The reconstruction of the landscape and the environment in space and time is essential for the understanding of settlement areas, not least due to the massive transformations in ecological systems in part naturally caused, in part intensified by humans. The interdisciplinary projects which are housed in this department avail themselves of a variety of methods and analytical approaches, and combine archaeology and earth sciences.

Cultivation and extraction of resources leave behind traces in the environment of human settlements, for example by increased erosion of areas that are kept open, and by the discharge of organic and inorganic contaminants. In a counteraction, the landscape as a dynamic system also presents challenges to humans: erosion and silting, desertification or variations in the water table can endanger the continued existence of settlements. Geoarchaeological models and models of vegetation history, prepared from geoarchives, make comprehensible natural as well as anthropogenic transformations in settlement areas.

The Gulf of Ephesos, originally taking up the entire plain of the lower Caystros Valley, successively silted up after the Chalcolithic period, that is, after the 4th millennium B.C., due to the sedimentation of the Küçük Menderes (Little Meander) and its tributary rivers. This process was massively accelerated by anthropogenic influences after the Hellenistic period, which was probably associated with an intensification of agriculture and the deforestation of the hills and mountains in the hinterland. Today, only small residual lakes on the north flank of the valley are preserved of the former marine bay.

A functioning connection to the sea was the fundamental prerequisite for the founding of settlements in the wider area of Ephesos. The coastal transformations also subsequently brought with them a relocation of the settlement sites and the installation of new harbours. The coastal geography of the Hellenistic period was even the determining element for the new foundation of Ephesos under King Lysimachos, and during the Roman imperial period the silted-up surface areas offered, on the one hand, new building land and agricultural space, yet on the other hand the city had to be artificially connected to the sea.

The multiplicity of the sources also necessitate an interdisciplinary methodological approach that combines natural and humanistic sciences. The information stems on the one hand from historical and current maps, aerial and satellite photographs, excavation findings and geophysical surveys as well as the interpretation of historical and literary sources. In order to obtain sediments, percussion drill core probes are employed, the chronological classification of which is based on C14 dates of organic material, as well as the stratigraphy on the basis of diagnostic pottery. Pursuant to the questions posed, sedimentological, geochemical, palaeontological or also microbiological analyses will take place in specialised laboratories.

Geoarchaeological methods have long been applied in archaeology, in particular in places where excavations are not possible or are difficult to carry out. The sacred precinct of Artemis is today covered by a 7 m thick layer of alluvial deposits, the thickness of which allows no noteworthy geophysical results after a depth of 2 m. By means of systematic drilling it is not only possible to determine the extent of the temenos, but also to obtain an absolute chronology of the sequence of levels with the aid of depth profile.

Geoarchaeological research also contributes substantially to the reconstruction of the appearance of the landscape. On the coast at Pamucak, 6 km distant from Ephesos, a 9.6 m tall hill is located that today is not much heeded but which in antiquity represented an important landmark, as it marked the entrance into the bay of Ephesos. Geoarchaeological investigations have yielded the evidence that up until the later imperial period this raised land was an island, before the region gradually became marshy and, in the Late Antique period, was developed into a Christian pilgrimage site. A small harbour located in the north-east provided the pilgrims with a comfortable approach, and was connected to the harbour canal leading to Ephesos.