Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Thomas McGovern

Committee Members

Elizabeth Macaulay

Subject Categories

Archaeological Anthropology


Archaeology, Archaeological sites, Coastal archaeological sites, Africa, Climate change


Since the 1980s, archaeologists have warned about threats from anthropogenic climate change (ACC) to the world’s archaeological record in coastal areas. Until recently, such warnings did not include Africa’s archaeological record. There is a persistent gap in research on climate change and Africa’s archaeological and cultural heritage stretching back before the U.N. established the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. The purpose of this thesis is to assess the gap and help to narrow it. The approach is to take advantage of the availability of the dataset from the first geographically comprehensive study of climate change and coastal heritage sites around Africa: Vousdoukas et al. (2022). Vousdoukas projects exposure to climate impact drivers for 284 coastal UNESCO World Heritage and Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance, representing 36 of 38 African nations with coastlines. The thesis reframes the 284 sites on the study list in two ways. First: from sites of “outstanding universal value” or “international importance” to essential sources of information and knowledge, drawing on Thomas McGovern’s (2016) concept of coastal areas as “libraries,” repositories of information and knowledge in the form of archaeological material. Second: from heritage sites to “spatial units” (defined geographic areas) containing known, suspected, and even unknown archaeological sites. Based on the analysis of the Vousdoukas dataset, 35 coastal sites in 11 African countries currently have >10% of their respective areas exposed to sea level rise, coastal erosion, coastal flood, and extreme climate events under the RCP 4.5 2100 scenario. Further, 16 sites are projected to be >50% exposed by the end of the century (and half 100% exposed). The analysis also found Africa’s natural heritage sites are at far higher risk of exposure to climate impacts than UNESCO cultural sites. Anthropogenic climate change threatens Africa’s coastal archaeological record.

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