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
Original Article


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.


Archaeology Climate change Adaptation Community planning Cultural heritage Indigenous Local planning Risk assessment Site prioritisation Vulnerability assessment 



The authors would like to thank the following for their generous assistance: Djelk and KNP Traditional Owners including rangers Patricia Gibson, Darryl Redford, Obed Namirrik, Alfie Galaminda, Bobbie-Sheena Wilson, Felina Campion, Simon Dempsey, Jackie Cahill, Jonathan Nadji, Natasha Nadji, Jeffrey Lee, Bobby Maranlgurra and Kadeem May; KNP cultural heritage manager Gabrielle O’Loughlin; Djelk support staff Dominic Nicholls, Alys Stevens, Anthony Staniland and Ricky Archer; and for the critical feedback, Apolline Kohen, Colin Pardoe, Rolf Gerritsen and Jack Fenner. Fieldwork was supported by the Australian Research Council (Linkage Project LP110201128 and Discovery Project DP120100512), the Australian National University and Charles Darwin University.

Compliance with ethical standards

The study followed standard ethical norms, including obtaining university ethics approval (Australian National University no. 2014-342, Charles Darwin University no. H14022), eliciting informed consent from all study participants, reviewing results with and presenting results back to communities prior to publication and not divulging the locations of ‘sacred’ sites.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bethune Carmichael
    • 1
    • 2
  • Greg Wilson
    • 3
  • Ivan Namarnyilk
    • 3
  • Sean Nadji
    • 4
  • Sally Brockwell
    • 1
  • Bob Webb
    • 1
  • Fred Hunter
    • 4
  • Deanne Bird
    • 5
  1. 1.Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Charles Darwin UniversityAlice SpringsAustralia
  3. 3.Djelk Indigenous Protected AreaManingridaAustralia
  4. 4.Kakadu National ParkJabiruAustralia
  5. 5.University of IcelandReykjavíkIceland

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