in preserving threatened heritage. The resulting Call to Action invited individuals, organisations and agencies to collaborate in a number of ways, calling on ‘global individuals and institutions to collaborate with existing communities to maintain and preserve cultural heritage through a number of community empowerment projects. These projects will be models for how communities can successfully maintain their cultural heritage in the face of changing climate risks’.

The first pledge of the statement notes that signatories will “help empower and support local, descendant, and traditional communities to maintain and preserve what they value, including intangible heritage and subsistence lifeways”

This paper will describe more fully the Pocantico statement, aiming to publicise the call for action and encouraging heritage professionals to promote community action at sites threatened by climate change.

Coastal erosion and Public Archaeology in Brittany (France): recent experiences from the Alert project

Pau Olmos Benlloch1, Elias López-Romero2, Marie-Yvane Daire1

Coastal archaeological sites are facing danger from violent storm surges and anthropogenic pressure. The threat is not new, but there is mounting evidence that climate change is causing an increase in the frequency and intensity of storm events, with more damaging consequences for such a vulnerable heritage. The ALeRT (Archéologie, Littoral et Réchauffement Terrestre) project, has brought together researchers involved in coastal archaeology aiming at establishing an interdisciplinary approach to coastal archaeological vulnerability, site monitoring and heritage management. Te problem and need for an improved field data collection and data management procedures led us to develop a web and a mobile application for administering users and adding field data. It reduces the time of data collection in the field and widens the perspectives of collaboration between researchers, heritage managers and the wider community. In this presentation, we will focus on the results of the collaborative project in 2014 and 2015, when this citizen science has been put to the test. Recent evidences of extreme weather impact on coastal archaeology have provoked a huge mobilisation of local population in Brittany and a growing interest of public archaeology initiatives. As a result of this mobilisation, a specific training in coastal archaeology has been developed for coastguards and local communities. The ‘Alert’ network is now constituted by thirty active members who cover almost the whole coast of the region, and this network has been recently increased through partnership with the Conservatoire du Littoral, a wildlife conservation public organisation.

The Men and Women behind the MASC Project (Monitoring the Archaeology of Sligo’s Coastline): Engaging local stakeholder groups to monitor vulnerable coastal archaeology in Ireland

James Bonsall, Sam Moore

Recent winter storms had a considerable impact on vulnerable archaeological sites in Ireland. Stone forts fell into the sea. Castles crumbled to the ground. Shipwrecks, middens, timber trackways and ancient drowned forests were revealed for the first time in centuries. Heritage venues were flooded and a large number of archaeological sites were lost entirely. Ireland is coming to terms with the almost annual frequency of severe storm events. The National Monuments Service – responding to notifications from members of the public – sends teams of experts to further investigate storm-related discoveries. Irish legislation requires intrusive fieldwork to be carried out only by archaeologists working under a pre-approved licence, which limits the contribution of citizen scientists to discovery and non-destructive recording. Despite the need for a coherent coastal monitoring strategy, funding citizen science schemes – even for basic tuition in recording methods – is still a challenge. Archaeological and environmental staff and students at the Institute of Technology Sligo – acting as local coastal rangers – have discovered previously unrecorded burnt mounds of stone, middens, peat shelves and trackways on eroding beaches in Co. Sligo during the winter of 2014-15.

Our coastal rangers are engaging with local stakeholders that already have a significant presence at vulnerable erosion sites; Scouting, anti-litter and bird watching groups. Tuition in archaeological recording techniques, including high-resolution photography for later use in photogrammetry, will initiate Monitoring the Archaeology of Sligo’s Coastline’ (MASC), a pilot study for rangers to act as ‘first responders’ capable of making an informed decision to notify relevant government departments.

