2021 Kiel Statement on Archaeology and Climate Change

This Statement was officially approved and adopted at the Annual Membership Businesses Meeting held per rollam on 20 - 23 September 2021. To be quoted as “EAA 2021 Kiel Statement on Archaeology and Climate Change". The draft of this Statement was prepared by an EAA Task Force composed of Johannes Muller (Co-Chair), Amanda Chadburn (Co-Chair), Peter Biehl (EAA Community for Climate Change and Heritage), Eszter Bánffy and Felipe Criado-Boado during 2021.

Stable URL: https://www.e-a-a.org/2021Statement

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With extraordinary speed, the world, science, and archaeologists are experiencing dramatic changes in times of climate and social change. In addition to the current worldwide pandemic, the challenges of our modern societies are becoming all the more apparent, e.g. the environmental crisis, increasing inequality, global health, and the potential for conflict, to name just a few. Within our disciplines, in addition to the advancement of new methods, new forms of communication, and new threats to archaeological heritage, archaeologists need to take a more active role in contributing to the current climate change debate. The EAA is encouraging Members to formulate recommendations and best practices concerning ways to enhance the EAA’s effectiveness in addressing the multiple challenges posed by climate change to archaeological heritage. Especially in these critical times the reflection on past human behaviour is important for the self-assurance of human existence.

Archaeology provides a unique perspective to the interpretation of recent climate and cultural change and provides a vast array of data for the better understanding of the development of, and resilience to these global crises. “Widening Horizons”* is necessary to fulfil our social duty: the departure to new horizons!

We take it as a given that archaeology and the archaeological and cultural heritage of which it is part, have much to offer efforts to address climate change including: palaeoclimatic data; models of adaptation; an understanding of the roots of the modern global system within which modern climate change has developed; and the debate about nature and the temporality of the Anthropocene. Evidence to date is showing that climate change presents an array of challenges for archaeology – from loss from erosion, fires, sea-level rise, to disconnection due to migration and loss of contact of affiliated communities, and damage deriving from conflict and other social changes. If we understand climate change as a whole-of-society problem, then the field of archaeology alone cannot provide a full understanding of climate change, nor solve all its challenges, but it does have a significant contribution to make.

The advocacy of archaeologists on local, regional, national, and global levels can play a pivotal role not only in protecting archaeological sites and data from the destruction through climate change, but also in learning from the past for the present and future.

The EAA wishes to show this advocacy and responsibility in this area through the presentation of this 2021 Kiel Statement on Archaeology and Climate Change.

The EAA states that:

1. Archaeologists can help understand climate change on a local to global scale by providing evidence and data from the past. In particular, it is the data from past societies and environments that archaeologists around the world provide on environmental and societal changes that better help to assess human-made global warming, and to carry out prognoses on the further development.

2. Archaeological research can contribute to increasing modern resilience and adaptation through lessons learned by past societies. Archaeological research deals with people from a wide range of social and temporal contexts, from Palaeolithic to contemporary societies. The diversity of social and economic conditions under a wide range of environmental conditions makes it possible to evaluate questions of sustainability and resilience. For example, archaeological insights into food security through the study of past agriculture and land-management practices may allow an understanding of what works, or could work in extreme ecological conditions resulting from modern climate change. Additionally, archaeologists may assist situations where a “sustainable” climate change mitigation strategies produce unsustainable local and social effects. 

3. Climate change puts archaeological remains at risk. Among the climate-driven forces affecting archaeological sites are coastal erosion, sea-level rises leading to inundation, droughts, floods, the drying of soils including peats, soil erosion, increased frequency and intensity of wildfires, changes to the weather leading to extremes of heat, precipitation and storms, changes in vegetation and biodiversity, permafrost thawing, and glaciers melting.

4. Preserving both rural and urban archaeological sites and landscapes can help mitigate climate change. For example, preservation of archaeological sites and monuments in pasture, grasslands and peatlands can help both preserve cultural assets and help meet ecological, biodiversity and climate change goals.

5. Archaeologists and cultural resource managers must have a basic understanding of climate change issues in order to better protect and manage archaeological resources for the future. For example, archaeologists and cultural resource managers should create best practices to monitor and mitigate the effects of climate change on archaeological remains, and to create an appropriate record of those sites and remains which cannot be saved.

6. Archaeologists should explore ways to translate fundamental archaeological research into actionable science to inform decision-making, as well as monitor climate change as it relates to archaeology and heritage.

As an organisation, the EAA will also play its part in responsibly working towards UN Climate Change goals, net-zero emissions and limiting the rise in global temperature to 1.5℃.

*Widening Horizons” was the theme and motto of the 27th EAA Annual Meeting in Kiel