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Call for Papers for a session on ‘Past Responses to Climate and Environmental Change Through the Lens of Mythology’ at the Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference on Climate (TAG 44)

  • Start date: 18th Dec 2023
  • End date: 20th Dec 2023
  • University of East Anglia, Norwich
  • Organiser: Session: Chris Wood. Conference: the Theoretical Archaeology Group
  • Website

Proposals are invited for 20-minute papers on the session theme to be sent (with a brief bio.) to Chris Wood at [email protected] and the conference team at [email protected] BY 15th OCTOBER 2023. Full details TBC, but attendance fees for speakers are expected to be in the region of £85-£100.

Session Abstract

Archaeology can reveal much about human responses to environmental change, as can mythology. Whether long-term or rapid-onset, previous ‘adaptation events’ show the scale and violence of societal responses if impacts are managed badly.

Disentangling the environmental changes behind such narratives as the Biblical Exodus is enlightening about social and political change – and collapse. Climate justice is key: adaptations could disenfranchise vulnerable members of global society. The 17th-century witch hunts had a root in societal reactions to a cooler climate.

The disappearance of Doggerland involved both gradual and sudden habitat and lifestyle changes. What happened to people’s deities? Could Nehalennia, known from Roman-era Dutch altars, have evolved from an ancient deer-goddess to offer safe sea-passage as the landscape changed? Could the Norse Gefjon, ploughing Sjæland from Sweden, or Welsh Ladies of the Lake, with underwater cattle, be memories of the arrival of farming as the land flooded?

Equally, anthropogenic environmental change is not new, just that the scale of today’s climate change is unprecedented. The coming of agriculture was a massive upheaval, with habitat change, land-use conflicts, the emergence of city states and new ‘gods of civilisation’. ‘Old-fashioned’ lifestyles were misrepresented, hence the legendary Amazons.

Tying mythological motifs to environmental changes does not devalue the mythology; it brings a richer understanding and allows us to chart the evolution of myths and fit orphan legends into wider narratives. Understanding past adaptations can warn of dangerous impacts of climate change today, from wars to ‘witch hunts’. So long as there is intellectual rigour and clear distinctions between what is evidence-based and what is speculation, it is a multi-disciplinary, imaginative endeavour involving diverse voices.