The project is funded by Danish Council for Independent Research |Natural Sciences
The Laacher See volcanic eruption (13,000 years before present), Deep Environmental History and Europe’s geo-cultural heritage
This project is funded by the Independent Research Council Denmark’s Sapere Aude Starting Grant instrument and represents phase two of LAPADIS – the Laboratory for Past Disaster Science. In the project, we conduct ground-breaking research centred on a cataclysmic environmental event that punctuated an early period on Nordic prehistory – the Laacher See volcanic eruption that occurred c. 13,000 years ago in present-day Germany, and its impact on communities in Europe and especially in southern Scandinavia – and on this basis to develop novel outreach engagements that make Europe’s geo-cultural heritage work for environmental literacy.
By exploring in parallel and unprecedented detail the cultural and geological dynamics of the Laacher See eruption and its suggested consequences, this project will lead to: (1) a significantly improved understanding of this last major continental European eruption, and (2) allow us to test the dual hypothesis of its regionally varying human impact in Central Europe and southern Scandinavia respectively. This project will furthermore (3) provide a robust historically informed evidence-base for an engagement of deep-time Environmental Humanities with the profound ethical predicaments of present and future climate change and climate catastrophe.
During the last year, we have been focussing on wrapping up various laboratory analyses on an important integrative symposium, and on lining up materials for the exhibition scheduled for the final phase of the project in 2020. During October 2018, an international group of scientists concerned with past disasters – and their relevance in society today – were assembled at Aarhus University. Over two and half days of fruitful and intense discussion, we put together a remarkable array of case studies and perspectives on how interdisciplinary archaeological research can contribute to the understanding not only of past culture change but also to the contemporary quandaries of resilience and vulnerability. The results of this workshop will result in a landmark-edited volume to be published in Berhahn’s series Catastrophes in Context.
One of the aims of this project is to explore also how public institutions such as museums can contribute to increased climate change literacy, including literacy about extreme events. To this end, the project’s final deliverable is a special exhibition scheduled to take place at Moesgård Museum in the last quarter of 2020. The idea with this exhibition is to use past disasters and what we know about these geologically and in terms of societal impacts as forecast scenarios for future impacts. This builds on the idea of so-called Realistic Disaster Scenarios but extends these with knowledge gained from case studies provided by archaeology and history. The rationale is that the archaeological record serves as a database of completed natural experiments of history that can inform surge capacity tests and scenarios of future societal trajectories (Fig. 1). For the planned exhibition, we use this idea to mirror potential future impacts of re-activated volcanism at the Laacher See volcano in the many results produced by the project. For instance, we will bring together map data on volcanic ashfall as recorded in our geological and archaeological archives with similar data on contemporary population densities and critical infrastructures in Europe to create powerful hazard maps. This project contributes to theme  Interdisciplinary Innovation of BIOCHANGE.
Further reading: projects.au.dk/lapadis/