Climate Change

Archaeology Institute Director to deliver 2021 Dalrymple Lectures during COP26 conference

Professor Jane Downes will be in Glasgow next month to deliver the 2021 prestigious Dalrymple Lectures. The lectures are taking place during COP26 and explore the role of archaeology and heritage in addressing the central concerns of this global meeting.
Professor Jane Downes alongside moai on Rapa Nui. (Donald Kirkpatrick)

Professor Jane Downes will be in Glasgow next month to deliver the 2021 prestigious Dalrymple Lectures.

The director of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and an expert on climate change and heritage, Professor Downes is the latest in a long line of distinguished figures in 20th and 21st century archaeology to have delivered the lecture series, which is administered by a committee of curators drawn from the University of Glasgow and Glasgow Archaeological Society.

The 2021 lectures – entitled Archaeology, Climate Change and Sustainability: Island Perspectives – will be delivered during the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow and explore the role of archaeology and heritage in addressing the central concerns of this global meeting.

From Monday, November 8, until Thursday, November 11, Professor Downes’ four evening lectures will consider how island archaeology – from Rapa Nui in the Pacific to Orkney – contributes to our understanding of sustainability and living with climate change now and in the future.

The lectures – which are also being live-streamed online – will begin at 6.30pm, Monday-Wednesday and from 7.30pm on Thursday evening. Each will be followed by a short Q&A session.


Lecture 1: Worlds apart: Islands’ sustainability stories
Monday, November 8, 2021, 6.30pm-8pm

The moai statues of Easter Island. Under threat from climate change. Photograph: Jane Downes.
The moai statues of Easter Island. Under threat from climate change. (Jane Downes)

It is assumed that people’s responses in the past to environmental and climate change will have relevance to our present issues. In this lecture the relevance of archaeology and the uses of the past will be examined critically: how can the experiences of communities in the more remote pre-Anthropocene past provide answers to our present-day climate crisis?

Fairly crude and well known “lessons from the past” have been drawn previously from island contexts, and here the effectiveness of and justification for these will be examined. Questions around conceptions of past sustainability, how we perceive resilience and adaptation will be explored, and relational approaches that are culturally and historically specific will be espoused.

Lecture 2: Winds of Change: a study of the dialectic between cultural and environmental change Tuesday, November 9, 2021, 6.30pm-8pm

Excavation under way at an eroding Neolithic settlement site at Catasand, Sanday, Orkney. (Vicki Cummings)

This lecture looks at climate change and sustainability in the past, exploring the relationship between environmental and societal and cultural change.

Archaeology and palaeoecology form our understanding of past societies and their relationship to the environment but have not been combined effectively with social theory to explore at a community or “lived” scale the dialectic of environmental and societal change. This lecture examines the particularities of the dialectic between societal and environmental dynamics and change through an analysis of prehistoric island communities.

Lecture 3: Belief in Sustainability: examining the role of ontology and belief systems in sustaining prehistoric communities
Wednesday, November 10, 2021, 6.30pm-8pm

Bronze Age cist burial. Sandwick, Orkney. (Sigurd Towrie)

In this lecture it is suggested that belief systems and ritual activity was equally as important as subsistence strategies and agricultural activities in sustaining and regenerating prehistoric communities.

Examining burial practices, and other overtly ritual or ceremonial contexts, helps understand past ontological understandings of the world and belief systems; it is proposed that ritual efficacy was central to the resilience of communities.

The examination of the centrality of attitudes and values in the past in adaptation to climate change presents new models for how the past can be relevant to behavioural change.

Lecture 4: ‘From encounters to actions’: the transformative potential of archaeology in relation to climate change
Thursday 11 November 2021, 7.30-9pm

Rapa Nui. (Jane Downes)

Here the relevance of archaeology in addressing climate change and sustainable development goals, and the potential role of archaeological heritage in climate action is explored. It is apparent that fundamental shifts in policy and professional practice needed, and a reconsideration of the “value” of archaeological heritage in context of global climate change will be presented.

The impact of climate-change induced coastal erosion on archaeological heritage is the focus of the lecture – an impact that affects small islands disproportionality.

Examples will be used to illustrate how public engagement in archaeology can improve climate literacy, and the potential power of archaeological heritage to promote a sense of urgency and engender climate action.


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