Archaeologists define their role in climate change: Not Just an ecological problem but a social one, new research paper says

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Historical ecology is a fundamentally applied research program, meaning a form of systematic inquiry involving the practical application of science. As a program, it seeks to understand long-term human-environment interactions with a focus on avoiding, mitigating, and reversing adverse ecological effects. Historical ecology is among merging trends that look toward “transdisciplinary research science, which erodes scientific boundaries between the cultural and natural.” 

Traditional and Local Knowledge

The paper states that for “millennia, people have been tied to their landscapes through practical experiences and complex sets of environmental and cultural knowledge. As historical ecology seeks to strengthen itself, it also recognizes the importance of “traditional and Indigenous knowledge bases.” Armstrong has long advocated that this understanding of the land is “valued as dynamic information sources that can transform or complement Western science traditions.”

Working on this paper led Armstrong to realize that despite the widespread use and celebration of traditional, local, and Indigenous knowledge within many communities, “participants felt that their questions should also reflect the global power relations inherent in the work. For example, “the legacies and ongoing effects of Western/European colonialism are [still] of particular significance in considering the complexities of global resource management.”

While scholars like Armstrong and Shoemaker recognize that multi-generational, local knowledge systems are a key foundation of successful land management, she asserts that it is also important to recognize and discuss the marginalization of Indigenous and local communities from management decisions. “Traditional ecological knowledge known as TEK, has long been used as anthropological currency in resource development, and has been criticized as such.”

In November, 1984, a working group on TEK grew out of a symposium hosted by the Commission on Ecology of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), which resulted in several publications and eventual proliferation of the use of the term TEK. 

Armstrong reports that since then, “TEK has been subject to extended debates in sustainable development and international conservation.” Taking TEK out of context, especially when facilitating industrial development, often has negative impacts on both the supposed resources targeted for management, and the communities who are sustained by and rely on those very resources”, Armstrong asserts.

She says that the crises of Climate Change will require “diverse knowledge sets from multiple scientific disciplines to generate innovative solutions.” She elaborates that anthropologists have long struggled with how to conceptualize many types of expertise i.e. “Western, scientific, and Indigenous [knowledge], and have come to recognize the ontologies of “many worlds” — not “one world, many views”.

Global landscapes are made up by individuals and their repeated actions. Armstrong reminds us that our relationships with our natural and built environments as well as with other humans have impacts at varying degrees. “In historical ecology, a relational landscape approach recognizes that humans live in animated and continually emergent landscapes, a recognition which opens the field for … inclusive perspectives”.

The paper concludes that, “Taken together, these series of highlighted research questions strengthens the basis for collaborative and mindful research to better understand the entanglements of people and [their] environment over the course of human history.” A idea we must all take with deep consideration if we want to see Climate Change tackled appropriately in our lives.

Follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyGiesz

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