Arctic, Subarctic, and Subantarctic archaeology (hereafter Polar archaeology) have developed greatly from a few decennia ago when the pioneering efforts of a few individuals generated most research. Today the original constituents of Polar archaeology are established as disciplines at universities and museums in several countries and in both hemispheres. A number of small research environments have emerged and the field is currently characterised by different international perspectives and interdisciplinary approaches, where ethnohistory, history, anthropology and natural sciences often are integrated within projects designed to contribute not only to a better understanding of the human history of the polar regions but also to ongoing studies of arctic change, and human/environment interactions in the context of global change. Increasingly researchers realize that in both the northern and southern ?Tops of the World? (TOW) the scientific questions are parallel and as a result have established fruitful contacts, as most recently evidenced at the TOW meeting in Tromsø, Norway.
However, the dispersed and small Polar archaeology research environments are extremely vulnerable in their home contexts; they are often a marginal component of large institutions, and many scholars and research programs are supported only by ?soft money? from temporary national or international programmes or private funds. Furthermore, these programs are spread over a number of countries: Canada, USA, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Holland, Russia, Spain, Argentina, Chile, and New Zealand, which signals the growth of research, but also exacerbates problems of maintaining contacts and developing long term collaborative international research programmes and education and career opportunities for young researchers. There are organisational, economical and geographical obstacles which could delimit the future dynamic development of polar archaeological research ? a situation which is problematic given archaeology?s potentially central role in understanding long-term trajectories of change in the arctic, subarctic, and subantarctic regions of the world.
In order to maintain the pace and progress that now characterise polar archaeological research, theories, methodology and research politics must be openly discussed and debated among colleagues from all the countries and environments/institutions involved. The future of polar archaeology as a discipline and the further development of new educational, scholarly and public outreach initiatives requires solid research relations and collaborations between southern and northern researchers and with the local and indigenous societies in which they are working or of which they are integral parts.
In addition it is critically important that the polar archaeology research communities begin seriously to address issues in climate change research, the detrimental effects of climate change on the archaeological record, and the impacts of increased development in the polar regions. Archaeological sites in primary context and with adequate preservation conditions are rapidly disappearing and invaluable and irreplaceable information on the human past and on environmental history may be lost for ever. Thawing permafrost, increased coastal erosion, intensification of resource exploitation, land use and tourism in the Arctic and Antarctic, highlight more than ever the need for protection of sites and monuments. Modern logistics have resulted in opening of areas, which a few years ago were practically inaccessible to the public. Prehistoric and historic sites are being visited and in combination with climate impacts the wear on and the destruction of sites is accelerating. It is urgent, and it is our scientific responsibility, to discuss the effects of this new opening of the polar regions, and to debate initiatives to protect as well as utilize the tangible archaeological heritage. The community of polar archaeologists recognizes these challenges and now must develop adequate strategies and operational frameworks for coping with and responding to these circumstances. Significantly, all these matters must be addressed at an international level.
At the recent TOW conference in Tromsø, a number of colleagues discussed the possibility of establishing a network, which could meet the need for addressing scientific issues, research policies, education, public outreach, cultural heritage and other questions relating to archaeology and early history of the Arctic and Antarctic. The present initiative, Polar Archaeology Network (PAN), encompassing Arctic, Subarctic, and Subantarctic archaeology, is an attempt to pave the road to the establishment of such an international forum.