ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE AND THE DEPARTMENT OF AFRICA, OCEANIA AND THE AMERICAS OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM

Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

(P46)
Past weather, past climate - archaeology as Environmental Humanity
Location British Museum - Sackler A
Date and Start Time 27 May, 2016 at 11:30
Sessions 3

Convenors

  • Felix Riede (Aarhus University) email
  • Alison Klevnäs (Stockholm University) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Mike Hulme (King's College London)

Short Abstract

The environmental turn in the humanities urges archaeology not only to write environmental deep histories that document past human-environment relations but also to turn a critical eye on its narratives and valorisations of humans' place in the world and their articulations with present concerns.

Long Abstract

In recent years, an environmental turn in the humanities has brought concerns of weather, climate and environment central stage again in disciplines - anthropology sensu lato amongst them - that have tended to eschew those themes as irrelevant. Archaeology, however, has a long-standing interest in the environment and much has been written about the fruitful collaboration between geologists and archaeologists, usually centred on shared attention to soils, strata and human impacts. On the eve of the Anthropocene pronouncement, both geologists and environmental humanists argue for a greater appreciation of the diversity when it comes to human-environment relations and for a greater emphasis on ethical concern. In the Anthropocene, the culture|nature divide collapses, all history arguably becomes also environmental history, all archaeology environmental archaeology. This panel submits that one of (environmental) archaeology's major concerns should be issues of human climate impacts and asks whether or not and if so how we can move towards an engaged archaeology that not only writes environmental deep history but also critically addresses the valorisation of consumption, control, and environmental engineering in much of archaeological research, heritage management, and dissemination. We invite papers that document past human-weather/climate/environment relations and human impacts either on or from the environment; we especially encourage speakers to reflect on how such narratives articulate with contemporary local, regional, national and global concerns.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Archaeology and the Environmental Humanities, archaeology as environmental humanity. An introduction to Panel 46

Authors: Felix Riede (Aarhus University)  email
Alison Klevnäs (Stockholm University)  email

Short Abstract

The environmental turn in the humanities urges archaeology not only to write environmental deep histories that document past human-environment relations but also to turn a critical eye on its own narratives. This brief paper introduces the rational for P46 and sets the scene for the day.

Long Abstract

The aim, broadly defined, of the Environmental Humanities is to address the "the human dimensions of the environmental crisis" and - arguably at least - this environmental turn is "transforming how humanities scholars conduct research, how they relate to the natural and social sciences, and perhaps most importantly, how they conceive of their roles in a time of accelerating global environmental change" (Bergthaller et al. 2015: 261-2). Archaeology in Europe is most commonly part of the Humanities, has long addressed topics of climate change and human-environment relations, yet remains marginal to the Environmental Humanities that are both more focused on the human experience of environmental and climate change and are more openly politically and ethically engaged. This Panel explores whether and how archaeology can be articulate with and contribute to the Environmental Humanities initiative.

Inuit and climate change in prehistoric eastern Arctic: a perspective from Greenland

Author: Mikkel Sørensen (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

From recent field work in northeast Greenland Inuits prehistory is discussed in relation climate change. The paper suggests that social dynamics caused by human mobility and cultural encounters are most important to succeed climate change in a long term perspective.

Long Abstract

This paper addresses archaeological and historical Inuit societies and their responses to climatic changes. It is argued, that societal response to climate fluctuations is best understood in an intergenerational time perspectives and at large geographical scales, as it can be provided in the deep archaeological time scale within the Arctic world. From recent field work in northeast Greenland this areas prehistory is discussed in relation climate change. This case is followed by a discussion of four aspects that are considered crucial to Inuit's adaptation and success during the centuries of the "little ice age", i.e. 1) the initial Thule Culture migration into the eastern Arctic, 2) breathing-hole sealing technology, 3) snow house technology and 4) Inuit's long distance travels in the 18th century. It is from the cases concluded, that Inuit did not invent new strategies or technologies in relation to stress induced e.g. by climate change. Instead they relied on an inherent flexibility in their living and being in the Arctic, involving a high mobility and frequent migrations at the individual level, which enabled them to succeed crisis caused by social conflicts as well as environmentally dependent changes. Further, that Inuit had an ability to creatively integrate technologies and life-ways, resulting from their cultural encounters, e.g. with people from the Late Dorset Culture, European whalers and Moravians, that were successfully employed when climatic induced environmental changes affected their life and societies. The paper suggests that the social dynamics caused by human mobility and cultural encounters are most important to succeed climate change in a long term perspective.

Experiencing climate in preindustrial Greenland

Author: Anne Eg Larsen (Odense City Museums)  email

Short Abstract

Understanding the effect of climate change in past societies can involve a study of the relation between climate and culture, since the experienced climate might differ from scientifically measured changes. Did people in the past without thermometers necessarily notice smaller drops in temperature?

