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How Can Archaeology Help Us Adapt To Climate Change?

February 20, 2017 1:17 p.m.

How Can Archaeology Help Us Adapt To Climate Change?


Isabel Rivera-Collazo, assistant professor, Department of Anthropology at UCSD and Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Related Story: How Can Archaeology Help Us Adapt To Climate Change?


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Scientist can tell us why and how the climate is changing but not how we are supposed to adapt to it. This is the first time human activity is the major cause of climate change. Other factors have through the centuries caused radical shift in the earth climate. For some insight into how human beings -- cope with the changes, have to switch from the climate scientist to the archaeologist. Joining me is an assistant professor on human adaptations to climate change at the Department of anthropology and the Scripps Instution of Oceanography. Isabel, welcome to the program.
What were the big climate shifts? That we had experience in ancient times?
This was the transition to the period of the last 10,000 years. That is a significant change from very cold and dry moments through warmer and wetter conditions then we are experiencing. They have -- there have been smaller changes at times. One of the most significant was the Ice Age which it cured -- occurred.
To the chefs happen slowly? Were some within a few generations?
Some of them occurred very slowly. Others occurred rapidly. The change at the end of the season around 5000 years, we can reach modern levels. Even though it sounds like it is a long time, changes occurred rapidly. People would go to the beach and next year come back and it would be in another location. It was within the experience that they could see dramatic changes. Other changes, it was longer. When they take that much time, we do not perceive them. We adapt.
How do archaeologist figure out how people responded to climate change in age and time?
We study human behaviors. We see how they and -- acted in there environments. With we looked at what people ate and how they moved around. We look at how they placed their homes -- their homes. We look at the environment and how people made decisions. They take into the consideration of resources on what people ate and how they responded if there was a drought. If there was rain, what did they do? If there were changes in soil productivity, what did they do? We studied how human behavior changed as the Empire changed.
One examples has to do with the transfer of social knowledge to help cultures adapt to changes in their Department. Can you tell us about that?
That refers to the area between Lebanon and Israel and Jordan around the Dead Sea. It looks at the transition from the maximum. They were very dry and cold conditions. Now you see grasses and they were using meet. They had mobile partners. There were small groups that moved around the landscape. As the climate started becoming warmer and wetter, people changed their use of the environment. Settlements became stable and more permanent. People did not move as much to the landscape. They were using different resources because they did not move on the landscape. They were feeding more people with smaller territories. They had to get more food from the same space. There was a point that was -- the climate return to cold and dry conditions. It was not as bad but it was significant in a short time period. We saw people returning to the same similar patterns. Again, they started becoming mobile and using the -- eating gazelle and other resources.
There was a tradition handed down in that community that allow them to do that. People have been through that before.
That his right. We think that they are doing smaller events and we may be able to detect them in the community. It is a mix of evidence.
With smaller events, memory of how to respond to dry and cold was handed down through the generations. People had the tools to remember what to do on their destinations.
A lesson from the past that might help us is that not all communities respond to the same climate events in the same way. You use an example from Puerto Rico.
In that case, we studied a significant precipitation event that occurred 3000 years ago. We observed communities with the same culture. In the sights, we see the same type of remains and the same social behaviors. They all had to live through the experience in which it rained more than what they were used to. Environmentally, areas became flooded. There was more energy and water. There is a site that decided that people living on the site, after the climate returned, people returned. Another site, we do see they lived near River's and they were flooding often. People moved. We see evidence that they moved closer and started modifying the landscape to control it. The third site, people decided to stay and he used technology of the time period to modify the environment to keep it livable and stay in the same location. Each of the communities, they were the same culture and they had different priorities to maintain or stay in the location.
These ways that people haven't -- adapted in the past seem relevant to what we are facing in the present day. People do not automatically see a link between archaeology and climate change. Heart -- how are they trying to change that?
It is hard because there is a big amount of ideas around people thinking of Indiana Jones. It is not easy for people to shift with the social science aspect. Also, many people think that the past is worthless. They think the past is gone and there is nothing we can get from that. Technology will save us. However, if we are going to go that way, we have to say it is worthless to the future. Archaeology has the possibility of recovering history lessons of completed events that we can contribute to the future, to be able to provide variables that can fit into models that and we can build predictions on how humans respond. We have different examples that we can provide for the present. What do we do to bring it out? We can talk to the public and to inform the scientists which we forget about the social scientists. Archaeologist will have to be more relevant and do our job. We have to communicate and make sure the resources are relevant to the concerns.
I have been speaking with Isabel Rivera-Collazo , an assistant professor at Department of Anthropology .
Thank you for having me.
I am Maureen Cavanaugh . Thank you for listening.