Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2020 04;117(15):8295-8302
National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, University of Maryland, Annapolis, MD 21401.
Climate science has outlined targets for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions necessary to provide a substantial chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change on both natural and human systems. How to reach those targets, however, requires balancing physical realities of the natural environment with the complexity of the human social environment, including histories, cultures, and values. Archaeology is the study of interactions of natural and social environments through time and across space. As well, the field of cultural resources management, which includes archaeology, regularly engages with values such as site significance and allocation of funding that the modern social environment ascribes to its own history. Through these two approaches, archaeology has potential to provide both data for and methods of addressing challenges the global community faces through climate change. To date, however, archaeology and related areas of cultural heritage have had relatively little role in the global climate response. Here, we assess the social environment of archaeology and climate change and resulting structural barriers that have limited use of archaeology in and for climate change with a case study of the US federal government. On this basis, we provide recommendations to the fields of archaeology and climate response about how to more fully realize the multiple potential uses of archaeology for the challenges of climate change.