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Contemporary Archaeologies and Cultural Heritage in the Anthropocenic Age

Laurent Olivier

Cite this as: Olivier, L. 2024 Contemporary Archaeologies and Cultural Heritage in the Anthropocenic Age, Internet Archaeology 66.


The era in which the distinction between natural processes and human activity was clear has passed. Since at least the 'Great Acceleration' of the mid-20th century, we have entered a new phase where environmental changes, unprecedented in scale, are no longer purely natural. Instead, they stem from the growth of a hybrid aggregate, both natural and artificial. Consequently, things and places can no longer remain unchanged; they do not adhere to our previous conceptions. 'Non-human' entities now respond to our actions, rendering them inherently cultural and anthropogenic. Operating within the present, these entities not only act but also accumulate a form of material memory over time. Even seemingly inert matter is alive, facing the challenges of the Anthropocene: an era characterized by devastation and the destruction of material memory. Thus, the concept of heritage takes on new significance: what does it mean now, and what purpose does it serve? How do we define saving, protecting, or even acknowledging what we continue to call archaeological heritage? The most profound transformations of the Anthropocene are yet to unfold, underscoring the limitations of archaeological practice, which primarily focuses on human creations at a human scale.

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  • Keywords: archaeology, Anthropocene, material memory, urbanisation, archaeological heritage, identity, environmental changes
  • Accepted: 31 Oct 2023. Published: 21 March 2024
  • Funding: The publication of this article is funded by the European Archaeological Council.
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Corresponding author: Laurent Olivier
Musée d'Archéologie nationale, Saint-Germain-en-Laye

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