41st AEA Conference – Groningen

Wednesday, November 4, 2020 to Saturday, November 7, 2020

Sustainability in Environmental Archaeology

The 41st AEA conference will take place in Groningen, the Netherlands


Reception and registration: Wednesday November 4th 2020

Sessions: November 5th-6th

Excursion to megalithic tombs, salt marshes and terp mounds: November 7th


  • Non-AEA member fee: €70
  • Non-AEA member (student): €55
  • AEA member fee: €55
  • AEA member (student): €40
  • Dinner: €35
  • Excursion: €50 (Bus + Ezinge terp museum visit + Hunebed (megalithic tombs) visit)

Organized by: Nathalie Brusgaard, Canan Çakirlar, Merit Hondelink, Youri van den Hurk, Arnoud Maurer, Mans Schepers, Taravat Talebi Seyyedsaran, Francesca Slim

Supported by the Association for Environmental Archaeology (AEA)


Call for Papers!

Sustainability in Environmental Archaeology

Sustainability is a key issue in societal, political, and scientific debate. The pressing need to create a more sustainable future is reflected in the United Nations’ ‘urgent call to action’ detailed in seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This raises the question of how the issue of “sustainability” is or should be incorporated into archaeological research, practice, and discourse.

Arguably, no other branch of archaeology offers more detailed deep-time insights into anthropogenic environments and the ecosystem role of human societies than environmental archaeology. In the past, communities were challenged by issues similar to those facing present-day societies, such as climatic fluctuations, environmental and landscape change, and subsisting on vulnerable ecosystems. Moreover, environmental archaeology seeks answers to the fundamental question of how human societies innovated social and technological mechanisms to cope with environmental changes. Insights from the discipline can contribute to research on these issues in modern society, and to the understanding of the wider concept of “sustainability”.

The seventeen goals and the concept of “sustainability” will be central to the AEA annual conference in Groningen. They are addressed and explored through four themes: “Sustainability in the Past”, “Social Sustainability”, “Sustainability and the Environment”, and “Sustainability of the Profession”. Through these themes the 41st AEA conference will revolve around the concept ‘sustainable environmental archaeology’, exploring it from different perspectives and topics. Speakers are invited to submit papers to one of the four themes and to reflect upon the relevance and implications of the SDGs in their research.

Please submit abstracts for presentations and posters by downloading the form and emailing completed forms to aeawinter2020@rug.nl
Deadline: June 1st 2020    EXTENDED

Click here to download the AEA41 abstract submission form


Sessions and Themes

Sustainability in the Past

Sustainability is not only a topic of concern for societies today. In the past, communities were also challenged by issues such as climate fluctuations, environmental and landscape change, and the cultivation and maintenance of healthy, sustainable human, animal, and plant populations. The archaeological record can inform us on how people dealt with these issues and what it reflects about the interactions between humans and their living and non-living environment. This may be visible and studied at different scales, from local hunter-gatherer communities that practiced selective hunting and foraging strategies to long duréé changes in the landscape due to human intervention and their socio-economic practices. Reflecting on sustainability in the past can contribute to both a broader understanding of the past and new perspectives on the future.


Social Sustainability 

Social archaeology examines the social dimensions of human life in the past through the interpretation of archaeological remains, informing us about expressions of ethnicity, race, age, status, class, and gender. It provides insights into the social sustainability of past societies. Through, for example, the investigation of the unequal distribution of power, wealth, and resources, social archaeology can reveal patterns regarding social practices and how communities and societies were shaped and developed through time. Interpretations of the past are also influenced by social issues in the present. Increasingly, archaeological studies advocate for more agency for groups traditionally under-represented in research. Here environmental archaeology also plays an important role in lending more agency to non-human species, for example in social zooarchaeological and multi-special approaches.


Sustainability and the Environment

Throughout history, humans have been exploiting a wide variety of environmental resources and have been niche-constructing both the biotic and the abiotic environments. This impact on our surroundings has in some instances led to environmental degradation, climate change, and the introduction, endangerment, alternation, extirpation, or even extinction of animal and plant species. Environmental archaeology offers the possibility to assess the status of environmental factors in the past, and can provide modern sustainability studies and approaches with a baseline or data that can benefit attempts to protect our environment.


Sustainability of the Profession

Environmental archaeology as a discipline is in constant motion. New methods, practices, and research ideas are constantly being developed and excavations revealing new information regarding the past. It may be argued, however, that the discipline of archaeology itself is struggling with several sustainability issues. New methods often require destructive sampling, exhausting available resources. Furthermore, the sustainability of archaeology as a profession is affected by aspects such as the number of students taking a degree course in archaeology, limited financial sources, and fast-paced advancements made in scientific methods. This justifies the need for archaeology to continuously develop new methods, carry out outreach activities, engage in new partnerships with various fields, and improve heritage management. This all contributes to the potential impact of environmental archaeology on our understanding of a sustainable environment.




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