CITiZAN (coastal and intertidal zone archaeological network): community recording and monitoring of vulnerable sites in England

Stephanie Ostrich

Significant archaeological sites along England’s sinuous coast and on the foreshores of tidal estuaries are continually eroded by winds, waves and tidal scour. Alarmed by the rate of loss, the location of many of these sites has been noted during the national ‘Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey’ programme initiated by English Heritage and by archaeological groups around the country. To date there has been no national standardised system in place to record these vulnerable sites in detail or to regularly monitor their fate over the longer term. CITiZAN: the coastal and intertidal zone archaeological network is the first systematic national response to natural and anthropogenic forces threatening coastal and intertidal archaeology in England. CITiZAN is a MOLA community archaeology project working with partners Council for British Archaeology and Nautical Archaeology Society and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Crown Estate and National Trust. The project employs a system of community-based training and outreach programmes. It has created an infrastructure to support a network of volunteers with the skills and systems in place to be able to monitor and survey the highly significant but threatened archaeological sites around England’s coast and foreshores. This paper looks at the evolution of the methodologies employed by this nascent project, both archaeological and educational, as well as the implementation of standardised recording and monitoring using crowd-sourced data, and presents key findings from this ‘citizen science’ programme. Coastal erosion can rarely be halted, but CITiZAN will ensure archaeological sites can be recorded before they are destroyed.

Archaeology, Art and Coastal Change

Garry Momber, Lauren Tidbury

The coastline is constantly evolving. Analysis of the past enables us to assess progressive changes and alterations to the coast. Data from archaeology, heritage features, art, photographs, maps and charts provides both qualitative and quantitative information on coastal evolution. The Maritime Archaeology Trust has been developing methods and techniques to apply heritage data to help monitor coastal erosion. Arch-Manche project was a major undertaking that addressed this issues in four European countries. It demonstrated how maritime coastal heritage and art can be used to show long-term patterns of coastal change and the impact on human settlement. Study of this data allowed understanding and modelling of past reactions to climate change. The project has involved investigation of the interplay between archaeological features and data from artistic representations to establish a methodology for demonstrating the value of archaeology, art and maritime coastal heritage to support understanding of long-term change. It is demonstrating how these tools can fulfil an important role in Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) and help share best practice between archaeologists, geologists and palaeogeographers. The project will both benefit from and contribute to developing practice in the study of submerged and intertidal archaeology, aleaeoenvironmental evidence and intertidal coastal features. The results will now be used to inform sustainable policies for adapting to coastal climate change. This project is timely due to predicted increases in coastal erosion, flooding and coastal instability affecting Channel coastal areas It now provide data to help vulnerable communities adapt to recent and future changes.

Landscape and Cultural Change on the South Alligator River, Kakadu National Park, Northern Australia

Sally Brockwell, Bethune Carmichael

The vast floodplains of the South Alligator River contain iconic freshwater wetlands internationally renowned for their natural and cultural values. These low-lying floodplains are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, which threatens devastation to freshwater flora and fauna and Indigenous cultural heritage sites. For the past three years, an inter-disciplinary research programme involving archaeology, palaeoecology and social history has been documenting occupational and environmental histories associated with the river from mid Holocene to historical times. The major outcome will be a greater understanding of the implications and management challenges associated with climate change, by contextualising threatened change in a history of past change.

Threatened Heritage and Community Archaeology on Alaska’s North Slope

Anne Jensen

The North Slope of Alaska is home to many coastal sites. Due to the cold climate, preservation is spectacular. The sites have generally been considered stable. However, the changing climate has altered the situation. Erosion rates have increased tremendously, due to warming permafrost, sea ice retreat and longer ice-free seasons. For example, measured coastal retreat at one site is averaging 10 m a year. Coastal erosion revealed a house at another site. Funding was sought to excavate the structure, but a single storm the next autumn removed over 30 meters of the site and destroyed the structure. North Slope excavation and post-excavation work are extraordinarily expensive, due to remote locations and the huge volumes of organic materials recovered. Current funding mechanisms do not lend themselves to such situations, as the process is such that funds cannot be available during the next field season, even if a successful proposal is prepared on very short notice. Many of the sites are on private land, so no agency has responsibility for the heritage resources. North Slope residents are very concerned, as these sites represent their cultural heritage. There is a municipal government agency that has heritage responsibilities, but they cannot handle the issue alone. A variety of avenues for community participation are being developed to provide opportunities for members of the public to assist in protecting their heritage.

Rousay, the Egypt of the North: the story from the sea

Stephen Dockrill, Julie Bond

Rousay is the sixth largest island in Orkney at 11,937 acres. The centre is formed by high moorland, surrounded by a coastal fringe with one of the richest concentrations of archaeological sites in Orkney. The archaeology is a magnet for visitors, who explore the many chambered cairns. Some visitors climb down to the Neolithic cairn and Iron Age broch at Midhowe and return along the coastline, passing a significant number of actively eroding sites. Excavation of the eroding archaeology at two multi-period settlement sites, South Howe and Swandro, indicate the magnitude of the potential loss. The topography, availability of agricultural land and access to the sea made this a favoured location. The loss along this coastal stretch will be irreplaceable, with no equivalent sites surviving inland. The Swandro sequence includes a Neolithic chambered cairn and an Early Iron Age to Norse period estate associated with the Westness Pictish and Viking burials. The surviving archaeology, although eroding, is providing valuable data both on the settlement itself and on the process of erosion on this active boulder beach. Excavation of the wave-cut terraces of thensettlement mound is challenging, the site being subject to both the water table and the regular incursions of high tides. Recording methods have been adapted and new technology such as laser scanning utilised. A central aspect of this long-termproject is to work with the island community to communicate the findings, to enhance visitor experience and to raisenawareness of the potential loss.

Engaging the public to rescue information from eroding and destroyed coastal archaeological sites: the Guidoiro Areoso experience in NW Iberia


The vulnerability of coastal heritage is increasingly coming into focus. Hundreds of archaeological sites are threaten of destruction on the European Atlantic façade as the result of the combined effect of sea-level rise, coastal environment dynamics and human activity. In the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula, the islet of Guidoiro Areoso (Ría de Arousa, Pontevedra) is a good example of this situation. A number of archaeological sites, including several Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary monuments and a Bronze Age paleosoil, are suffering from quick erosion. Two of them, a megalithic chamber (known as “Mound 5”) and a Bronze age cist, have recently been destroyed. Local citizens and associations were among the first in warning about the worrying situation of the islet’s natural and cultural heritage. Facing this situation, we recently launched an initiative (“Guidoiro Dixital”, Digital Guidoiro) to recover image and video records of Guidoiro Areoso from private archives, to integrate them into a wider monitoring analysis (3D modelling), to engage on a dialogue with local communities and to regularly provide them with information on the advances and results of the project. “Guidoiro Dixital” has been disseminated in a number of ways, including the media and a variety of social networks. In this presentation we will summarize the main results of this initiative, and we will discuss why this approach is essential to bring together researchers, heritage managers and the public.

Challenged by an archaeologically educated public in Wales

Claudine Gerrard

Climate change is not a new concept to archaeologists. In Wales extensive work has been carried out to assess the threat to archaeology posed by climate change both on the coast and inland, the pan-Wales coastal archaeological surveys carried out by the Welsh Archaeological Trusts and the work carried out by the Severn Estuary Levels Research Committee are two examples of such work. A need to respond to this threat has been identified for some time, and a collaborative approach sought. The success of the Archwilio (Wales’ Historic Environment Record online) and the Arfordir community focussed coastal archaeology recording programme has created a public who are increasingly aware of the archaeology on their coastline and more widely. The expectations raised by Arfordir (and Archwilio) has engendered increased pressure from the public to see a quick response to a disappearing archaeology on our coastline and levels. The lack of an agreed pan-Wales mechanism to deal with these issues, being raised by an increasingly aware public, is a challenge facing Wales. Failure to meet expectations proposes a serious risk of alienating a currently supportive public as well as resulting in the loss of irreplaceable heritage. Problems of who and how should work at sites threatened by natural processes are leading in some quarters to inertia and in others and unrealistic pressure on large landowners such as the National Trust. Hopefully we can begin to address these issues…though time and tide wait for none of us.

