Up to 22,500 archaeological sites under threat from climate crisis, experts say

‘Historical time capsule’ at risk at one site, archaeologist says

Zoe Tidman
Tuesday 25 January 2022 14:42
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<p>Experts have warned over how the climate crisis could affect artefacts in peatland areas</p>

Experts have warned over how the climate crisis could affect artefacts in peatland areas

Around 22,500 archaelogical sites in the UK are threatened by the climate crisis, which risks destroying artefacts under the ground, experts have said.

As warmer weater dries out waterlogged soil, this reduces its ability to preserve organic materials such as wood, leather and textiles.

Archaeologists working on a Roman fort along Hadrian’s Wall told the BBC they fear this is already happening at their site.

Experts are concerned over how the climate crisis and its impact on peatlands - which cover 10 per cent of the UK’s surface - could have on artefacts undernearth.

These areas of land have previously been estimated to contain up to 22,500 archaeological sites.

Historic England says their waterlogged conditions result in the “exceptional preservation of natural and cultural organic remains”.

However when the soil is warmer, this increases the rate of organic material decay.

Dr Andrew Birley, the chief archaeologist at Magna along Hadrian’s Wall, told the BBC the land had sunk by around a metre over the past decade, which was evidence of the peatland drying out.

Only a small part of the site had been excavated so far, which left “a historical time capsule” at risk, he said.

Dr Rosie Everett from Northumbria University told the BBC: “The loss of peatlands would have big implications for the understanding of the country’s history but also for our climatic history and our environmental history.”

But as well as being useful terrain for preseving artefacts, peatlands are also considered key to helping the UK tackle the climate crisis due to their ability to store vast amounts of carbon when healthy.

While this type of land covers just three per cent of the world’s surface, it stores one third of its soil carbon.

Last year, a report said it was “vital” to restore peatlands, as well as forests and grasslands, in the UK in a bid to tackle the climate crisis. Dr Christian Dunn, one of the researchers involved, said: “If the UK is serious about cutting its carbon emissions, it must get serious about peatlands.”

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