Editorial: Long-Term Perspectives on Circumpolar Social-Ecological Systems

Sean P. A. Desjardins*, Peter D. Jordan, T. Max Friesen , Mary-Louise Timmermans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialAcademic

Abstract

Modern climate change is having profound environmental impacts at the world's higher latitudes, leading to the disappearance of sea ice, the melting of permafrost and the northward shift of major biogeographic zones. These changing conditions have consequences for contemporary Arctic Indigenous peoples and their traditional lifeways. As planning and mitigation efforts intensify, there is renewed interest in looking back through time to understand how past Arctic societies were able to maintain a long-term—and often highly-resilient —presence in these ever-changing ecosystems. Of particular interest is how past groups coped with earlier changes in climate, both shorter-term “shocks” as well as longer-term up- and downturns in temperatures.

A number of recent publications have highlighted the abundance of high-resolution and human-scale data that archaeology is uniquely positioned to contribute to this discussion (Riede, 2014; Jackson et al., 2018; Fitzhugh et al., 2018). So far, however, the practical integration of such long-term “paleo-” perspectives on specific future-orientated planning and management efforts has been limited. For example, the Arctic Council's Arctic Resilience Report (2016)—an in-depth comparative analysis of fragility and resilience in numerous local circumpolar social-ecological systems—acknowledges the importance of “deep history”, and the role of flexibility and traditional knowledge, while the chronological coverage of all 25 local case-studies remains firmly rooted in the present and very recent historical past.

The overarching aim of this Special Issue is to explore the gap in knowledge between archaeological understandings of long-term Arctic adaptations and the practical application of these insights to the future-oriented challenges of sustainability and cultural survival. The first objective is to illustrate the wealth and diversity of archaeological research that is currently taking place in both the northern and southern polar regions. The issue showcases a selection of case-studies focusing on long-term human-environment interactions, integrating archaeological, climatic and paleoecological datasets. A wide range of insights emerge in terms of cultural responses to specific climatic fluctuations, but also in terms of longer-term cultural trajectories, including major shifts in settlement, subsistence, demography and interaction networks, all of which can be understood in terms of fragility and resilience in particular social-ecological systems. Another objective of the volume is to stimulate reflection and debate about what these archaeological datasets—and the long-term insights that emerge—can contribute to future planning and mitigation efforts.

Seventeen papers in this issue “look back”, examining human-environment interactions in three regions: Arctic Eurasia; Arctic North America and Greenland; and Sub-Antarctic South America. Conversely, three papers “look ahead”, exploring emerging challenges and future implications. We conclude this editorial with a series of recommendations – or “action points” – that are addressed to the wider interdisciplinary research community.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-4
Number of pages4
JournalQuaternary International
Volume549
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30-May-2020

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