Lesson from the past for surviving climate change

May 27, 2009

Research led by the University of Leicester suggests people today and in future generations should look to the past in order to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

The dangers of , crop failures and extreme weather were all faced by our ancestors who learnt to adapt and survive in the face of .

Dr Jago Cooper, of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, has been studying the archaeology of climate change in the Caribbean as part of a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship.

The international study involves researchers from Britain, Cuba and Canada. Dr Cooper said: "Populations in the Caribbean, from 5000 BC to AD 1492, successfully lived through a 5m rise in relative sea levels, marked variation in annual rainfall and periodic intensification of .

"This research examines the archaeological lessons that can inform current responses to the impacts of climate change in the Caribbean. I have examined the relationship between long and short-term effects of climate change and past human engagement with the geographical, ecological and meteorological consequences."

"A key focus of the research has been to investigate past mitigation of the impacts of climate change through the analysis of changes in settlement structures, food procurement strategies and household architecture."

The study is part of a long term project, begun in 1997, that includes a wide-ranging study of archaeological and paleoenvironmental data. Key to the research has been to understand how the past can inform the future.

Said Dr Cooper: "We have acquired archaeological information that has then been closely correlated in space and time with the long and short-term impacts of climate change. It has then been possible to evaluate the relative advantages and disadvantages of past cultural practices in the face of and establish lessons that will contribute to contemporary mitigation strategies. "

Following the end of the last Ice Age, the people of the Caribbean have had to cope with a relative sea level rise of 5m over 5,000 years. Hurricanes led to storm surges that reached inland more than ever. Groundwater became contaminated with salt and the land was waterlogged.

But the researchers found that far from abandoning life by the coast and moving further inland, people continued to live by the shore- and even built houses on stilts over a lagoon.

An ancient site in Cuba, Los Buchillones, that is currently out to sea "represents a way of living that capitalises on hundreds or even thousands of years of experience."

Dr Cooper warns that modern settlements are more at risk of flooding because they are constructed in more vulnerable places. In fact, indigenous settlement locations over water could make homes less at risk of flooding as floodwater could flow beneath the homes and inland rather than pour into the houses.

This ongoing research has looked at past mitigation strategies, assessed how pre-Colombian settlements were located close to cave complexes that acted as refuges during times of past hurricanes, how the architecture of homes were constructed from local resources allowing people to rebuild them easily upon their return. It also reveals how local populations diversified their food production to mitigate against resource scarcity.

Source: University of Leicester (news : web)

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User comments : 6

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QubitTamer
3 / 5 (4) May 27, 2009
Stunned i am, just stunned. What kind of mind-clearing substance are they putting in the water supply of Leicester? People can actually survive natural climate change?

How is this possible? Was Al Gore around thousands of years ago to save them somehow? How is it that they didn't just drown in place or starve as the 5M sea level change rolled in like a Tsunami or their crops flashed into flames then turned to desert from the sudden temperature spike...

How how how! ?
Birger
5 / 5 (2) May 27, 2009
Indians in the Amazonas and in Mato Grosso built extensive settlements in areas that are flooded for part of the year. They died off when Europeans brought alien diseases to the Americas, making the inner continents sparsely populated. The large numbers of these occasionally soaked settlements have only recently become recognized.
mikiwud
4.5 / 5 (2) May 28, 2009
As I have said before, Man has a problem with rise in sea level because he built on land that was vunerable to the rise that was happening since the end of the last ice age. In the past this was not understood, but now we still build on this land, and fault lines, and alongside volcanoes and then complain when something goes wrong. Al Gore has even bought a waterfront property in Florida. Stupidity?
ricarguy
1 / 5 (1) May 28, 2009
Did they actually have the gall to claim that
"a 5m rise in relative sea levels, marked variation in annual rainfall and periodic intensification of hurricane activity" actually took place BEFORE there could have been man-made global warming? They should all be hung from the highest UN flag pole as eco-foe heretics!
AlexJ
4 / 5 (1) May 30, 2009
It's true that our ancestors learned to adapt and survive in the face of climate change. Well, either that or failed as a society, depending on where you look. But lest we think adaptation will occur with little cost and disruption to life as we know it, consider that the example given in that article was of REGIONAL climate change affecting a relatively small population. Today, we're poised to accelerate changes beyond anything experienced by civilization, and on a global-scale involving an interconnected world of billions of people. So while this research may offer some insight into adaptation techniques, I'm not sure we can make a direct comparison to how nations today will rebuild infrastructure, secure reliable perennial water supplies, modify agriculture etc., on a massive scale. Actually starting to address the root of the issue rather than risking future economic health and quality of life still looks like a more responsible approach.
Velanarris
not rated yet Jun 02, 2009
consider that the example given in that article was of REGIONAL climate change affecting a relatively small population.
The scope of changes reflected in that example were an exact replica of the reported changes facing us today.

I haven't seen one global change that was anything other than regional.

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