(HYBRID IN-PERSON / ONLINE) Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in the Coastal Zone

Session Hosting Format: 
in-person session
Friday, May 5, 2023 - 8:00am to 12:00pm
Muin Room (Hybrid)
  • Rebecca Dunham, Senior Archaeologist, Atlantic Region, IACH, Parks Canada
Contact Email: 
Session Description (300 word max): 

Many coastal areas are subject to climate change impacts such as increased frequency and intensity of storms, rising water levels, and warming conditions (loss of sea ice dampening effect, softer banks during winter months). Coastal lands are also affected by efforts to mitigate climate change impacts such as the installation of hard barriers that deflect energy or starve downstream sediment flow.

Archaeological sites are often positioned near waterways, as these were the highways of yesteryear, and many communities and organizations are trying to figure out what to do about threatened cultural sites in the coastal zone while there is still time – while there is still a chance to rescue or preserve elements of their heritage.

As archaeologists, we work with large organizations and community groups alike. We are in the field facing the problems, seeing the damage, the distressed communities, and the urgency of the situation. We are also at the boardroom meetings discussing costs, relative values, risk analyses, and business priorities. We conduct impact assessments and offer mitigation solutions, monitor shoreline changes, map and document impacts and loss, record and collect dislodged artifacts, and help communities deal with impacts as they occur. Archaeologists are heavily involved in this problem yet we are not well versed in solutions.

How can we better equip ourselves to respond to these situations? – by being informed and aware of the options available, being aware of what works and doesn’t work in given areas, and by sharing this knowledge with others.

This session will include papers that address three themes:

  1. Acquiring knowledge and finding direction (informed decision-making) – research, triage, prioritization, policy guidance, communication.
  2. Action – real-world experiences, the nuts & bolts of how to carry out protective measures, understanding site-specific variables
  3. Lessons learned, guidance, knowledge sharing.
08:00 AM: Unpacking Climate Change at a Remote Coastal Site: Working Together to Develop Strategies in an Environment of Rapid Transformation
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Catherine Cottreau-Robins - Nova Scotia Museum

For many decades archaeologists have been recording the impacts of storm events, coastal erosion, flooding and sea level rise to archaeological sites in Nova Scotia. In fact, recent studies have determined that for some parts of the province, over 80 percent of the archaeological sites recorded in the 1970s and 1980s are under severe threat or their physical integrity collapsed and dispersed (COASTAL 2021). With the reality of cumulative climate threats in mind, long-term research at a volatile, multi-component coastal site in southwest Nova Scotia has stimulated a community-driven interest in climate threats to heritage resources and the development of opportunities for participation in protection and knowledge-building. Equal to the reality of increased climate concerns, is the requirement for community and stakeholder input and direction when it comes to conserving sites and their cultural stories and belongings.

08:20 AM: Rising tides and eroding permafrost on Yukon’s North Coast
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Holly Smith - Government of Yukon
  • Christian  Thomas - Government of Yukon

An eroding northern coastline has threatened heritage sites for decades. With longer sea ice free summers and rising water levels the risk to heritage resources at Qikiqtaruk (Herschel Island) have been escalating but have also been closely monitored. In 2019, Natural Resources Canada released a stark assessment of impacts to coastal heritage sites suggesting that 25 % of all documented coastal heritage sites had been destroyed or impacted by erosion and that 60 % would be gone by 2100 AD. Many of these sites have not been subject to active management. In the summer of 2019 Yukon began the process data gathering and community engagement in the issue of coastal site management. In this talk we will present an update on developments thus far.

08:40 AM: Living Landscapes of SGang Gwaay: Project Update 2023
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Jenny Cohen (co-presenter) - Parks Canada
  • Mary Hart (co-presenter) - Gwaii Haanas

SGang Gwaay is a Haida heritage village site co-managed by the Council of Haida Nation and Parks Canada. Located in southern Haida Gwaii, on the west coast of BC, it is a designated National Historic Site and World UNESCO heritage site. We touch on Haida perspectives in co-management and highlight key archaeological findings for the project. The Living Landscapes is a collaborative multi-year, eco-cultural restoration and research project developed in response to a hurricane force storm which blew down over 100 trees at the village site, exposing vulnerable cultural features and material. Through a cultural landscape perspective, the project aims to highlight connections between 18th-19th century Haida household archaeology, mid-Holocene raised beach sites, and local lithic procurement and plant use. The project also aims to support Haida cultural and ecological resilience in the face of ongoing climate change impacts. Haida leadership is through the Archipelago Management Board, and project partnerships include the Haida Gwaii Watchmen Program and Haida Gwaii Museum.

09:00 AM: Early Agriculturalists at the East Coast of Canada: elusive traces of extinct “swidden landscapes”
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Elena Ponomarenko - University of Ottawa
  • Ekaterina Ershova - Ecosystem Archaeology Services
  • Mikhail  Blinnikov - St. Cloud State University

During soil surveys of the PEI NP, Kouchibouguac NP, and Nova Scotia coast, we encountered buried soils that differ drastically from the forest soils of the area but match a description of anthropogenic swidden horizons. While the appearance of the swidden horizons was similar in various sites, their radiocarbon age varied from 6th cent CE to 19th cent CE. Cereals’ pollen and phytoliths were found in the earliest sites, but it is not clear whether domesticated or wild cereals were growing there. In the swiddens dated by the 11th to 14th centuries, Zea pollen and diagnostic phytoliths of Zea were found, attesting for in situ cultivation of maize. Pollen of European cereals and weeds were found in the sites dated by 16th -19th centuries. At the time of the land clearance, the sites were covered either by a young-growth hardwood forest or shrubs; the abandoned swiddens were regrown by coniferous thickets or Ericaceae shrubs forming “heathlands”. We don’t know what cultural groups could have practiced slash-and-burn agriculture in the Maritimes, but regardless of their origin they selected essentially the same soil landscapes that are now at risk of being erased by erosion.

09:20 AM: The Time is Nigh: Responding to Archaeological Resources at Risk in the Coastal Zone
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Rebecca Dunham - Parks Canada
  • Heather MacLeod-Leslie - Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiations Office

A splay of artifacts and collapsed structural features strewn across a beach is never a pleasant sight yet it is an increasingly all-too-familiar experience in the coastal zone. Slow and incremental sea level rise in tandem with powerful storm erosion and flooding events are chewing away at cultural sites of all scales and forms, erasing evidence of our past and destroying precious and culturally-sensitive places. Climate change is hastening these effects in many coastal areas and we have reached a tipping point. Whether land-owner, manager, governing body, and/or community member, we must decide how to respond to heritage loss in the coastal zone. The time is nigh.

Unfortunately, the decision-making process can be complex and foreign, involving debate about appropriate, fair, affordable, and practical, long term mitigation options. Short term protection options provide breathing space and ‘buy time’ to allow these discussions to unfold, for funds to be sought, and for knowledge to be gathered and shared. 

This paper will present a range of short-term mitigation solutions that have been employed at eroding archaeological sites in Nova Scotia. Each endeavour required creativity, teamwork, speed, and perseverance; and each offered many lessons that will help us adapt to whatever comes next.  The intention of this paper is to arm you for the battle we all face, racing against time, tide, and tight budgets.