The effects of a changed global climate are proving to be the largest and most daunting challenge facing the Earth’s inhabitants. Rapidly melting Arctic ice, the increased ferocity of ever more frequent storms, coastal flooding, vanishing islands, thousands of stranded walruses, and intensifying conflict over limited resources are all disruptive signs that we need to reconsider and even remake how we live on this planet. But our engagement, politics, and diplomacy are not producing the required outcomes as shown by a growing list of failed international climate agreements, foot dragging governments and industries, and less-than-effective pubic actions.
Nevertheless, there is a growing awareness of the scale of the crisis and broad scientific consensus that humans have been instrumental in bringing on these changes. Academic societies like Geological Society of America others have begun to use Paul J. Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer’s term, the Anthropocene, to describe this new age of Earth’s history in which human kind has become akin to a geological force in shaping the Earth’s climate. Whereas other climatological epochs were shaped by volcanic activity, tectonics, meteorites, and other non-human forces, the Anthropocene was brought on by the actions of people. Scholars like Paul Dukes and Dipesh Chakrabarty date the age as beginning sometime in the mid-eighteenth century, whereas William Ruddiman sets the start with the development of agriculture, but in any event,but in any event, we have left the Holocene whose conditions shaped life for nearly 12,000 years and are now somewhere new. The idea of the Anthropocene moves the discussion away from climate change as something in the future and makes it instead the epoch we now inhabit. Environmental damage can be slowed, but damage done cannot be undone—we now live in a climatological reality very different from what we as a species faced only a few short centuries ago. This means that we have to rethink much of how we live on our planet.
As the scale of our new reality slowly dawns on a denial-prone population more and more fields of endeavor are asking what they can do to address and manage changes as significant as the ones before us? A few academic societies have formed task forces designed to ask what a given discipline has to say about our changed climate, how must it practice differently in light of change and to be of use in a changed reality? Given historical archaeology’s natural interests in landscape, preservation, cultural resource management, and sustainability, and the unique challenges the field faces, the time is right for a historical-archaeology-specific discussion about what a changed climate means for archaeology and archaeologists.
Toward that end, SHA 2015 will have the first face-to-face meeting of an interest group dedicated to dealing with the many field-related issues emerging from a changed climate. The group will meet in the Madrona Room from 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 10. Other similar interest groups and task forces have crafted white papers, outlined best practices, and sought out new avenues for scholarly inquiry—our meeting will help define how we best see our role and activity while hopefully starting a wider conversation about the role of archaeology in the Anthropocene. Please feel free to contact me or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas and let me know if you are interested in participating in this discussion. See you in Seattle.