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How climate change is destroying precious evidence of our distant history

How climate change is destroying precious evidence of our distant history

An ancient stone fort with low walls

Not only are they threatening, Biodiversity, Food systemsAnd human healthClimate change is also affecting ancient artifacts. In some UK archaeological sites, unusually heavy rains are eroding layers protective peat to cause damage. Relics preservedThese are the ones below.

Some of the UK’s finest archaeological remains have been found buried in peat, a type of soil that’s naturally high in acidity and low in oxygen. It means it Preserves wood, leather and textiles extremely well, as the microorganisms that would usually cause these materials to break down can’t thrive.

Peat has helped to keep Britain’s ancient environments alive for modern analysis: from Trackways of the Neolithic AgeYou can mark the exact location of our ancestors’ journeys between Somerset settlements and preserved bodies like The Lindow ManIt was found in a Cheshire bog. The peat environment in the burial ground of Lindow Man was dramatically reduced DecayThis means that his hair and beard were still visible after nearly 2,000 years.

Climate change is bringing more hot summers and wetter Winters to the UK, including unprecedentedly hot summers. heavyLocal rainfall. This causes the landscape to change by washing away layers and peat. It also exposes archaeological buildings, items, or human remains.

An ancient stone fort with low walls
Vindolanda, an ancient fort, has a lot of archaeological evidence.

To better understand how fast these changes are taking place – and what their consequences might be for future archaeologists – our colleagues are studying what’s happening at MagnaThe site of an ancient Roman Fort in Northumberland.


Magna is one the most beautiful and well-preserved sites within the UK. It was a strategic army base and would have been in a commanding position at the Battle of Britain. JunctionThree important Roman roads are located between it: the Stanegate and Military Way, and the Maiden Way. Surveys indicate that it was occupied between AD80-85 and the end of Roman Britain in around AD410.

Archaeologists dug boreholes to study the area and inserted devices called “Arcadian” into them. piezometersTo collect data about groundwater levels and temperature. They’re also sending peat samples to a laboratory for chemical and microbiological analysis. This information will enable us to understand how the environment changes and what impact this may have on archaeological decay.

Vindolanda, a Roman fort just a few kilometers east of Magna has yielded some of the most important Roman Britain finds. Here, archaeologists have discovered the first evidence of handwriting by a woman (Claudia Severa writing to invite her friend Sulpicia Lepidina to her upcoming birthday party), the world’s oldest boxing gloves from around AD120, and the largest Roman leather shoe collection ever found – consisting of an astonishing 7,000 items.

Mannequin feet wearing black leather shoes
You can often find preserved items like these Roman black leather sneakers in peat.
Dan Diffendale/Flickr

These remarkable finds are due to the fort’s unique, peat-rich environment, which means that they’re also threatened by climate-driven deterioration. We fear that finds which haven’t yet been discovered may soon be irreversibly damaged due to the effects of climate change.

The point of peat

Peatlands cover about 3% of the world’s land area but are one of its best natural carbon stores, holding twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests.

In England, Northern Ireland, and elsewhere peatlandScotland has 20% peatland coverage, and Scotland makes up 10% to 12% of all land. These landscapes were drained to be used in agriculture, and peat was dried to burn as fuel. This has resulted a huge amount of pollution. CarbonIn the atmosphere.

Across Europe, an estimated 100,000km² of peatland has been LostOver the past 50-years. The majority of what remains is of poor quality. In the UK, only a fifth of UK peatlands can be described as “Near pristine”.

See Also
Burnt trees and ash litter the ground under an orange smoke-filled sky.

A forest viewed from above
Peatland holds huge amounts of carbon.
Cifor/Flickr, CC BY -NC – SA

These ecosystems have been damaged by agriculture, cutting, and drainage. This has also caused damage to the archaeological finds that were buried within them. When peatlands are drained, it slows down or stops the growth of peatlands. This results in oxidised soil which encourages the proliferation of harmful microorganisms.

Archaeologists and policymakers are now working side by side to keep peatlands protected environments, to help capture and preserve both carbon and the evidence of the UK’s history.

And this CommitmentThe global movement to protect peatlands, and the heritage they house, has taken place. Last year, a SessionAt the UN Climate Conference COP26The event was dedicated to highlighting how important it is to protect peatland. This is just the beginning. We must continue our long journey to ensure that the peatlands and their treasures are safe for future generations.

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