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Climate change threatens archaeological heritage of coastal Georgia

Alan Flurry

Thousands of Georgia’s historic and archaeological sites are at risk of damage from tropical storm surges, according to a new study led in part by University of Georgia Research Professor Victor D. Thompson.

Thompson and co-author Matthew D. Howland say the vulnerable low-lying coastal plain of Georgia, home to the earliest villages of Ancestral Muskogean people as well as historic colonial sites and plantations, is especially vulnerable to rising sea levels and weather pattern changes induced by climate change, threatening the “material link to the broader histories of Native peoples, the enslaved and their place in American history.”

The study found over 4,200 such sites are at risk of inundation from the storm surge of a Category 5 hurricane at present-day sea level. Up until now, Howland says, archaeologists have generally underestimated the threat to coastal cultural heritage sites, by not taking tnto account dramatic disater events that can happen on the Atlantic Coast, like Hurricane Michael in 2018.

The authors hope these projections will help cultural heritage managers to facilitate protection and mitigation efforts in Georgia, and they note that a similar modeling approach could be applied to coastal environments around the world.