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Climate Change and Archaeology. An Introduction

Hannah Fluck and Kate Guest

Cite this as: Fluck, H. and Guest, K. 2022 Climate Change and Archaeology. An Introduction, Internet Archaeology 60.

Anthropogenic climate change is already affecting our environment. Climate projections show that in Europe we can expect:

  • changes in rainfall, with increased drought and desertification, as well as increases in intensity and frequency of rainfall (sometimes in the same locations);
  • increases in temperature, in winter and summer, increases in both the temperature and frequency of heatwaves;
  • rising sea levels, and groundwater fluctuations;
  • warmer seas, ocean acidification and changes in oceanic currents.

These climate drivers will result in changes to flora and fauna, and changes in ground conditions (both on and below the surface) which will affect archaeological deposits and structures. In addition, human responses to the climate crisis also impact archaeological sites. However, while our archaeological deposits and historic places are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, our knowledge and skills as archaeologists are also relevant to supporting society in adapting to a changing climate and a low carbon future.

A climate first approach to heritage?

What do archaeology and heritage look like in a global climate crisis? As heritage professionals, our business is not so much the past as the future: we have tasked ourselves with looking after heritage for future generations. But the changing climate threatens both those future generations and the heritage we are trying to conserve for them. Therefore, action to reduce the change in the climate, to limit global warming, and adapt to those changes is a core part of our work. Achieving this needs us to think differently.

It is time for us to take a 'climate first' approach to heritage. But what might this entail?

Currently our approach to heritage management is one that, understandably, puts heritage, particularly the physical historic environment, at the heart of those decisions. What might happen if, for every decision about heritage, we were to ask two questions before we even consider the impact upon the heritage asset?

  1. How will this action help to genuinely reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Not just operational carbon (that is the carbon resulting from use) but taking into account the emissions from manufacture, transportation, installation, repair and replacement over the life of a thing.
  2. How will this decision help people, and the environment, adapt to the changing climate over the next few years, decades, or even in 100 years' time?

And then ask:

  1. Is there a way to achieve these benefits, or better them, for climate mitigation and adaptation in a way that minimises harm to heritage?
  2. How might any harm to the heritage asset be mitigated?

Such an approach could bring benefits for climate action but also for heritage. By focusing on addressing the climate crisis, we could ensure that the heritage we pass to future generations isn't just that of a dying planet. We might also be able to strengthen the case for heritage as part of the solution. After all, we know that many examples of good practices for conservation help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, embrace a circular economy, reduce waste and help people adapt to their environments. Archaeology can and should play a part in understanding the changes we face a result of climate change, but also in responding to them.

Articles and sites mentioned in this issue

EAC 22nd Heritage Management Annual Symposium

In July 2021, the EAC held its 22nd symposium on the topic of Climate Change and Archaeology, one of several meetings exploring the topic of cultural heritage and archaeology held that year. The papers presented could be seen as some tentative steps towards a 'climate first' approach to heritage.

They explored the challenges faced by archaeological sites as a result of a changing climate as well as some of the opportunities for discovery; the relationship between heritage and the wider environment, including biodiversity; and the long-term perspective on environmental change and human interaction that archaeology can bring.

The paper from Ireland (McCormick and Nicolas) addressed the impact of the climate crisis on the conservation of particular coastal archaeological sites. Jones et al. explored the application of the 'Climate Vulnerability Index' to sites in in Scotland and how it might apply elsewhere, while Kountouri et al. looked at the integration of climate change into cultural policies for world heritage sites in Greece.

One contribution from the Netherlands (Dutting and Boss, not in this issue), explored the relationship between the impact of renewable energy upon archaeological sites. Several papers explored the opportunities for discovery, as well as associated challenges, for example those presented by receding waters (Villa González).

The presentation from Estonia (Kadakas) explored the relationship between archaeological heritage and biodiversity and examples from Bulgaria (Preshlenov) and Austria (Kowarik) considered the long-term perspective on environmental change and people's responses.

Papers from the Netherlands (Vreenegoor and Kosian) and England (Woodside) considered the role of archaeology and heritage as inspiration for responses to the challenges of climate change.


At the end of 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, the global authority on climate change), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) held an international co-sponsored meeting on Culture Heritage and Climate with 100 experts. Hoesung Lee opened the conference with the following message:

'Our culture and heritage are windows into millennia of human experience from which we can draw and use them to shape our strategies to adapt and to make our communities more resilient to climate change risks and challenges. Are we capable of projecting from our collective past into our shared future? I believe yes, we are. I believe this is not only possible, but it is imperative that we do so.'
Hoesung Lee, IPCC Chair, Opening address to the first ICOMOS-IPCC-UNESCO Co-sponsored Meeting on Culture, Heritage and Climate, 6 December 2021

This is an important call to action for the heritage sector. Looking after and curating the fragments of our past is all about the future, and currently that future is looking pretty shaky. We all need to take action to address the causes of climate change, and understand and adapt to the consequences of a changing climate. But as we do so, as archaeologists, we should ensure that archaeology is part of that conversation and contributing to climate action.


Jones, R.H., Davies, M.H., Day, J.C. and Heron, S.F. 2022 Developing Climate Risk Assessments for World Heritage: the Climate Vulnerability Index, Internet Archaeology 60.

Kadakas, U. 2022 Archaeological Heritage as a Sustainer of Biodiversity, Internet Archaeology 60.

Kountouri, E., Benissi, C. and Spyropoulou, S. 2022 Integrating Climate Change into Protection Policies in Greece, Internet Archaeology 60.

Kowarik, K., Brandner, D., Hofmann, K., Strasser, M. and Reschreiter, H. 2022 Researching Change - Understanding Change - Facing Change. 3500 years of human-environment relations in the Hallstatt/Dachstein region, Internet Archaeology 60.

McCormick, F. and Nicolas, M. 2022 Impacts of Climate Change on Coastal Archaeological Sites in County Kerry, Ireland, Internet Archaeology 60.

Preshlenov, H. 2022 Postglacial Black Sea Level Rising, Urban Development and Adaptation of Historic Places. The case-study of the city-peninsula of Nesebar (Bulgaria), Internet Archaeology 60.

Villa González, A.J. 2022 The Guadalperal Dolmen (Cáceres, Spain). Archaeological and heritage protection interventions on an artificially submerged archaeological site which resurfaces, Internet Archaeology 60.

Vreenegoor, E. and Kosian, M. 2022 Using Cultural Heritage and Historical Analyses for Current and Future Problems With Too Much or Too Little Water, Internet Archaeology 60.

Woodside, R. and Huggett-Jones, S. 2022 Heritage Responds - Taking Positive Actions on Climate Change, Internet Archaeology 60.

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  • Keywords: archaeology, climate change, impact, heritage, knowledge, solutions
  • Accepted: 21 March 2022. Published: 26 May 2022
  • Funding: The publication of this article is funded by the European Archaeological Council.

Corresponding author: Hannah FluckORCID logo
Historic England

Kate Guest
Historic England

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