Project Part 11: Palaeo-Ecology and Subsistence Strategies in Mining Areas



A.Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Klaus Oeggl 


Elisabeth Breitenlechner (Pollen Analysis)
Barbara Viehweider (Macro Fossil Analysis)
Stefan Schwarz (Macro Fossil Analysis)
Werner Kofler (Pollen Analysis)

University of Innsbruck
Institute of Botany
Sternwartestraße 15
A-6020 Innsbruck


Recent Publications & Posters:
Schwarz & Oeggl (2009): Woodland use in the Montafon during Bronze Age   


Abstract: Prehistoric and historic mining activities leave diverse effects on vegetation and environment due to the huge demand on raw materials as well as the supply of eatables for the maintenance of miners. Primarily the forests represent an important source of raw materials as well as potential agricultural land. Wood is needed as building material for settlements, for timbering mine shafts and as an energy source for metallurgical activities (fire-setting, smelting, etc.). Though there are several palaeoecological studies from mining areas in Europe the knowledge of the interrelationship between palaeoenvironment and mining is poor. There exist some excellent investigations which reveal the moulding of the cultural landscape in connection with mining activities, but a general palaeoecological signal for prehistoric mining activities is missing up to now. The crucial matter is to separate the palaeoecology of mining from the palaeoecology of agriculture. Recent geochemical analyses (Al, Ba, Pb, Cu, Si, Ti, and V) in peat deposits constitute a good approach for the reconstruction of historic ore smelting in addition to pollen analyses. Another useful approach is charcoal analysis conducted in connection with fire-settings and smelting places reflecting the utilisations of wood resources. A combination of these methods promises to be an effective approach to detect the diverse impact of mining on the prehistoric environment.

In connection with anthropogenic interference on vegetation alongside timber exploitation the second objective this proposal addresses is the subsistence strategy of mining areas. According to the different ecological and climatic preconditions in the investigated mining areas different husbandry regimes are to be expected in time and space. Additionally in alpine environments summer pasture farming is an integrated element of agriculture, whose origin is poorly understood. One of the oldest indications for such a seasonal farming practice is given in connection with mining, and thus the role of summer farming for the subsistence of miners is also part of these studies.

Finally climate is a physical factor important in structuring biotic communities on a longer time scale. Since the Neolithic several short-term climate changes on the scale of decades to hundreds of years are known. This resulted in displacements of ecotones and may have affected agricultural regimes and mining activities.



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