Climate Change and Archaeological Sites

Predicting Impacts, Tracking Changes, Saving our Heritage

Change is inevitable, particularly in our environment. Every day, water moves sediment along riverbeds, ocean waves move sand up and down beaches, and the wind carries pollen to new locations. Some environmental changes are occurring faster than any other time in human history. Changes to Earth’s average air temperature are altering environments worldwide. We call this “climate change.”

Climate is the average weather patterns in a particular area over long periods. In the past, events like solar flares, volcanic activity, and variations in the Earth’s orbit spurred climate change. Recently, anthropogenic (or human-caused) changes in greenhouse gas concentrations have accelerated climate change. This has caused shifts in temperature, precipitation (rain and snow), extreme weather events (like hurricanes and tornadoes), sea levels, and the chemistry of the ocean.


Main image: River bank erosion along the Oconaluftee River in Jackson County. River bank and shoreline erosion are among the many threats facing archaeological sites throughout the state in this era of changing climate. (Image by Allyson Ropp, NC Office of State Archaeology, 2021)

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This material was produced with assistance from the Emergency Supplemental Historic Preservation Fund, administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior.