Exploring the dynamics and causes of prehistoric land use change
in the cradle of European farming
European societies today face unprecedented environmental change. Understanding how human societies responded to past challenges of environmental change relates to the interface between culture and environment. The EXPLO project proposes a novel interdisciplinary approach to investigate key questions regarding the interaction between past human ways of life, land use and the wider environment through a unique combination of archaeological, biological and dynamic mathematical modelling approaches.
Archaeological sites in lakes of the southern Balkans (Greece, Albania and North Macedonia) provide an excellent opportunity to investigate rich archives of societal and environmental change in the cradle of European farming. Natural lake sediments and submerged prehistoric settlements offer exceptional preservation conditions and uniquely holistic insights into past anthroposphere, biosphere and geosphere dynamics. More than 8000 years ago, technological and social breakthroughs allowed the introduction of farming from western Asia to Greece and thus for the first time to Europe; however, so far there is no high-resolution picture of how this revolutionary innovation interacted with the environment, including its long-term consequences.
New underwater archaeological research will allow the construction of highly precise settlement chronologies on the basis of dendrochronology, radiocarbon dating and Bayesian modelling. On-site information from excavations will be combined with off-site palaeoenvironmental data from the same lakes to investigate past adaptation strategies to the environment as well as the effects of past societies on their environments. Dynamic models integrating archaeological contexts and palaeoenvironmental data will open up the opportunity to investigate vulnerability, resilience, tipping points and thresholds of ancient agrarian economies, with implications for future food systems under a rapidly changing climate.