BA Ancient History and Archaeology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Climate change and societal response: Lessons from the past

Course unit fact file
Unit code SALC11011
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humankind today and most of the public discourse on this topic focuses on the future. And yet, all of our experience with the natural world lies in the past. By drawing on the contributions of archaeology, geography and history, this course offers unique long-term and culturally-specific perspectives on human–climate interaction. These disciplines provide baselines for evaluating how past human populations responded to rapid climate change, thereby providing deep historical insights that assist our understanding of how people may react to our contemporary climate issues, and discuss strategies that could be employed in the present day to increase human resilience and adaptation to these changes.

This course examines human–climate change interaction in the archaeological record from the Pleistocene into the historic present. Case studies will be intentionally wide-ranging to take stock of the great diversity of environmental, social and economic conditions under which rapid climate change occurred in the past, thus offering a wide range of contextual studies to evaluate questions of sustainability and social resilience. Alongside specific case studies, this module introduces students to the principles of environmental change and the techniques used to reconstruct past environments, including how to deal with differing chronological timescales and the resolutions at which different disciplines function. Finally, the module will also take stock of how current climate change puts archaeological/historical remains and landscapes at risk and what can be done to mediate its impact and protect and manage our heritage for generations to come.  


  • Understand the principles and underlying drivers of climate and environmental change over the course of the Quaternary.
  • Be familiar with the techniques we use to reconstruct past climate, and appreciate the implication of diverging chronological resolutions and timescales.
  • Understand how we link rapid climate and environmental change with periods, events and activities of archaeological/historic interest.
  • Gain familiarity with case studies from various regions and chronological periods in how societies responded to rapid climate change.
  • Be cognisant of strategies to help mediate the impact of current climate change on archaeological remains, heritage sites and landscapes.

Knowledge and understanding

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  • Critically discuss advantages and limitations of theories and scientific methods used to investigate past climate change.
  • Evaluate interpretational challenges, including chronology resolution, inherent in a multi-disciplinary research approach to climate change.
  • Critically assess the value of different lines of evidence to understanding human-climate interactions in the past.
  • Show familiarity with a wide range of case studies and critically evaluate how past societies reacted to rapid climate change.
  • Understand the impact of climate change on archaeological remains, heritage sites and landscapes, and be cognisant of a range of mediation strategies.

Intellectual skills

  • Demonstrated an ability to evaluate and reflect upon different theoretical approaches and evidence types.
  • Acquired experience in summarizing one’s intellectual position.
  • Acquired experience in marshalling the evidence to support one’s own argument.

Practical skills

  • Acquired experience in presenting and reflecting upon evidence orally in a group context.
  • Demonstrated an ability to utilize Blackboard.
  • Demonstrate an ability to research a topic using library and internet resources.
  • Developed an awareness of appropriate academic conventions for presentation of written arguments.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Gained practice in managing time and working to deadlines.
  • Acquired experience in contributing to group discussions.
  • Demonstrated an ability to communicate in written work.
  • Developed experience in a critical use of the Internet to retrieve information.

Employability skills

Oral communication
Personal Capabilities: writing and oral presentation skills, group working, independent learning.
Generic Competencies: communicating in the seminar context; identifying the key aspects of arguments; use of library and online resources; writing and note taking.
Written communication
Cognitive Skills: the critical evaluation of scholarly materials; summarising a body of literature; structuring and sustaining arguments vocally and in written form.
Practical and Professional Skills: this course unit provides an outline understanding of the ancient world by drawing on the contribution of many different disciplines. You gain a foundational knowledge of several case studies as well as the theoretical and philosophical frameworks utilised by different disciplines.

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative Weighting within unit (if summative)

Wiki entry of a scientific technique or site

Summative 30%

Draft of SWOT analysis

Formative n/a

SWOT analysis of an endangered structure, site or landscape

Summative 70%


Resit Assessment

Assessment task

Essay with reflection


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

The seminars are a place for directed discussion and thus provide verbal formative feedback on the development and presentation of argument and interpretation.


Detailed formative written feedback, alongside the summative mark, is provided for each submitted assignment.

Formative & summative


Recommended reading

Burke, A., et al. 2021. The archaeology of climate change: The case for cultural diversity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118, e2108537118.

French, C.A.I. 2003. Geoarchaeology in action: studies in soil micromorphology and landscape evolution. Routledge: London.

Haldon, J., M. Eisenberg, L. Mordechai, A. Izdebski, and S. White. 2020. Lessons from the Past, Policies for the Future: Resilience and Sustainability in Past Crises. Journal of Environment Systems and Decisions 40:287–97.

Lamb, H.H., 2003. Climate: past, present and future. Routledge: London.

Roberts, N. (2013) The Holocene: an environmental history. Wiley: Hoboken.

Rockman, M. and Hritz, C. 2020. Expanding use of archaeology in climate change response by changing its social environment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117, 8295-8302.

Turney, C., Canti, M., Branch, N. 2005. Environmental archaeology: Theoretical and practical approaches. Routledge: London.

Yoffee, N., ed. 2019. The Evolution of Fragility: Setting the Terms. McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research: Cambridge.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Stuart Campbell Unit coordinator
Ina Berg Unit coordinator

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