Climate Change Is Adding Urgency to Archaeology – Scientific American

by | Oct 31, 2022 | Climate Change

Climate change is putting pressure on one of science’s earliest fields of discovery: archaeology.

Drought in the Colorado River basin is re-exposing centuries-old artifacts as lakes and rivers become mudflats. And where droughts aren’t happening, floods are—sometimes in quick succession with drought.

Consider the Mississippi River basin. Two and a half years ago, the basin experienced record-high flooding that devastated riverbanks and adjacent land loaded with artifacts dating to Mississippian civilization. Today, the river is so dry, shipwrecks are popping up from watery graves, including in the Lower Mississippi where Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, followed by French explorers who plied the river while claiming the region for King Louis XIV, calling it “Louisiane.”

“The pattern seems to be that we’re swinging wildly from one spectrum to the other. In the long run, that’s not good for archaeology,” said Charles McGimsey, the Louisiana state archaeologist. “Archaeological sites do best either staying underwater water or staying on dry ground. Going back and forth is not good.”

Yet as more artifacts turn up—from Mesopotamia to the Mississippi—scientists say drought and other climate change impacts are undermining their ability to protect and document important sites before they degrade or disappear.

Record flooding across the Nile River basin in 2020 came perilously close to damaging al-Bajrawiya in …

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