CAA 2022 Statement on Climate Change and Archaeology

This Statement was officially approved and adopted by the CAA Board of Directors on June 10, 2022. It is to be cited as “CAA 2022 Statement on Climate Change and Archaeology." The CAA Climate Change Committee prepared the draft of this statement, with input from the Board of Trustees. Committee members include Matthew Betts (Chair), Tekla Anne Cunningham, Scott Neilsen, Michael O’Rourke, and Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown.


The land which is now Canada is in the grip of a heritage crisis. Climate change and sea-level rise are destroying archaeological sites at an alarming scale and rate. Thousands of years of archaeological heritage, the majority of which is Indigenous, have already been lost, and there is no coordinated program to address the issue. The future of the past is at extreme risk, and we must act now.


In 2019, the federal government identified that Canada’s climate is rapidly changing1. Principal amongst the effects of climate change is human-mediated warming, which has increased in Canada at a rate approximately double that experienced globally. This warming trend has placed cultural heritage at risk due to a range of related processes, including sea-level rise and coastal flooding, increased storm severity and precipitation, storm surges, wildfires, soil erosion, melting glaciers, permafrost thawing, and vegetation expansion.

The impact of these extreme climate effects on archaeological deposits is irreversible. Flooding and soil erosion denude and destroy evidence of past human activity, washing away stratigraphy, artifacts, and features. Melting ice and permafrost results in the rapid decay of preserved organic materials, while permafrost thaw-slumps can destroy entire archaeological sites. Wildfires are burning away vegetation, leading to soil erosion, exposure, and destruction of archaeological material.

Climate processes have been impacting material heritage for millennia, and the increased pace of climate change in recent decades has intensified the rate of destruction. The impact of these forces is global in scope, yet Canada possesses the world’s longest coastline and largest freshwater ecosystem, meaning that we sit at the apex of this heritage crisis. Current data suggests the destruction of archaeological heritage is already substantial across all regions of the country, representing thousands of years of lost history from all facets of the Canadian past. Unfortunately, the true scope of the problem is unknown, as significant portions of the country have not been surveyed for archaeological deposits.

The Canadian Archaeological Association (CAA) recognizes the impact of climate change on archaeological heritage as one of the defining challenges of our discipline. We assert that we must take immediate action to contend with these challenges and encourage our members and the broader archaeological community to actively address climate-based impacts. This will require the discipline’s transformation as projects shift to further integrate stewardship and conservation.

These efforts must prioritize the needs and concerns of communities and nations with rights and interests in their cultural heritage, and who should rightfully lead conservation efforts. 

It is important to note that, historically, federal and provincial governments have funded major archaeological initiatives to examine and manage threats to cultural heritage, including those posed by climate change. While we acknowledge the efforts by past and present communities and archaeologists to address the adverse impacts of climate change in their jurisdictions, the intensifying climate crisis will require a coordinated effort and renewed funding. 

The CAA further asserts that the damage or outright destruction of archaeological heritage and places of cultural importance has broad ranging social implications for communities who identify with and draw meaning from them. Indeed, such impacts often disproportionately impact Indigenous Peoples, whose histories are already marginalized, under-explored, and unwritten, and whose ability to establish rights is often tied to demonstrating evidence of long-term and recurring use of land and resources.

If we accept that the value of threatened archaeological heritage can only be realized through engagement with vested communities, then any form of effective climate change preparedness will require that archaeologists prioritize community-based and community-driven aspects of our discipline. Decisions regarding how best to manage / steward these material remains of the past must be made with communities as leaders in the decision-making process.

The CAA recognizes the immediate and ongoing threat caused by the climate crisis on archaeological resources and has identified five “Calls to Action” for its membership and the archaeological community at large:

  1. Archaeologists should act now. In collaboration with impacted communities, they should rapidly become stewards of threatened archaeological resources in a manner which is both socially relevant and culturally appropriate. Discipline-wide, and barring community wishes to the contrary, we must shift the focus of archaeological inquiry and activity towards preservation of threatened archaeological heritage.
  2. Archaeologists should work collaboratively. Community leadership and co-management should be incorporated into the stewardship of threatened archaeological sites so that descendant communities make decisions about preserving their histories.
  3. Archaeologists should adopt new methods. Archaeologists should create a suite of best practices for affected heritage resources aimed at the creation of a holistic and durable record of the information these sites and deposits contain. These methodologies should be incorporated into archaeological training programs at all levels.
  4. Archaeologists should gather more data. Archaeological site managers should seek a greater understanding of impacts on sites and deposits to mitigate the future effects of climate change. Exploration of unsurveyed or under-surveyed waterways, coastlines, and interior terrain should be undertaken to assess and model threatened landscapes.
  5. Archaeologists should be advocates for threatened archaeological heritage. Archaeologists should actively work with the public to raise awareness that material remains of the past are endangered; and should actively seek to influence public policy makers to prioritize and support archaeological efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

1   Bush, E. and Lemmen, D.S., editors (2019): Canada’s Changing Climate Report; Government of Canada, Ottawa, ON. 444 p.