Archaeology of Climate Change

Climate change is a major contemporary issue that we are trying our best to mitigate for future generations. However, we tend to forget that it is not a new phenomenon. For example, 2.5 million years ago volcanic eruptions caused a dramatic rise in carbon dioxide levels, which triggered the Ice Age. During that time, humans found solutions and adapted to it through migration and other methods. However, modern day humans place extreme value in property rights which makes it difficult to convince people to migrate in the face of natural disasters. 

Although the rising trend in atmospheric carbon dioxide seen today is much greater than the levels of carbon dioxide in the past, archaeological evidence of climate change is still a good source of information that has largely been overlooked. It provides a “solid foundation for assessing the implications of climate change across cultures and helps design sustainable development strategies” (Burke 2021). In retrospect, the archaeological evidence provides us with methods that humans have used in the past to adapt to climate change. It is important to realize that humans and culture evolved simultaneously. In the past, humans usually did not lead a sedentary lifestyle and were hunter-gatherers. Thus migration as a response to harmful climate activity was a viable solution. However, modern humans are unable to migrate due to their sedentary lifestyle and attachment to their homes.  

An example of human migration in response to climate change occurred in 1450 AD with the downfall of Cahokia. Climate change caused flooding, deforestation, and depletion of natural resources. When people first settled in the city of Cahokia, they adopted a lifestyle that over-exhausted their natural resources. Once the situation became untenable, Cahokians abandoned their city and moved to other parts of North America. This demonstrates a cultural difference between the Cahokians and modern people where the Cahokians were willing to migrate out of necessity, whereas modern individuals are unwilling to leave.

Image 1. Migration of humans during the Ice Age in North America.

An example of this cultural difference can be seen in coastal Miami. Despite the flooding of these areas, American corporations and individuals continue to invest money and live in these areas. One could argue that it is America’s capitalistic values that encourage people to stay in affected areas. This demonstrates the cultural difference between modern and ancient humans. The Cahokians and present day humans, despite having different cultural responses to the same issue, had very similar cultural values that lead climate change to destroy their societies. We are fortunate to live in a time that allows for communication between many populations. If we employ our cross-cultural knowledge correctly we can stave off the impossible decision populations have to make between migrating and staying.

Image 2. A flowchart depicting archaeology of climate change, its sources of information, and further developments.

Further Readings 



Burke, Ariane, Matthew C Peros, Colin D Wren, Francesco S. R. Pausata, Julien Riel-Salvatore, Olivier Moine, Anne de Vernal, Masa Kageyama , and Solène Boisard. “The Archaeology of Climate Change: The Case for Cultural Diversity.” Photograph. PNAS, July 22, 2021.

Dibble , Harold L, Aylar Abodolahzadeh, Vera Aldeias, Paul Goldberg, Shannon P McPherron, and Dennis M Sandgathe. How did hominins adapt to ice age Europe without fire? Accessed November 6, 2022. Editors. “Ice Age.” A&E Television Networks, March 11, 2015.

Renwick , James. “Climate Explained: What Caused Major Climate Change in the Past?” The Conversation, August 4, 2022. 

Romey, Kristin. “Surprise Discoveries in Mexico Cave May Double Time of Peopling of the Americas.” Photograph. History. National Geographic, May 3, 2021.

Archaeology of the World Trade Center post-9/11

The history of the World Trade Center (WTC) is not ancient; 21 years ago, the building was under an attack coordinated by a terrorist group known as Al-Qaeda. This incident snatched thousands of lives and left many injured, and the trauma still pervades numerous lives. It is now memorialized as 9/11 to remember the victims of this unexpected attack and to support the families who lost their loved ones. 

The archaeology of the WTC post-9/11 was never about finding and displaying the remains and artifacts found, but in fact it is more profound than that. It is about finding the story of the individuals who lost their lives. It is about the shared emotions that emphasize and evoke our connection to daily life. Many artifacts collected were exhibited at the Smithsonian in 2004, which included a wallet, a computer screen, a stairwell sign, and a resume (Shanks 2004). One such case is of the resume found in a briefcase by an EMT on ground zero who tracked down the owner, and upon sharing their testimonies about the normal morning they had before 9/11, they realized their normal lives had changed to a rather traumatic one with the blink of an eye (Shanks 2004). Hence, these artifacts depict a story of an individual’s daily life and are preserved for future generations to see and learn the history of people who lost their lives, people who were tracked down later for their belongings, and of those who came out to rescue. 

Since the collapse of the two buildings, tons of debris collected around it and was dumped in the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, and archaeologists and forensic investigators later sifted through the landfill to find numerous artifacts and human remains (Atimian 2011). In the scenario of 9/11, it was unusual because the debris from the collapse contained tons of artifacts that became a source of knowing the victims intimately. It started to seem like the City of Pompeii, another mass casualty incident, even though the destruction occurred due to completely different reasons. But it held archaeological significance and the pieces of artifacts unlocked bigger pictures and understandings of those immediately affected by the incident. 

Image 1. Investigators sift through the World trade Center debris on September 18, 2001

Anything that happens in the present becomes the archaeology of the future and hence this disheartening incident did too. 9/11 entailed an archaeology lost and an archaeology found. The World Trade Center is not just home to the many artifacts of archaeological significance but also to the emotions, connections, and personal stories. It’s like a patchwork quilt made of stories that were carved from the remains, the stories that we might never have known and the individuals who those stories belonged to.

Image 2. The remains of the World Trade Center standing amid the debris on September 11, 2001.


Shanks, Michael, David Platt, and William L. Rathje. 2004. “The Perfume of Garbage:     Modernity and Archaeological.” John Hopkins University Press.

Strochlic, Nina. 2021. “The Archaeological Treasures That Survived 9/11.” History. National Geographic. September 2, 2021.

Mayorquin, Orlando. 2022. “21 Years Later, These Powerful Photos Tell the Story of 9/11.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network. September 11, 2022.

Atimian. 2011. “Fresh Kills Landfill.” Atlas Obscura. Atlas Obscura. December 30, 2011.

Further Readings