Human Agency, Climate Change, and Culture: An Archaeological Perspective

In 1914, the geologist and explorer J. W. Gregory inquired if the earth was drying up.

He surveyed various sources of data from Scandinavia to China and concluded that there was, in general, no evidence of climate change in historical times.

Furthermore, Gregory noted that there was a great deal of controversy concerning paleoclimatic interpretations and the probable causes of climate change.

Today, our knowledge of climate change in historical times has improved immensely (Mayewski et al. 2004; Shulmeister et al. 2006), yet we are still not clear about the magnitude, scale, timing and frequency of climatic changes, and are unable to provide conclusive evidence of the causes of certain paleoclimatic events (for news on current research on past global changes see the PAGES project [Past Global Changes]).

We are also far from certain of the probable impact of climate change on the trajectory of human history.

H. H. Lamb (1982), in his seminal volume ClimateHistory and the Modern World, reviews in detail both the lack of sufficient paleoclimatological data and, more importantly, the limitations of our methodologies and our interpretative strategies.


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