Want to Be an Archeologist? Learn to Fight Forest Fires

The effects of climate change are not only threatening fragile ecosystems, but could erase our past as well.

Cliff palaces in Mesa Verde National Park. Image by Ken Lund via Flickr

In the hot middle of August 1996, lightning struck a dense piñon-juniper range in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. Then flames licked up, burning northward through Soda Canyon, Little Soda Canyon, and Park Mesa’s research area. The blaze ran its course for seven days. Aircrafts doused the park in water, and fire retardants known as “slurry” were used to snub out flames in the nooks of tough-to-reach craggy topography. Slurry stains are still visible, almost 20 years later, on the impressionable sandstone trail to Spruce Tree House, a collection of cliff dwellings. The national park contains an estimated 600 buildings fashioned into cliff alcoves, and over 5,000 other archeological sites produced by the Ancestral Puebloans. Although the fire quit just before reaching the Visitors’ Center, burning through a small (but important) 4,781 acres in the end, it accelerated a natural process known as spalling. When water evaporates in sandstone, layers of rock flake off. Because of this accelerated spalling, the fire claimed an important victim—the famous Battleship Rock Panel, which was degraded and destroyed. This petroglyph panel portrayed humans and animals, dated roughly back to 1100 AD, was chiseled into the sandstone, and helped archaeologists contextualize life of the Ancestral Puebloans.

The tremendous loss of a pivotal archaeological site as a result of the fire not only substantially changed how park archaeologists treat post-fire sites, but also offered a revealing glimpse of what’s to come as the effects of climate change take hold over the next century. A 2014 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists featured Mesa Verde alongside 29 other national landmarks that are now at risk because of the effects of climate change. Researchers say climate change will make longer and hotter fire seasons, and the resultant fires could potentially devastate archaeological preserves like the one at Mesa Verde. The report notes that over the last 600 years in that region, the last 50 have been the hottest. But it’s not just Mesa Verde, or even the United States. Climate change threatens to erase archaeological sites across the world.

Degrading Chilean Mummy. Image by Vivien Standen via Nature World News

Examples are abundant. In Peru, the intricate designs of the 600-year-old city of Chan Chan are suffering from increased torrential downpours due to overly abundant El Nino patterns. UNESCO described the erosion as “rapid and seemingly unstoppable.” Ironically, many of the same processes that put these sites at risk also turn up new artifacts. By 2007, over half of the acres in Mesa Verde had burned since the fire, revealing 676 new sites previously hidden beneath vegetation. The same ecological complications that are turning frozen Chilean mummies into black ooze are also causing artifacts and bodies to emerge from receding glaciers.

Maria Caffrey, a paleo-climatologist and research associate at the University of Colorado, Boulder was hired by the National Parks Service (NPS) to study how climate change will affect sea-level rises and storm surges along 118 costal park sites. Many archaeological sites occur along coastlines, where humans settled near the water. “As the climate gets warmer, we’re estimating storms will get more intense,” Caffrey tells me.

Uncovered Yup'ik artifacts. Image via Twitter user @adndotcom

Along the northwest coast of Alaska, for example, these bigger storms, along with erosion and rising tides, threaten to sweep away 1,000-year-old artifacts and sites of the first people to live in that area. One site along the Bering Sea contains a Yup’ik village frozen in thick layers of permafrost. It now faces the threat of melting, exposing the delicately preserved village to the elements—a 30-foot area at the edge of the site has already been washed into the sea. And it’s not just the ancient past that’s under threat. Jamestown, Virginia, part of Colonial National Historical Park, faces a massive threat from rising tides and rising water levels that might flood buried artifacts.

“Do we take them out and risk exposing them to the air, and potentially see more damage that way, or do we leave them in place?” Caffrey asks.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Image by Gilz via Wikimedia Commons

These questions—whether and how to save which sites—will become increasingly important as climate patterns shift, and archaeological sites begin to take the brunt of the climate blow. Even if we could figure out the exact impact of change for every important site, the nature of choosing what to protect—and how to do it—might be more of an engineering and economic problem than a scientific one. In 1999, the NPS decided to move the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse 1500 feet from the shoreline, at a cost of $11.8 million. “The decision to relocate the Cape Hatteras Light Station was a sound public policy decision based on the best science and engineering information available,” the NPS writes. It’s not clear how many lighthouses will fall into a rising sea, but it’s unlikely we can move every single structure, let alone every broader archaeological site, that is at risk.

“This is the legacy we’re leaving for future generations,” Caffrey said. “We’re going to have to ask the tricky questions, of what ones do we try to save, or if we don’t save any at all, or whether or not some of these things eventually become monuments to climate change. Instead of having a lighthouse you can walk up to, maybe it becomes a submerged site that you can take a snorkel tour around and learn about climate change that way.”

via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

RELATED: Alan Turing will appear on the 50-pound note nearly 70 years after being persecuted for his sexuality

Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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