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Dr. Katharine MacDonald: Effect of human activities on vegetation during the Last Interglacial at Neumark- Nord, Germany: interpretation and implications

BIOCHANGE Seminar Series

Info about event


Tuesday 5 April 2022,  at 14:00 - 15:00



Speaker: Dr. Katharine MacDonald, University of Leiden


Little is known about Pleistocene hunter-gatherer impact on their environments. It is generally thought that this was probably limited, given the low densities of these populations, and is difficult to detect due to the limited palaeoenvironmental proxies available and similarities between the effects of human activity and other factors. The locality of Neumark-Nord, Germany, dating to the Last Interglacial, provides an example of a context where a light human footprint can be detected based on a long multi-proxy palaeoenvironmental and archaeological record. Based on archaeological data and a comparison with neighbouring localities in which people were absent, human activity provides the best explanation for the relatively open vegetation in this locality. This relates to relatively intense and repeated use of a specific locality (including regular use of fire), and has implications for our understanding of human mobility strategies as well as interactions with the landscape in this period. What has become clear through this and related recent studies is that long before the appearance of agriculture, human populations were transforming their ecosystems, on a local scale, in ways that benefited themselves and possibly some other species. A human role cannot be ruled out even in periods that are taken as ‘baselines’ for natural vegetation. However, the significance of such a long period of human influence on the environment as documented at Neumark-Nord, c. 2000 years, for understanding ecosystems in the past and today is unclear. In particular, our understanding of the density and distribution of Late Pleistocene human populations is limited. In this presentation, in addition to discussing the interpretation of the Neumark-Nord evidence, I will outline these open questions and suggest (and seek feedback on) future directions.

Host: Prof. Felix Riede, School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University.

Sign up by contacting Anne Blach Overgaard: anne.overgaard[@]bio.au.dk