A group of archeologists and scientists are warning the world’s most significant cultural sites and undiscovered artifacts could remain a thing of the past as climate change meddles in the preservation of these important landmarks of human history.
In the journal of Antiquity, researchers from Europe, Asia, Australia, North and Latin America released four papers on how the effects of climate change are destroying archeological environments, in particular the world’s wetlands and underwater heritage sites.
With warming global temperatures, exciting discoveries like a Second World War landing craft and 3,000-year-old city have been found in recent months. However, study author Jorgen Hollesen says this can be a double-edged sword for excavators who might not be able to keep up with these discoveries if extreme weather events damage the artifacts or speed their decaying process once exposed.
“If you find artifacts that are melting out of glaciers then of course you get more knowledge but what about all the other artifacts you don’t find? They’ll just degrade fast and disappear,” Hollesen told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Oct. 27.
Wetlands in particular are most concerning to archeologists as these swampy ecosystems are ideal preservation sites for artifacts since the water serves as a barrier to oxygen. The “Tollund man,” a 2,000-year-old corpse was so well-preserved in the wetlands of Denmark archeologists were able to construct his last meal from contents found in his gut.
According to the Global Wetland Outlook, 35 per cent of the world’s wetlands have been lost since 1970. With rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns, many wetlands have been left dried out.
Underwater archeological sites are also in danger as extreme weather events like hurricanes and tropical storms can damage shipwrecks, like Typhoon Soudelor did in 2015, causing major damage to a Second World War ship.
The study authors say climate change policies and cultural heritage sectors must create more protection for archeological sites through policies and sustainable community planning.
Currently, UNESCO recognizes 1,154 heritage sites, including the Thai city of Ayutthaya. After enduring severe flooding in 2011 the country has developed infrastructures to protect its monuments however, with frequent flooding events, the city must continue to maintain costly defences that often conflict with the surrounding community.
IT’S NOT TOO LATE
While there are global efforts being made to combat and adapt to climate change, Hollesen says heritage sectors and archeologists are often left out of the planning. However, there are ways for environmental work and archeology to not only co-exist but help with each other’s preservation.
Since healthy wetlands can store large amounts of CO2, the study authors theorize that by re-wetting it to keep the ecosystem from drying out, this may help nations reduce their greenhouse gas emissions while protecting any potential archeological finds that lay beneath them.
“We have sort of a win-win situation where we could also use archeology to say that this area is very important,” Hollesen said. “So I think there are many connections where we could use archeology to put more value into these different climate adaptation plans.”
With just days ahead of the COP27 climate conference, researchers say they hope their findings emphasize the need for not only concrete planning but immediate action to preserve the world’s history.
“I’m not saying that we are going to lose everything within the next two years but we need these artifacts and archeological sites to tell us about the past. It’s like a puzzle and we’re losing some of the pieces,” he said.
Hollesen says efforts to preserve archeological findings may also encourage people to become more involved in climate change initiatives as uncovering local history may give others a stronger connection to the cause.
“We should also use archeology to provide people to make these climate initiatives more relevant for them, maybe you may have a local connection to these projects.”