In recent years there’s been increasing numbers of archaeological research projects that reference climate change as part of what they want to study. This is at the same time wise and a little silly. It’s wise because science should serve the concerns of society, and because if you want research funding it’s a good idea to latch onto themes that people outside of your narrow speciality care about. But it’s also a little silly because it’s such transparent pandering to the funding bodies. I was taught about the threat of the greenhouse effect as a kid back in the 80s, and no archaeologist cared about climate back then. All in all, though, I think this climate orientation in recent archaeology is largely innocuous. We’re all under-funded and we follow the money.
But the other day I saw something that gave me pause. I forget the details, but this was not an announcement of a future project that sought funding. It was a press release regarding an archaeological project’s findings. (Was it in Latin America?) And hey presto – these colleagues of mine have found reason to believe that ancient climate change was the cause of changes in the archaeological record they’ve observed. This is deeply scary to me. If archaeologists’ interpretations of ancient societies vary with whatever occupies our interest today, then I think we should pack it in as a scientific discipline and just call ourselves miners of ancient art for museums.
If you come across an archaeological interpretation with newswire relevance, Dear Reader, my advice is to disregard it as a scientific mayfly.
Update 23 January: Robert Muckle comments on this blog entry at Anthro News.