Exploring Prehistoric Vegetation and Agriculture Dynamics Using Annually Laminated Records from Central and Southern Europe (ECSE)

Our research addresses ecological and climatic questions at multiannual to millennial time scales. We use evidence preserved in sediments as well as modeling approaches to study the long-term interactions among climate, the biosphere, and society in Mediterranean Italy and Switzerland.

Our Swiss National Science project aims at increasing the temporal precision and resolution of ecosystem records from annually laminated sediments at sites located on the Swiss Plateau as well as in Central and Southern Italy. Here we study the linkages between vegetation, land use, fire activity and climate at very high resolution (8 years contiguously) and precision (dating errors of 10-20 years). High precision and resolution of the varve chronologies will allow matching off-site time series (e.g. land use, climate, erosion, eutrophication, fire, browsing) with the on-site archaeological record, in the best case reaching dendrochronological dating precisions. The joined environmental and societal evidence will allow to gain better insights into causes and effects of prehistorical societal changes, including climate vulnerability and resilience e.g. through technological innovations.

Coring at Lago di Mezzano, Tuscany © Giorgia Beffa
View on Lago di Mezzano, Tuscany
View on Lago di Mezzano, Tuscany © Yunuén Temoltzin Loranca

Novel high-resolution radiocarbon-dated pollen, spore, charcoal, aDNA, XRF, HSI records will be gained from Burgäschisee, Moossee, Murtensee, Lago di Mezzano and Lago di Monticchio in order to reconstruct the linkages between climatic variability, fire activity, browsing disturbance, forest dynamics and land-use changes. Dynamic modelling will be used to explore competing hypotheses about vegetation change. Previous publications comprise reconstruction at Burgäschisee and Moossee that are serving as a guide for Murtensee, Lago di Mezzano and Lago di Monticchio as well as simulation experiments e.g. at Gorgo Basso in Sicily, Lago di Massaciuccoli in Toscany, Lago di Origlio in Ticino or Lobsigensee on the Swiss Plateau.

Ultimately, this project aims at clarifying if recognized phases of increasing or declining prehistorical land use activity were synchronous over wide areas. The null hypothesis is that up and downs in agriculture were diachronous, and thus related to changing local factors. Conversely, if linked to independent palaeoclimatic evidence, synchronisms in land use phases would suggest a hitherto unknown centennial to millennial-long control of climate on prehistoric societies, possibly caused by cumulated harvest successes or failures at multiannual to decadal scales.


This project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF)



Shauna-Kay Rainford, Giorgia Beffa, Carolina Senn, Erika Gobet, Christoph Schwörer, Willy Tinner


Fabian Rey, Flavio Anselmetti, Martin Grosjean, Marina Morlock, Albert Hafner, Sönke Szidat, Achim Brauer, Laura Sadori