Long Abstract

Ca. 985 the norse settled in Greenland and lived there for nearly 500 years before they disappeared. Today it is unknown exactly why and how the norse disappeared, but it has been proposed that the cooling climate - due to the Little Ice Age, ca. 1300-1900 - had a negative effect on the resources they were dependent on, which made life in Greenland impossible for them. But other than assume the changing climate only had a negative influence on life in Greenland, this presentation tries to understand exactly what the changes could have meant for daily life on the medieval farms, and if dropping temperatures were a major concern for the norse - which has been assumed in the rhetoric often used about their living conditions.

In order to understand the circumstances of life in the arctic during changing climate conditions a study of the multiple sources from preindustrial colonial Greenland, ca. 1750-1930, was conducted. The results were that life in the arctic not necessarily meant that cold weather was experienced as a bad thing. In fact it held some opportunities regarding hunting and fishing that a warmer weather did not - disciplines that the norse also depended on in their daily life.

Comparing the medieval and the colonial Greenlandic societies of course involved some difficulties, since the norse primarily were farmers and the colony depended on hunting and fishing. Therefore the comparison had to be based on the similarities and differences between the two societies.

Archaeology of the Cryosphere in the Anthropocene: The Norwegian Case

Author: Brit Solli (University of Oslo)  email

Short Abstract

Due to global climate change there is a worldwide melting of our planet’s Cryosphere. During the last decade over 2000 artefacts have been coming out of the ice in the mountains of Norway. This archaeological dataset can be correlated with geological data, creating new knowledge on past climate change.

Long Abstract

Due to global climate change there is a worldwide melting of our planet's Cryosphere, e.g. glaciers, ice- and snow-patches. Artefacts and ecofacts are coming out of the ice in North-America, the European Alps and in the high alpine mountains of Norway. In 2006 there was a dramatic ablation of ice-and snowpatches. The ablation has continued, and during the last decade archaeological artefacts like shafted arrowheads, remains of "scare-sticks", organized in lines to direct the movement of reindeers, and other organic material associated with ancient hunting strategies have been recovered on the sites of ablated ice-and snowpatches. Hitherto (October 2015) over 2000 artefacts have been registered by Oppland County and the Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo.

This material, correlated with geological data, constitutes a unique data set to study both climate change and human long term exploitation of alpine resources in Norway. Organic material dated to e.g. AD 500 like shafts and "scare-sticks" melting out of the ice, are well preserved, and this indicates that the ice- and snow patches have been stable and on the spot for 1500 years. The archaeological material will also constitute a new basis for the study of Iron Age and Middle Age subsistence economy, e.g. hunting and trapping techniques, resource exploitation, exchange and consumption.

Adaptation to variable environments and resilience to climate change in Indus northwest India

Authors: Cameron Petrie (University of Cambridge)  email

Short Abstract

The Indus Civilisation spanned an environmental threshold where the winter and summer rainfall systems overlapped, and there is evidence that this region was affected by the dramatic weakening of the Indian Summer Monsoon. It is thus an ideal case study for investigating Environmental Humanity.

Long Abstract

There is much to learn from the past about the success or failure of adaptations to particular environments and ecological niches, and the resilience of responses to environmental pressures and climatic threats. This paper will explore the nature and dynamics of adaptation and resilience in the face of the diverse and varied environmental and ecological context occupied by the populations of the South Asia's Indus Civilisation (c.3000-1300 B.C.). Most early complex societies developed in regions where the climatic parameters faced by ancient subsistence farmers were varied, but not especially diverse. In contrast, the Indus Civilisation developed in a specific environmental context that spanned a very distinct environmental threshold, where the winter and summer rainfall systems overlapped. There is also evidence that this region was subject to climate change c.2200-2100 BC, when the urban phase of the Indus Civilisation was at its height. The Indus Civilisation therefore provides a unique opportunity to understand how an ancient society was adapted to a number of diverse and varied ecologies, and how its populations coped change in the fundamental and underlying environmental parameters. This paper integrates research carried out as part of the Land, Water and Settlement project in northwest India between 2007 and 2014 and the TwoRains project which started work in the same region in 2015. The results of this research resonate with thinking about modern developmental needs, water management, and reconsiderations of the impact of current water and land management policies in modern India.

Fragility, change and response: prehistoric Malta and the environmental record.

Authors: Caroline Malone (Queen's University Belfast)  email
Simon Stoddart (University of Cambridge)  email
Chris Hunt (Liverpool John Moores University)  email
Rowan McLaughlin (Queen's University Belfast)  email

Short Abstract

Interdisciplinary research on long-term environmental change in Malta is revealing significant patterns in human responses to landscape and soil management. This paper describes the work of the ERC funded FRAGSUS project.

