Innocent Pikirayi (University of Pretoria)

22 September -1PM UK

Innocent Pikirayi

Archaeology and Climate Change in Africa – Confronting the difficult questions 

The recent IPCC (2021) report makes chilling reading. It is a fact that global surface temperature is 1oC higher in the decade between 2011-2020 than between 1850-1900. It is a fact that the past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850. It is also a fact that the recent rate of sea level rise has nearly tripled compared with the period 1901-1971. Further, human influence is “very likely” (90%) the main driver of the global retreat of glaciers since the 1990s and the decrease in Arctic sea-ice. We can say the same about the glaciers on Africa’s highest summits. The report also says that it is “virtually certain” that hot extremes including heatwaves have become more frequent and more intense since the 1950s, while cold events have become less frequent and less severe. 

Archaeologists are confronted with very difficult questions relating to climate change. These include, and are not limited to whether archaeology contributes to identifying what may happen in the future as climate changes; how archaeological research may help mitigate the impacts of climate change; how contemporary debates about climate change situate themselves within longer-term perspectives of climate change provided by archaeological research; the value of archaeological understandings of human responses and adaptations to climate change in the past in relation to contemporary challenges; the threats climate change poses to the future of heritage resources in Africa; whether archaeologists have a particular public role or contribution to make to broader societal debates about climate change; and the ways the current climate emergency may transform our practice as archaeologists, etc. 

I certainly do not have all the answers. In this seminar, I discuss how archaeology can contribute to contemporary challenges, highlighting climate change issues from selected regions of the African continent. The challenges have implications for the human condition, especially the consequences of accelerated urbanisation, increased desertification and water scarcity. I make suggestions how archaeologists should respond to the climate change discussion. 

About the Speaker 

Innocent Pikirayi is professor in archaeology. His research focuses on the rise, development and demise of complex societies in southern Africa since 1000 AD. He is currently conducting geo-archaeological investigations around Great Zimbabwe to document the ancient city’s water resources, and to assess the role of water in socio-political formation. 

He is a member of the Integrated History and Future of People on Earth (IHOPE), a global network of researchers that link human and earth system history through the integration of knowledge and resources from the biophysical and the social sciences and the humanities. Since 2009, he has participated in the activities of the African Humanities Program (AHP) as mentor, advisor, facilitator and reviewer of grant applications. In September 2017, he was appointed ambassador for the journal Antiquity: Advances in World Archaeology, to develop locally relevant strategies to mentor young scholars in Africa.