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Abstract

Archaeology has a long history of research in reconstructing past environments and in attempting to understand the interactions between climate and human societies. So far, however, there has been little attempt by archaeologists to employ this knowledge in the debate over current global climate change. This paper provides a broad overview of the relevance of archaeology to the problem of global climate change, yet also attempts to consider some of the challenges that require further debate. We propose five areas where archaeology may be able to make significant contributions to global climate change discourse: (1) the study not just of past social ‘collapse’ but of how ancient societies attempted to manage decline and recovery in the face of long-term environmental change; (2) the ability to rethink the nature/culture divide; (3) the use of public archaeology to further education and awareness on environmental links and impacts; (4) the study of social injustice and how it may affect societal responses to the environment; and (5) the building of common ‘intercultural’ responses to climate change. Challenges identified are (1) making clearer in public debate the relevance of archaeology to present and future climate change; (2) the contexts in which people really learn from the past; (3) how different (national) traditions of archaeological research may affect our ability to relate archaeology to global climate change; and (4) how human-induced climate change on a global scale alters traditional historical approaches to human agency. WIREs Clim Change 2012 doi: 10.1002/wcc.174

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