8,000 Year Old Evidence of Human Activity Found in Alps

Sep 27, 2013 by Sci-News.com

Fourteen-year-long archaeological excavations in the Parc National des Écrins in the southern Alps have provided evidence of human activity from the Mesolithic to the Post-Medieval period.

Dr Walsh with colleagues at work excavating a Bronze Age site. Image credit: Kevin Walsh, the University of York.

Dr Walsh with colleagues at work excavating a Bronze Age site. Image credit: Kevin Walsh, the University of York.

Dr Kevin Walsh from the University of York with colleagues unearthed a series of stone animal enclosures and human dwellings considered some of most complex high altitude Bronze Age structures found anywhere in the Alps.

“High altitude landscapes of 2 km and above are considered remote and marginal. Many researchers had assumed that early societies showed little interest in these areas,” said Dr Walsh, who reported the results in a paper published in Quaternary International.

“This research shows that people, as well as climate, did have a role in shaping the Alpine landscape from as early as the Mesolithic period.”

“It has radically altered our understanding of activity in the sub-alpine and alpine zones. It is also of profound relevance for the broader understanding of human-environment interactions in ecologically sensitive environments.”

The excavations showed human activity shaped the Alpine landscape through the Bronze, Iron, Roman and Medieval ages as people progressed from hunting to more managed agricultural systems including the movement of livestock to seasonal alpine pastures, known as transhumant-pastoralism.

A Neolithic flint arrow head at about 2.5 km, the highest altitude arrowhead discovered in the Alps. Image credit: Kevin Walsh, the University of York.

A Neolithic flint arrow head at about 2.5 km, the highest altitude arrowhead discovered in the Alps. Image credit: Kevin Walsh, the University of York.

“The most interesting period is the Chalcolithic – Bronze Age when human activity, particularly to support pastoralism, really begins to dominate the landscape,” Dr Walsh said.

“The Bronze Age buildings we studied revealed the clear development of seasonal pastoralism that appears to have been sustained over many centuries with new enclosures added and evidence of tree clearing to create new grazing land. The evidence suggests the landscape was occupied over many centuries marking the start of a more sustained management of the alpine landscape and the development of the pastoral agricultural systems we see in the Alps today.”

The study also uncovered evidence of Stone Age hunting camps in often inhospitable conditions in the upper reaches of the Alpine tree line at 2 m and above.

Other finds included a Neolithic flint arrow head at 2,475 m, thought to be the highest altitude arrowhead discovered in the Alps.

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Bibliographic information: K. Walsh et al. A historical ecology of the Ecrins (Southern French Alps): Archaeology and palaeoecology of the Mesolithic to the Medieval period. Quaternary International, published online September 21, 2013; doi: 10.1016/j.quaint.2013.08.060