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Climate Change Stealing Our History: Archaeological Treasures Disappearing Forever

The problem is that it's not just mummies but all our organic and inorganic archaeological treasures. Yes, you heard it right.

We humans are not the only one affected by climate change, our historical treasures too

“Kevin: I'm only scared of real things like serial killers and kidnappers. Not things that don't exist like ghosts or mummies.

Oscar: Mummies are real. There are mummies at museums.

Kevin: Yeah [nervously]...prank

Robert: It's true. They've been preserved for thousands of years. They're all over.”

If you are a fan of the sitcom mockumentary series ‘The Office’, you might be familiar with the above monologue by beloved Kevin. While we have established that mummies exist all over the world and their biggest fear is not Brendan Fraser from the iconic movie ‘The Mummy’ but climate change, will you be surprised like Kevin or in shock?

The problem is that it's not just mummies but all our organic and inorganic archaeological treasures. Yes, you heard it right. We, humans, are not the only ones affected by climate change, our historical treasures are too. Recent Google Earth images of Gerdkouh Castle (see this) revealed that over the years sand dunes have basically captured the then magnificent castle of Nizari garrison in Persia. A castle that resisted the mighty Mongol horde has been defeated not by armies and civil wars in Iran over the years but by Climate Change as per Bijan Rouhani of Oxford University.

Just a few years back, archaeologists were happy that due to climate change, there were more droughts, faster melting of snow, and receding water lines resulting in newer discoveries and wonders. From China to Syria to Iraq to even the old Valhalla. Multiple discoveries such as reindeer hunting arrowheads, Lendbreen ice patch, Otzi the iceman, Yorkshire village, and even the entire Mitani Empire city.

Things have taken a dramatic turn as was predicted by several scientists and archaeologists over the last decade. Increasing heat has been found to be the major cause behind the issue of disappearing archaeological monuments. Gerdkouh castle was not the only one that had this but even the entire ancient city of Zahedan Kohneh fell into the same destiny. If we look from the satellite, the heavy layer of sand is so thick that you can even make out if something even existed there ever, certainly not something that was once the largest city of Iran.

Even the beloved Nubian Pyramids of Sudan are threatened by extinction and decay. The great pyramids might still be safe overlooking the Nile but on the same coast of the Nile, pyramids such as El Kurru and Merroe can soon disappear if we believe sand movement researcher Abdalla Mahmoud of Nottingham University. The problem is not limited to just archaeological monuments in the desert but also on coasts. Coasts around the world have been huge hotspots for a lot of archaeological treasures from sunken ships to old ports and menacing fortresses. A Vrije University, Amsterdam paper revealed that 60% of the African continent’s sites are at risk of instant damage by climate change-induced events by 20250.

Apart from inorganic sites of archaeological importance, another important class of treasure trove is organic specimens or paleo samples. Paleo-archaeologists are the one who specializes in learning the natural history of earth through various techniques including carbon dating like geologists but most popularly with the help of fossils. Now bear in mind it takes a huge amount of time and effort to find new fossils and study them. And it has not been easy considering the ever-rising sea levels, melting permafrost, and diminishing vegetation.

Niklas Hausmann and his team at York University found out that over 3000 prehistoric shell sites on the coast of the Red Sea are being washed away due to increasing sea levels. Another study published in an antiquity journal talks about the Yana site where ivory articles were found in pre-Russian sites is now at the cusp of getting washed away due to erosion. The situation is so grave that one researcher estimates that a staggering 70% of all organic content sites will be completely lost by 2100. This is not just limited to prehistoric sites but even the newer monuments such as the Qutub Minar Taj Mahal, and Washington Monument will be flooded or eroded due to the ever-increasing ill effects of climate change


Skara Brae was a settlement built to accommodate the citizens of Orkney on the coast of Scotland. The site was completely occupied in 31800 BCE. The importance of the site can be measured by the fact that it's older than Stonehenge & Pyramids Of Giza. It is also known as Scottish Pompei as it has been preserved beautifully like Pompei minus the volcanic death storm. Scientists now fear that after 5200 years old, the sites which stood tall against the time, hordes, weather, and ocean will now simply wash over the sea like Atlantis because of increased erosion activities on the coast. The erosion has been directly linked to increasing sea temperature and anthropogenic climate change. A similar fate awaits the city of Chan Chan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Chemu Empire in Peru. The paintings have been preserved over centuries and show the daily lives of Chimu city citizens including their reliance on seafood. The sea on the other hand has been severely affected by climate change and has drastically changed the cycles of El Nino and La Nina, which resulted in higher and more frequent rainfall. The rainfall is basically reducing the city to mud


The plight of sites across the world has not just worried archaeologists about losing these treasures to time but also an abrupt stop to finding more secrets to human history. The sites do not just represent monuments and artifacts but also the key to humanity’s future, the stories, and its secrets. The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that we as humans and researchers have completely lost agency. Archaeologists have been working on preserving the sites regularly by making repairs or being involved in anti-erosion activities. But the severity of the issue is such that the only true way out of this situation is to directly fight against climate change. Reduction of GHG (Greenhouse Gas Emissions), monitoring and repairing of UNESCO Sites & identification of water-stressed areas.

Why should Indian Corporations Care?

The firms operating in India are under the foundation to spend at least 2% of their average net profit over the last three years as CSR Expenditures. The rule is binding via The Companies act, 2013; Section 135. It is interesting to know that out of eleven approved areas under CSR Act is “Protection of national heritage, art and culture including restoration of buildings and sites of historical importance”. The cost has to be already incurred so why not use the money to fight two things at once: the protection of archaeological artifacts and sites and fighting climate change while fulfilling your CSR responsibilities? As mentioned in our last story “How young filmmakers are bringing Climate Change discussion to mainstream”, topics like this not just create an impact on the world but also build the company's public image. If you haven't checked out our precious story, feel free to check out.


Authored by Shreeya Shukla, founder of ESG CrisplyPut and a sustainability expert & Rahul K, doctoral scholar at Indian Institute of Management, Ranchi.

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