“Exploring the Dynamics and Causes of Prehistoric Land Use Change in the Cradle of European Farming (EXPLO)”: The Contribution of Palaeoecology

The ERC Synergy project EXPLO 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 modelling approaches. More than 8 000 years ago, technological and social breakthroughs allowed the introduction of farming for the first time into Europe, Greece, from southwestern Asia. However, so far no high-resolution picture of how this revolutionary innovation interacted with the environment has been obtained. In this frame, palaeoecology will produce new radiocarbon-dated fine-resolution multi-proxy palaeoenvironmental records from a number of lakes located in northern Greece and the southern Balkans (e.g. Limni Zazari, Limni Vegoritida, Limni Volvi, Limni Orestias, Lake Ohrid, Drakolimni Smolikas) to gain detailed palaeoenvironmental reconstructions. We will analyse pollen, spores, charcoal, aDNA, HSI, XRF, GDGTs and δD to reconstruct the interactions between climatic variability (temperature, moisture), fire activity, herbivory, diversity, land use and vegetation dynamics. We will also accomplish calibration studies to refine the vegetation and climatic reconstructions. Additionally, we will use dynamic landscape modelling to better understand the underlying mechanisms driving ecosystems change.

Together with the wealth of high-quality archaeological and bioarchaeological data provided by University of Bern (PI A. Hafner), University of Thessaloniki (PI K. Kotsakis) and University of Oxford (PI A. Bogaard) our long-term ecological and environmental time-series will allow investigating the vulnerability, resilience, tipping points and threshold responses of ancient agrarian economies to climatic and ecological change, with implications for ecology and food security under the ongoing rapid climate change.

Coring at Lake Ohrid (North Macedonia)
Coring at Lake Ohrid (North Macedonia) © César Morales del Molino
Coring at Limni Volvi (Greece)
Coring at Limni Volvi (Greece) © Kathrin Ganz
Mount Olympus from Litochoro (Greece)
Mount Olympus from Litochoro (Greece) © César Morales del Molino
Tree line ecotone (Pinus heldreichii) at Mount Olympus (Greece)
Tree line ecotone (Pinus heldreichii) at Mount Olympus (Greece) © César Morales del Molino


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This project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC)



Kathrin Ganz, Lieveke van Vugt, Antoine Thévenaz, Erika Gobet, César Morales del Molino, Willy Tinner


Albert Hafner, Ariane Ballmer, Matthias Bolliger, John Francuz, Andrej Maczkowski, Marco Hostettler, Johannes Reich (Institute of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bern), Amy Bogaard, Mike Charles (University of Oxford), Kostas Kotsakis, Evangelia Voulgari, Marina Sofronidou, Tryfon Giagkoulis, Stella Kyrillidou, Filippos Stefanou, Eleni Tsiola, Carlota Blasco Aguirre, Ioanna Siamidou, Eleftheria Almasidou, Anna Papaioannou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)

Great white pelican
Great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) in Limni Zazari (Greece) © César Morales del Molino