Climate Change, Archaeology and History

Climate Change, Archaeology and History

Could Modern Civilization Collapse?

A multidisciplinary approach from Archaeology, Climatology and History on Climate Change and the possible Collapse of Civilization

The dynamic of the collapse of civilizations has been widely (and critically) treated by historical and social sciences during the 19th and 20th centuries in several fields like Archaeology, History and Art. It has also been a common theme in popular culture and mass media for decades.

While certainly from different points of view, some of the most common discussions in this subject have been, for example, the “fall” of the Roman Empire, the “destruction” of American civilizations and the “collapse” of ancient Rapanui society, etc.

Climate Change, Archaeology and History

Furthermore, the perspective of collapse has been a regular part of intellectual and artistic discussions in Western civilization: for instance, in the case of the outbreak of the First World War and the statement made by the Polish thinker Rosa Luxemburg: "Socialism or Barbarism". Another example of this was the social, cultural and artistic “paranoia” that surrounded the nuclear arms race between USA and the USSR during the second half of the last century.

So it can be said that the notion of collapse has been an important part of the intellectual and artistic inquiry and self-­representation of Western society until today, playing also a crucial role in shaping some of the most important aspects of contemporary world like science, art, literature and mass media.

This conference will try to figure out how the notion of climate change has increasingly replaced previous "discourses of collapse", for example the danger of nuclear war during the Cold War. This will be achieved by carrying out an evaluation of the "discursive structures" of this concept from several perspectives: Archaeology, Climatology and History.

One of the main goals will be to assess the ways in which the concepts of climate change and collapse have been culturally and historically mixed in recent times, seeking to discuss some of the main features and tensions of the particular notions of civilization that underlie this process.

Conference format
Climate Change, Archaeology and History. Could modern civilization collapse?

The first part of this conference will consist of a discussion on the concept of climate change and collapse from a scientific and archaeological perspective, aiming to answer the question: Could modern civilization collapse?

  • The main goal here will be to evaluate the magnitude, scale and rhythm of current climate change and its main characteristics and tendencies in comparison with previous events of climatic transformations that occurred in the geological past, this taking also into consideration the possible impacts of these processes on human civilization today.

We will also discuss several scenarios of climate change during this century and its possible impacts on human society, this attempting to establish some linkages between the current climatic situation and some cases of climate change in the archaeological past. Potentialities and limits of social and technological resilience of human societies will be discussed.

Relevant cultural questions will be considered such as:

  • What could be the importance of ecological factors on the development of human society during the current century?
  • How can we compare the role of climate change on societies in the archaeological past with current situation?
  • How can we measure the possible impacts of climate change in the future, for example considering archaeological data?

Taking into consideration the possibility of collapse of modern civilization from an archaeological and climatic perspective, our conference will seek to challenge the traditional notions that underlie the concept of civilization in the Capitalist Western World and its supposed properties of socio-­political and techno-­economic superiority and stability.

This will be done by discussing, from a historical and cultural perspective, the possible connection between the current situation and different past scenarios where social crisis led sometimes not only to the destruction of previous social systems, but also to an important reconfiguration of societies and artistic expressions: for example, in the case of the “collapse” of the Roman Empire and its consequent reconfiguration into European Middle Ages Societies.

The objective here will be to understand, from a scientific and archaeological perspective, how climate change and the current ecological crisis could lead in the present to important transformations of the current social system and culture. 

Conference Programme
Selected Conference Abstracts

The conference is sponsored by the UCL Centre for Research on the Dynamics of Civilisation (CREDOC) and the World Archaeology Section at the Institute of Archaeology and is organised by Miguel Antonio Fuentes Muñoz
(PhD Student, Institute of Archaeology) and Francisco Diego Fras (Senior Teaching Fellow Astrophysics Group, UCL).

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