Project 1404

INQUA Project 1404: Cultural and palaeoenvironmental changes in Late Glacial to Middle Holocene Europe: gradual or sudden?


Dr Erick Robinson, University of Wyoming, USA.

Dr Felix Riede, Aarhus University, Denmark.


Primary aim of project: To bring together young researchers expert in Late Glacial-Middle Holocene archaeology and palaeoenvironments in Europe to synthesize data in order to investigate the variable impacts of gradual versus abrupt palaeoenvironmental change on human cultural change.

Description:Increasingly high-resolution palaeoenvironmental and archaeological records across Europe over the past decade have enabled researchers to begin to question the variable impacts of rapid vs. gradual palaeoenvironmental change on Late Glacial to Middle Holocene hunter-gatherer societies. These advances have highlighted the complexities of climate-ecosystem-human interactions as well as the complexities of human response; in some regions there is little evidence for direct causal relationships between different kinds of palaeoenvironmental and cultural change, whereas in other regions there is clear evidence for such causal links. Identifying the reasons for this variability—rooted arguably in past ecological, settlement-historical, or technological differences, or simply in differences in analytical scales between studies—is a key challenge for archaeology with major implications for our general understanding of the rhythms, patterns and processes of culture change in prehistory. In this project we aim to bring young researchers together specialized in the study of chronological modeling, fauna remains, geomorphology, plant remains, stable isotopes, and stone tools in order to evaluate the evidence from different regions of the continent in a comparative manner, and to move towards a better understanding of the data requirements, analytical scales, and approaches in the study of sudden vs. gradual socio-cultural change and its forcing mechanisms. Involving specialists in agent-based and eco-cultural niche modeling, particular attention will be given to the diverse and unique feedback relationships between climate change, ecosystem response, and forager cultural change across a wide range of ecological contexts. The project develops a pan-European network in order to lay the theoretical and methodological foundations for integrative and diachronic study of Late Glacial to Middle Holocene human-environment interactions that includes a wide range of different palaeoenvironmental changes such as abrupt climate change events, gradual ecosystem changes, sea-level changes, and extreme events such as volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.

This project seeks develop a forum for young researchers in archaeology and palaeoecology to synthesize evidence from different regions across Europe in order to

  1. critically assess the relative chronological resolution of these regional records;
  2. if and what kinds of evidence they might yield for sociocultural responses to different kinds of palaeoenvironmental change;
  3. whether there is a relationship between certain kinds of palaeoenvironmental change and particular evidence for change in the archaeological record.

The project takes the essential first steps to interrogate the quality of data from different regions and their relative amenability for continental- and regional-scale modeling of climate-ecosystem-culture change feedback relationships. This project will be the first to ever employ these aims within a multi-modeling approach comprised of eco-cultural niche modeling, simulation models, and agent-based phylogenetic simulation modeling. Critically assessing and integrating archaeological and palaeoenvironmental data into these different approaches is essential to understanding the varying temporal and spatial scales of interaction between different kinds of palaeoenvironmental change and changes observed at different evidential scales in the archaeological record. For example, was it localized regional-scale and gradual palaeoenvironmental changes were adapted to by human societies expanding their inter-regional social networks for the development of risk-buffering mechanisms, or were changes in projectile technologies more responsive to these kind of regional-scale changes—or a complex combination of both? Likewise, we do not fully understand if and how human societies might best adapt to more punctuated palaeoenvironmental changes such as abrupt climate changes caused by glacial meltwater outbursts in the North Atlantic or volcanic eruptions.

Activities of this project will commence in 2014 and culminate in a first meeting in Aarhus (Denmark) in late November 2014, which will be followed up by a themed session at the upcoming INQUA Congress in Nagoya (July 27th-August 2nd, 2015). In between these major meetings, the project will host webinars; using digital tools, data-sharing as well as workshops this project will bring together a diverse range of quaternary scientists, archaeologists and modelers in order to comparative investigate the analytical utility and power of top-down and bottom-up approaches to the identification of the mode and tempo of cultural vs. environmental changes in the Late Glacial and early-to-mid Holocene. The project’s main aims are:

  • To compare regional Late Glacial-Middle Holocene archaeological and palaeoenvironmental data across Europe;
  • To advance knowledge on the data resolution requirements for the integration of regional archaeological and palaeoenvironmental datasets for the modeling and investigation of relationships between cultural and environmental change;
  • To model spatial and temporal feedback relationships between changes in different palaeoenvironmental proxies and different types of archaeological data;
  • To advance knowledge on the relative impacts of gradual versus abrupt climate change on hunter-gatherer cultural change during the Late Glacial-Middle Holocene throughout Europe.
  • To experiment with and promote low carbon-footprint networking structures.


Image credit: Department of Archaeology, Ghent University

Download the latest report of our first year of activities