Project Margin and Destination:
Case Studies from Late Pleistocene and Holocene Europe


Initial investigation areas:   Western Central Europe,
Rhineland Region
  Speaker: Prof. Dr. A. Zimmermann


Central Europe is one of the marginal target regions where migrations from western and eastern Europe met. The immigration of modern humans into the area began in the last glacial, followed later by a re-colonisation after a temporary retreat during the Last Glacial Maximum. Climatic fluctuations resulted in considerable shifting of the environmental conditions, ranging from favourable habitats to harsh conditions near the fringe of the habitable areas. Central Europe is highly significant in the context of the CRC as it offers best possibilities for reconstructing environmental changes, combining information from terrestrial sediments, soils and archaeological features. This data is particularly present in high-resolution for the key area of the Rhineland, which is a showcase region for Central Europe concerning the natural and cultural developments.

The participating scientists have been collaborating intensely for years, to interpret the archaeological and geoscience data derived from terrestrial archives. We will focus on two crucial time periods:

  1. Upper Pleistocene immigration and resettlement of modern humans into central Europe during the last glacial, with long-range migrations influenced by strongly alternating climate and site conditions (D1),
  2. Human-environment-interactions in agrarian cultures during the Holocene, with regional mobility in an ecologically favoured region with moderate climate variations (D2, D3).

The shared aim of investigating the Pleistocene and the Holocene time periods is to elucidate, to which extent natural factors could affect the migrations and the cultural changes. For the Palaeolithic time periods, there are fundamental gaps of knowledge due to insufficient spatial representation and dating of archaeological sites. This evokes basic questions concerning the timing and the environmental framework of colonisation and reoccupation. On the Holocene time scale, processes of mobility and adaptation in socalled “sedentary” societies and their relation to environmental driving forces (soils, nutrient-pools, climate fluctuations, technical developments) are still poorly understood. In contrast to the period of Palaeolithic cultures, specific interactions between cultural and natural factors can be observed since Neolithic time. To understand these processes it is crucial to investigate to what extent natural conditions changed and if these changes were responsible for the cultural adaptations. Furthermore, the interaction of climate, soil and vegetation cover with population density as an integral signal of the cultural subsystem has not yet been systematically explored.

Important exploratory potential to the questions outlined above is based on evidence from terrestrial archives of Central Europe. These are (1) the highly important loessstratigraphies of the Rhineland; (2) the colluvial sediments in the valleys which provide a direct link to soil erosion and its external impacts; (3) the development of soils and (4) archaeological finds and features. Well accessible and investigated loess profiles in the open cast lignite mining areas contain archaeologically relevant features (artefacts, faunal remains) as well as significant information about Pleistocene climate, landscape history and pedological processes. Among the natural environmental factors, soils are of particularly high significance. New methods, e.g. the organo-geochemical analysis of archaeological soil material will be applied. The onset and the extent of human influence on the environment will be investigated in dendro-archaeological, geochemical, pollen and sediment archives.


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RWTH Aachen University

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