Finding and Sharing Climate Stories with Cultural Heritage

Marcy Rockman

In 2014, the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) released a policy memo titled “Climate Change and the Stewardship of Cultural Resources.” One of the points of the memo is that “Every place has a climate story, many have more than one” and “each park and program should engage its staff, including facilities and maintenance staff, rangers, resource managers, scientists, and superintendent, and its surrounding communities to begin to identify and share their climate stories.” To date, a framework of four types of climate stories for cultural heritage (including archaeological sites, cultural landscapes, historic/prehistoric buildings and structures, ethnographic resources, and museum collections) has been developed: how we see change in material culture, how change is being experienced by traditional and other communities, how past societies responded to past environmental change, and how the modern climate situation has come to be. This framework is being incorporated into the NPS National Climate Change Interpretive Plan, and merged with the And-But-Therefore narrative format developed by science communicator Randy Olson. This paper overviews current progress in developing and sharing climate stories across the NPS.

Climate change and the preservation of archaeological sites in Greenland

Jørgen Hollesen1, Henning Matthiesen2

Archaeological sites in Greenland represent an irreplaceable record of extraordinarily well-preserved material remains covering more than 4000 years of human history. Out of the more than 6000 registered sites very few have been excavated and it is anticipated that thousands of sites are still to be discovered in the many unexplored parts of the country. Therefore, the potential of archaeological sites in Greenland to provide further spectacular findings is considered extremely high. However, the climate is changing rapidly in Greenland leading to accelerated degradation of the archaeological sites. Since 2009 the National Museum of Denmark and Greenland and the University of Copenhagen have been collaborating in order to obtain an improved understanding of the link between climate change and the preservation of archaeological sites in Greenland.
In this presentation we will give examples of how permafrost thaw, coastal erosion, increased vegetation and farming are threatening to destroy archaeological sites in Greenland. We will show the results from our decay studies were we have investigated how different organic materials respond to environmental changes. Finally we will present our future research plans and elaborate on how we aim to develop new methods for locating sites at risk – using both high tech solutions (Remote sensing, UAV and GIS models) and low tech solutions where local residents are involved in surveys and excavations.

Gufuskálar: An eroding fishing station

Lilja Pálsdóttir

The archaeological site of Gufuskálar sits on the northern tip of Snæfellsnes peninsula in Iceland. It is a late medieval fishing site of great importance that is being rapidly eroded and exposed by marine and wind erosion. Since 2008 an archaeological research has been undertaken at the site by an international team of archaeologists, environmental geologists and zoologists including an excavation of a 15th century fishing booth, field survey, test trenching, topographical survey, kite and drone photography. None of this, however, would have taken place had it not been for a resident at a local town who noticed the erosion and began to ask questions about the site. Growing interest from the community has also helped in the team’s effort to continue the research. In this talk, I will introduce the site, the challenges we have met and the progress we have made so far both on the excavations and in further involving the community.

Communities and Coastal Heritage at Risk

Tom Dawson1, Ellie Graham2, Joanna Hambly2

Coastal erosion presents one of the greatest natural threats to cultural heritage. Thousands of sites are already being damaged, and many believe that sea level rise and storminess, both linked with a changing climate, will exacerbate the problem. Scotland, with its vast, Atlantic-facing coastline, has long had to deal with the exposure and destruction of heritage sites. In response, a wealth of experience has been developed by heritage managers, who have initiated coastal surveys and practical projects over many years, rescuing information from around the entire coast.
The long history of engagement with the problem of erosion has led to a growing awareness of the crucial role that communities can play in the management of threatened sites. This led to the establishment of two national, award-winning projects; Shorewatch and the Scotland’s Coastal Heritage at Risk Project (SCHARP). Members of communities from around the entire coast have monitored and recorded vulnerable sites and have worked in collaboration with heritage professionals on a range of projects. Groups have nominated sites and worked on project designs, ensuring that their own interests and desires are reflected. Innovative approaches have been adopted and work has been conducted in full collaboration with the communities, thus ensuring greater understanding of both sites and the threat to them. This paper will detail the vital role that communities can play in helping to save information from sites threatened by climate change, giving examples which will hopefully inspire action in other places around the world.

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