Long Abstract

The ERC funded Fragsus project is combining cutting edge interdisciplinary methods with traditional archaeological approaches to explore how early societies sustained viable economic life in restricted island environments (Malta). Deep sediment cores and a range of environmental analyses combined with detailed chronological and palaeoeconomic study demonstrate that prehistoric societies developed effective soil management, and this sustained remarkable cultural life for millennia. Those systems failed under more intensive regimes where boom and bust economies exploited marginal environments. Such regimes were catastrophic in episodes of climatic instability and change, resulting in soil loss, garrigue development and poor economic viability over large areas, The landscape viability was only mitigated by terrace systems and advanced water management. This paper addresses how interdisciplinary environmental methods combined with fieldwork and deep time archaeology enable a series of key questions to be effectively explored.

Weathering climate change in eastern Africa: substantive archaeological data and conceptual challenges

Author: Paul Lane (University of Cambridge)  email

Short Abstract

Using data from East Africa, this paper asks: Can archaeology tell us what it meant to live through climate change? How did people in the past ‘weather’ such change and so make it ‘normal’? And, does such knowledge have any relevance for coping with climate change today?

Long Abstract

'Weather' and 'Climate' are quite different things - or so we are regularly told. We can all experience good, bad or indifferent weather, and wrap those experiences into our biographic memories and narratives. We have all heard that 'climate change is now', even if some are sceptical of the veracity of such a statement. But, even though we can experience different climates by travelling to different parts of the world, we are also cautioned not to equate unusual weather with climate change, because, as NASA's website tells us, the difference between the two is 'a measure of time'. Archaeology is an excellent means of understanding how humans responded to past climate change, how they 'adapted' over the long-term, and can provide insights into what current climate change may presage. But, what can we tell about people in the past 'weathered' such change and so made it 'normal'? Adaptation is about accommodating change, and about domesticating the unusual and the extreme, anticipating the unexpected. Using data from East Africa this paper examines how archaeologists conventionally understand past climate change, and asks how might we re-think the material record of adaptive behaviour to better understand what it means to live through an era of rapid climate change? The paper will conclude with a discussion of why such knowledge about the past may be helpful for the future.

Archaeologies of religion, nature and environmental ethics in ancient India

Author: Julia Shaw (University College London)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on early Indian concepts of human wellbeing and suffering in relation to environmental ethics and human ecology, questioning how Buddhism and later, orthodox Brahmanical traditions responded to new environmental challenges in the mid first millennium BC to early centuries AD.

Long Abstract

This paper examines the ecological basis of early Indian Buddhism from several angles: a) the role of 'nature' and ancient Indian nature and agrarian cults in the development of a Buddhist ritual geography; b) the monastery's role in the management of natural and agrarian resources as a means of alleviating suffering, as well as an instrument of lay patronage which was central to an emerging Buddhist economic system; c) the impact that scholarship on the 'ecological' focus of early Indian religious traditions and devolved religious and community based sustainable agriculture has on understandings of contemporary environmental challenges, e.g., the impact on human health and wellbeing of industrial and agricultural pollutants, climate-change and large-scale irrigation programmes. Here I steer a middle path between two polarised views, one having promoted Buddhism and certain Brahmanical traditions as epitomes of 'eco' oriented religions, the main justification here being the development of the doctrine of non violence (ahimsa); the second having presented the involvement of Buddhist monasteries, and later, Brahmanical temples, in agriculture and water-management as grounds for challenging this picture. My argument is that a concern with sustainable agriculture and water-management does not negate the ecological motif of early Indian religions, and that a critical reappraisal of Indological models of 'nature' v. 'culture', 'purity' v. pollution, and food and the human body, is required in order to appreciate the deep history of environmental ethics in the region. Archaeological evidence discussed will include the results of the author's archaeological survey work in central India.

Let's talk about the weather: Imaging, imagining, and merging the aurora borealis, volcanic lightning, and giant squid in an age of uncanny anxiety

Author: Karen Holmberg (New York University)  email

Short Abstract

Using the example of volcanic lightning, I argue for the archaeological examination of experientially rich but non-material environmental phenomena in the past. This serves as a practice study for the imagining of the environmental future, another uncharted territory devoid of materiality.

