We who study the human past know the truth of Heraclitus’ statement—one cannot step into the same river twice. However, change has propelled many things both wonderful and terrible since our planet started turning, and human beings have been at the forefront of many of those changes. In many ways, change and the patterns within it are one of the deep questions of our discipline. By looking back into our past, we study the present, and we try to prepare for the future.
If we are always in a new river, it seems as if 2021 may be a part in which the eddies are particularly strong. As included in President Bánffy’s welcome (this issue), today we sail on the dangerous waters of the continued pandemic, social and political unrest, racial tensions and the increasingly terrible consequences of climate change. Our duty—and our challenge—both as a discipline and as citizens of the world is to contribute to the debates on these issues, to seek patterns in the changes we see around us and to try as best we can to ensure that the currents of the future flow in ways which are beneficial to all.
Times and challenges such as these, however, have been faced before. As archaeologists, we make it our business to know the toll of epidemics, the spark of social and political unrest, the lead up and fallout of racial tensions and the causes and drastic costs of environmental change. As a study of change, archaeology is incredibly relevant to the world in which we live. The past may be history, but it is also our present and, maybe, our future.
While our subject matter may cause us to look back into the past, we should also take a moment to look around at the people who stand beside us, or whose faces appeared alongside ours during the virtual conference. Our voices are also many, from different countries, continents, sexes, genders, languages, skin tones, backgrounds, beliefs and research traditions. The respectful acceptance of differences of whatever nature is also our challenge, one which we hope will also help to bring about the right sorts of change. As a reflection of this, we have instigated a new section to the newsletter: Meet a Member for TEA, to reflect the width and breadth of our membership and the passions which drive us to delve into the past in order to build a better future.
Our arsenal for studying the past and the tools of our trade are also changing and adapting with the times in which we live. The advent of 14C dating, provenance studies and aDNA have been nothing short of revolutionary. Today, we are spending an unprecedented amount of time peering back into the past through our computer screens, be it through studying aerial views of sites we would otherwise have been able to visit in person, staring at spectra or statistical analyses or even communicating the results of our research. However, in these last years a new player has entered the field: artificial intelligence. The fist experiments with AI in archaeological work are both exciting and frightening. Especially at a time in which many of our friends and colleagues face threats to their employment, the arrival of AI has left many of us worrying whether the professional positions for which we have worked so hard and sacrificed so much may become defunct. In their debate piece, Dr. Horn and Dr. Green address this critical question and shed a little light on this new aspect of our work.
In discussing this first addition, we have left two very important subjects for last. Yes, we study the past…but we also study the new beginnings, the choices that the past represents. In studying change, we look for patterns, but we can also identify the meanders and confluences which direct change itself. In choosing our first cover for TEA, we hope to reflect upon the current state of archaeology in the face of climate change. This is particularly current in light of the EAA 2021 Kiel Statement on Archaeology and Climate Change (this issue) and conclusions from the Summit on Social Archaeology of Climate Change (SACC) noted in Johannes Müller’s welcome message on behalf of the Scientific Committee (also in this issue). Thus, we feel that it is fitting that our first cover features an image of the direct consequences of climate change to the archaeological record. In keeping with this letter’s hydrological theme, this image exemplifies the detrimental effects of erosion brought on by increased precipitation and storm surges, here shown at a midden along the coast of northwest Greenland.
Finally, as members of the EAA, as students of change in the past, as witnesses for change in the present and as actors for change in the future, we have a tremendous advantage. If our study of this ever-changing river has so much perspective, it is because we stand on the mountains of work that has come before. If we can see further into the past—if we can see further into the future—it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants, as the saying goes. These visionaries and their collective works have given us perspective and vision and the time and space to consider it. As such, particular thanks go to our outgoing president, Felipe Criado-Boado for his tremendous efforts on behalf of the EAA. We are sure that you will all join us in welcoming our new president, Eszter Bánffy to the helm for this next bend of our journey.
To close, we also wish to extend our personal gratitude to outgoing TEA editors Katharina Rebay-Salisbury and Roderick Salisbury for, as the sailors say “showing us the ropes” of this skiff that is The European Archaeologist. We hope to explore this river with it and with you. It is our goal that the wake of our explorations may spark currents of their own.
Samantha S. Reiter and Matthew J. Walsh