Since 2004, University of Buffalo anthropologist Ezra Zubrow has worked with teams of scientists at prehistoric sites in the Arctic regions of St. James Bay, Quebec, northern Finland and Kamchatka to understand how humans living 4,000 to 6,000 years ago reacted to climate changes.
“The circumpolar north is widely seen as an observatory for changing relations between human societies and their environment,” Zubrow explains, “and analysis of data gathered from all phases of the study eventually will enable more effective collaboration between today’s social, natural and medical sciences as they begin to devise adequate responses to the global warming the world faces today.”
This study, which will collect a vast array of archaeological and paleoenvironmental data, began with the Social Change and the Environment in Nordic Prehistory Project (SCENOP), a major international research study by scientists from the U.S., Canada and Europe of prehistoric sites in Northern Quebec and Finland.Phase III, underway now, is the International Circumpolar Archaeological Project (ICAP), headed by Zubrow, it focuses on a third sub-arctic region: Siberia’s remote Kamchatka peninsula, a rough and extremely volcanic wilderness region the size of California.
“With forecasts of sea-level rises and changing weather patterns, people today have been forewarned about some likely ramifications of climate change,” Zubrow says, “but those living thousands of years ago, during the Holocene climatic optimum, could not have known what lay ahead of them and how their land — and lives — would be changing.
“This was a slower change,” he says, “about one-third the rate we face today. In the Holocene period, it took a thousand years for the earth to warm as much as it has over the past 300 years — roughly the time spanned since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
“As in other phases of the study,” Zubrow says, “our goal in Kamchatka is to clarify ancient regional chronologies and understand the ways prehistoric humans adapted to significant environmental changes, including warming, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and the seismic uplift of marine terraces that impacted the environment during the period in question.”
He points out that, despite our more sophisticated prediction technology, and technologies overall, many of the world’s people have residences and lifestyles that are just as vulnerable to climatic shift as those of our prehistoric ancestors. They, too, live along estuaries and coastlines subject to marked alteration as oceans rise.
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