Long Abstract

We are no longer required to simply imagine past landscapes, weather, and environmental hazards. Advanced technologies now allow us to image the paleogeology of a much younger earth for the first time and record and analyze weather events from the recent past. The confluence of the understanding of the past and cutting edge technology is one that archaeology has long embraced. As a discipline, however, archaeology is deeply bound to its reliance upon materiality. This places the role or importance of past environmental phenomena and weather with ephemeral or non-existent material traces largely out of archaeological consideration. In this discussion I query the phenomena of volcanic lightning from an archaeological perspective. While it is the focus of stunning photography possible with recent digital technology and the subject of innovative experimental volcanology in laboratory analyses, volcanic lightning is poorly understood. It is also materially nonexistent in the archaeological record despite its experiential richness. I argue that the imagining - if not imaging - of non-material phenomena such as volcanic lightning is challenging but requisite both in the past and contemporary contexts. There is a payoff to imagining the environmental past more clearly and completely: it is practice for the imagining of the environmental future, another uncharted territory devoid of materiality that requires our thoughtful study. It is the imagination, not the fetish of technology, that will serve us best.

Tiny catastrophes|mild apocalypse. An environmental archaeological investigation of the shallow Anthropocene

Authors: Felix Riede (Aarhus University)  email
Christina Vestergaard-Sørensen (Aarhus Universitet)  email
Nathalia Brichet (University of Aarhus)  email

Short Abstract

Debates about the validity and onset of the Anthropocene are as much political as they are scientific and this paper situates archaeology – through fieldwork in a peculiar former mining landscape in Denmark – in this discourse.

Long Abstract

The Anthropocene has been proposed as a new geological epoch, in which humans have become the dominating force shaping global geological and ecological dynamics. At present, a lively debate runs as to the very validity and onset of the proposed Age of Humans. One of the most persuasive starting point proposals is the 'Great Acceleration' of the gargantuan capitalism-driven rise in fossil fuel extraction and chemical signature of human activity that began around 1950. Curiously, from an archaeological dating perspective, 1950 marks the year 0, the present; what follows after the future. Against a backdrop of recent fieldwork in a former lignite mine, this paper situates archaeology in the Anthropocene debate and discourse, both as a scientific discipline and an ethical and political engagement. We propose a kind of Contemporary Environmental Archaeology that focuses on human agency - tiny catastrophes - that in sum amount to the kind of mild apocalypse that typifies at least the peculiar Danish version of the Anthropocene.

Acquiring, transforming, consuming materials: artefactual archaeology as environmental humanity

Author: Alison Klevnäs (Stockholm University)  email

Short Abstract

The dramatic increase in consumer goods in recent decades, especially in wealthy nations, is a growing contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, among many other environmental impacts. Archaeology needs to step up its role in critically questioning our relations with our material possessions.

Long Abstract

To date, contributions by archaeologists to the environmental humanities have mainly come from methodological frameworks which investigate deep-time climate data or human-environment interactions. This paper argues that the more traditional homeland of archaeology, centred on artefact production and consumption, should also actively interest itself in questions of the local and global environment.

In particular, the paper focuses on the exponential rise in consumer possessions with which contemporary populations surround ourselves. Acquisition of material goods continues to burgeon, despite growing environmental awareness, and in testament to the strength and multi-scalar complexity of incentives to increase consumption. Even in countries in which other sectors of the economy (e.g. industrial and domestic heating, electricity production) are being successfully de-carbonized, consumer goods remain significant and so far intractable contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Humans have long histories of remodelling and often degrading landscapes to extract resources and form new products, but the present scales of material transformations and flows are unprecedented.

This paper contends that many of the narratives archaeology presents about the purpose of material belongings, especially to the public, are deeply embedded in a mentality of ever-increasing acquisition, and urgently need critical attention. Museum exhibitions in particular are susceptible to a meta-narrative of the human past in which increasing numbers of personal possessions are closely equated with progress, development, and self-realisation. More positively, it will be argued that exploring past lives can be a fruitful route into initiating future-oriented debates about the need and desire to acquire.

Heritage Nature:cultures

Author: Christina Fredengren (Archaeological Research Laboratory)  email

Short Abstract

Many heritage policies are anthropocentric. A range of naturalised others are dealt with as if they have no agency and hence the stage is open for appropriation and exploitation. The links between heritage and sustainable development are reviewed and the paper propose more affirmative methods.

Long Abstract

The paper outlines how a range of heritage policies and strategies, through their base in social constructivism, has a clear anthropocentric focus. Not only do they risk to downplay materiality, but also a number of human and non-human others, thereby driving a wedge between nature and culture. This may in turn provide a hinder for the use of heritage in sustainable development as it deals with range of naturalised others as if they have no agency and leave the stage open for appropriation and exploitation. This paper probes into what heritage could be in the wake of current climate and environmental challenges if approached differently. Here is explored how a selection of feminist post-humanisms changes the distinction between nature:culture and thereby shift the approach to sustainability in heritage making from a negative to an affirmative framing. With a background in an overview of research arguments for links between heritage and sustainable development the presentation asks the following questions: How would a feminist post-humanist approach, that focus on relations between human and non-human others provide an alternative to the anthropocentrism in the heritage sector? How would such a move affect how heritage is linked to sustainability?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.