The Dark Age of the Lowlands in an interdisciplinary light
People, landscape and climate in the Netherlands between AD 300 and 1000
funded by NWO section Humanities, 2012-2019
The Dark Ages - meaning the Late Roman Period (LRP) between AD 300 and 500 AD and the Early Middle Ages (EMA) between AD 500 and 1000 - are characterized by b a period of severe pan-European economic and demographic change. During this period population declined and the diminishing human influence on the landscape led to large-scale reforestation in some areas of the Netherlands. Geomorphological and palaeo-ecological data from this period point to marked climatic variability and a changing landscape. How and to what extent these climatic and environmental changes contributed to the decline of the Roman empire is largely unknown. Three projects have been designed to increase our knowledge about these phenomena.
Project A: Occupation patterns and land use in the Dark Age of the Lowlands
Principal investigator: R.J. van Lanen (PhD-student)
The severe political, climatic and landscape changes in the Late Roman Period (LRP) and the Early Middle Ages (EMA) will have greatly influenced inhabitants of the Lowlands. This project reconstructs the cultural adaptation to this dynamic period. The key objectives are to produce detailed spatial and chronological reconstructions for three study areas (coastal, river and pleistocene sandy area) of settlement dynamics and demography, land-use systems, infrastructure, and trade relations.
In order to produce detailed spatial and chronological reconstructions existing archaeological and geoscientific data and publications will be used. To study settlement dynamics and demography, location, lay-out, size, and function of known settlements will be researched. Through combining vegetation and climate data (project C) with settlement data (e.g. size, function, parcelling) for selected micro-regions, land-use systems will be reconstructed. Data on landscape changes (e.g. dynamic rivers, sea ingressions; project B) will add to the reconstruction of infrastructure (e.g. former roads, water-related infrastructure (navigable rivers, harbours, quays, ship wrecks) and (e.g. dendrochronologically reconstructed) trade relations.
Within the overall research programme, this project will determine the existing anthropogenic factors in the LRP and EMA in the Lowlands, focussing both on how people were of influence on, and were influenced by, these changes in landscape and climate.
Project B: Natural landscape evolution between AD 300 and 1000
Principal investigator: H.J. Pierik (PhD-student)
This project will provide a chronology of landscape evolution in the Lowlands focusing on the most dynamic landscapes in the Lowlands during this period. These are the coastal area, the river area and active drift sands in the pleistocene area. In the coastal area, sea ingressions took place during the Dark Ages and flooding frequency possibly increased. The interactions between these ingression dynamics and human occupation patterns (project A) will be investigated. River patterns changed significantly since the start of the Roman period, forming the main rivers we know today (Lek, Waal, Gelderse IJssel). The delta-wide development of the river system during the LRP and EMA will be subject of study. The project will focus on the process of avulsion and its implications for e.g. trade routes and infrastructure (project A). For the pleistocene area the project will focus on the development of drift sands which will be related to occupation and vegetation development of projects A and C.
Within the overall research programme, this project will determine the relative importance of anthropogenic factors in landscape evolution. Second aim is to quantify the implications of these landscape dynamics on the late roman and early medieval society. The data of these anthropogenic factors will be derived from project A. Supporting data on climate change and vegetation development will be derived from project C. Vice versa, data from this project B will serve as input for the two other projects.
Project C: Vegetation and climate change during the Dark Ages in The Lowlands
Principal investigator: M.T.I.J. Bouman (PhD-student)
It is imperative to have accurate reconstructions of vegetation and climatic changes for this period, which is the focus of this project. The key objectives are: (1) to develop a high-resolution reconstruction of climate in north-western Europe during the LRP and EMA; (2) to reconstruct vegetation patterns, changes and interregional differences during the LRP and EMA in The Lowlands; and (3) to assess the varying influence of human impact, landscape and climate on vegetation development.
To reconstruct temperature and precipitation changes during the LRP and EMA in north-western Europe a number of proxies are available. Temperature changes will be studied using chironomid larvae and tree-ring data. Changes in effective precipitation will be reconstructed using testate amoebae and tree-ring data. Changes in vegetation development will be studied using pollen, spores and Non Pollen Palynomorphs (NPP). The vegetation reconstruction will be based on all available palynological data and additional analyses on new sites. The three main research areas - coastal, river and pleistocene coversand - will be subdivided into uniform landform vegetation units to minimize the influence of different landscapes on vegetation development. A solid bio- and chronostratigraphic framework for each landform vegetation unit will be constructed using AMS 14C dating. To study the influence of human impact and climate change on vegetation development, palynological records, climatic records (chironomid, testate amoebae, tree-ring, ice-core) and data on human presence (subproject A) will be integrated and compared on local and regional scales.
Within the overall research programme, this project will provide a climatic and vegetation record during the LRP and EMA and will determine the relative importance of climate or human influence on vegetation development.