Since millennia, humans have increasingly been shaping the landscape in and around the Alps, leaving clear signs of their activities. By analysing the pollen content of natural and anthropogenic archives we reconstruct past vegetation and obtain useful information on human activities like agriculture, husbandry practices, woodland use, and fire history.

The Greater Alpine Region stretches geographically from 4°–19° E to 43°–49° N and is an exceptionally diverse area both from a vegetational and cultural point of view, where since millennia humans and climate have been co-shaping the vegetation and landscape. During the last 6000 years, the human factor became increasingly important in this process, due to the intensification of human settlement activities in the region, which has been home to a great variety of ancient cultures. Such cultural groups often had specific subsistence strategies and brought about innovations, which impacted the vegetation in specific ways.

In this context, our goal is to use pollen as a proxy to reconstruct former vegetation landscapes in which ancient societies developed in the Greater Alpine Region. Furthermore, we aim at understanding past human-environment relationship by uncovering evidence of a variety of human practices like agriculture, transhumance, wood clearances by cutting and fire. This comprehension is directly linked to our present, as the cultural landscapes we experience today are a result of the millennia of human-environment interactions. Among the best examples of this process are the numerous UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites present in the region.

Mooswinkel am Mondsee: Vegetation History and Human Impact

Mooswinkel is part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites “Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps“, and it is located on the north-eastern shore of the Mondsee. The settlement is relatively small, with settlement phases dating back to the mid-4th millennium B.C. Mooswinkel is characterized by an exceptional state of preservation and is now the third lakeshore dwelling site to be discovered at the Mondsee, after those of Scharfling and See.

By analysing the pollen content of sediment cores extracted from the pile dwelling site, we will reconstruct the past vegetation growing near the settlement, revealing the types and entity of human impact on the environment, including agricultural practices, use of fire and wood cutting. This information will be combined with the results of archaeobotanical analyses and integrated to the data provided by other disciplines to gain a comprehensive picture of the environment and life at the time of the settlement.

PalaeoNoricum: Vegetation history of the historical region

The parts of the former Roman province of Noricum (today: East Tyrol, Carinthia, Styria, Northern Slovenia) located south of the main ridge of the Alps formed an important transitional area for the cultural and economic impulses from the Imperium romanum due to their opening to Italy, the Balkan Peninsula and the Pannonian Basin. Surprisingly, for this area, the late antique province Noricum mediterraneum, only little is known so far about the concrete interactions between man and environment, only relatively few vegetation-historical works according to modern standards are available. We want to begin to fill the existing gaps by identifying natural archives suitable for palaeoenvironmental studies, and from these to produce the first more comprehensive reconstructions of palaeovegetation. The aim of the project is to open up the natural framework for diachronic (i.e. historical as well as prehistoric) settlement research of the region in order to trace land use patterns and their changes.