Local and Indigenous management of climate change risks to archaeological sites

Bethune Carmichael, Greg Wilson, Ivan Namarnyilk, Sean Nadji, Sally Brockwell, Bob Webb, Fred Hunter, Deanne Bird

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Hundreds of thousands of significant archaeological and cultural heritage sites (cultural sites) along the coasts of every continent are threatened by sea level rise, and many will be destroyed. This wealth of artefacts and monuments testifies to human history, cosmology and identity. While cultural sites are especially important to local and Indigenous communities, a stall in coordinated global action means adaptation at a local scale is often unsupported. In response, this paper produces a practical climate change risk analysis methodology designed for independent, community-scale management of cultural sites. It builds on existing methods that prioritise sites most at risk from climate impacts, proposing a field survey that integrates an assessment of the relative cultural value of sites with assessment of exposure and sensitivity to climate impacts. The field survey also stands as a monitoring program and complements an assessment of organisational adaptive capacity. The preliminary field survey was tested by Indigenous land managers in remote northern Australia at midden and rock art sites threatened by sea level rise, extreme flood events and a range of non-climactic hazards. A participatory action research methodology—incorporating planning workshops, semi-structured interviews and participant observations—gave rise to significant modifications to the preliminary field survey as well as management prioritisation of 120 sites. The field survey is anticipated to have global application, particularly among marginalised and remote Indigenous communities. Well-planned and informed participation, with community control, monitoring and well-informed actions, will contribute significantly to coordinated global and regional adaptation strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-255
Number of pages25
JournalMitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes


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