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REMAINS of Greenland

REsearch and Management of Archaeological sites IN a changing environment and Society


Program / partnership
Project start
Project end
Type of project
Project theme
Archaeology and history
Project topic
Education & Outreach
Environmental science
Geography and human geography
Preservation & restoration

Project details

Science / project plan

Archaeological sites in Greenland represent an irreplaceable record of extraordinarily well-preserved material remains covering more than 4000 years of human history. Out of the more than 6000 registered sites very few have been excavated and it is anticipated that thousands of sites are still to be discovered in the many unexplored parts of the country. Therefore, the potential of archaeological sites in Greenland to provide further spectacular findings is considered extremely high. However, the climate is changing rapidly in Greenland leading to accelerated degradation of the archaeological sites.

REMAINS is initiated as a direct response to these threats and to the enormous challenge the National Museum of Greenland is currently facing. The aims of the project are:

 To advance the basic understanding of how climate change influence the preservation of archaeological sites and organic artefacts.
 To develop research based cultural resource management tools for locating sites at risk.
 To develop strategies for dealing with threatened sites in Greenland.

Through detailed site investigations and degradation experiments, REMAINS will provide the fundamental knowledge needed to quantify the short and long-term net effects of climate change on the preservation of archaeological sites and artefacts. The obtained results will be combined with regional projections of environmental changes in a desk-based Geographical Information System (GIS) model that can be used to perform a regional assessment of threats to archaeological sites. At the end of the project this GIS model will constitute a
new management tool that can assist the Greenland National Museum to pin-point the most vulnerable areas and thereby help to prioritize and optimize future archaeological investigations. In this manner, the results of REMAINS will not only be of value to the scientific community but also benefit the general management of archaeological sites in Greenland.

REMAINS is a co-operation between The National Museum of Denmark (NM), The Greenland National Museum and Archives (NKA) and Center for Permafrost (CENPERM) at University of Copenhagen. The project focuses on the Nuuk region in South West Greenland, which is the part of Greenland with the highest density and variety of archaeological sites and where the effects of climatic change are already visible.

Publications related to project

Fenger-Nielsen, R., Hollesen, J., Matthiesen, H., Sherman-Andersenc, E.A., Westergaard-Nielsen, A., Harmsen, H.,  Michelsen, A., Elberling, B. Footprints from the past: The influence of past human activities on vegetation and soil across five archaeological sites in Greenland. Accepted for publication in Science of the Total Environment (October 2018).

Harmsen, H., Hollesen, J., Madsen, C.K., Albrechtsen, B., Myrup, M., Matthiesen, H. A Ticking Clock? Preservation and Management of Greenland’s Archaeological Heritage in the Twenty-First Century. Accepted for publication in CONSERVATION AND MGMT OF ARCH. SITES (September 2018).

Hollesen, J., Callanan, M., Dawson T., Fenger-Nielsen, R., Friesen, T.M., Jensen, A.M., Markham, A., Vandrup Martens, V., Pitulko V.V., Rockman, M. (2018). Climate change and the deteriorating archaeological and environmental archives of the Arctic. Antiquity 92, 573-586, doi:10.15184/aqy.2018.8

Hollesen, J., Matthiesen, H., Madsen, C.K., Albrechtsen, B., Kroon, A., Elberling, B. (2017). Climate change and the preservation of archaeological sites in Greenland, in T. DAWSON, C. NIMURA, E. LÓPEZ-ROMERO & M-Y. DAIRE (ed.) Public Archaeology and Climate Change: 90-99, Oxford, Oxbow.