Agriculture and Environment as Basis for Early Monumentality


The reconstruction of agricultural activities and landscape differentiation is essential for a better understanding of the Neolithic Funnel Beaker societies (TRB) and the related monumentality, i.e. the erection of megalithic tombs and large enclosures. It is assumed that economical changes, such as the adoption of crop cultivation and animal husbandry, played an important role in the development of the observed monumentality. Excess production of agricultural goods, new distribution/exchange patterns of goods and new ideologies, that result in societal changes, are potential factors which might have triggered the appearance of monumental architecture in the middle Neolithic.

The aim of this project is the reconstruction of natural resources as well as changes in land use and agricultural strategies for the Neolithic period in northern Germany and adjacent areas using archaeo- and palaeobotanical methods. The results will be compared with preceding and following archaeological periods as well as with synchronous developments in adjacent regions.

Following questions will be addressed:

  • What was the landscape like at the beginning of the middle Neolithic and how strong was the anthropogenic impact of the TRB? What are the reasons for the woodland regeneration during the Late Neolithic period?
  • What crop plants were cultivated and can weed assemblages be used to reconstruct land-use strategies and soil conditions and of what dimension the arable fields could have been?
  • Was there a selective usage of trees and is it possible to reconstruct woodland density and vegetation differentiation resulting from woodland clearance and pasturage using anthracological analyses of charcoal samples?


On-site and off-site multidisciplinary palaeoecological investigations (pollen analysis, sediment analysis, tephrochronology, macrofossil analysis of plant remains in archaeological contexts, anthracology, dendroecology) aim at detailed palaeoenvironmental reconstructions.

The analyses of geoarchives, i.e. lake sediments and peat, are carried out in cooperation with the projects ‘High-resolution reconstruction of climate and environmental change’ and ‘Mid-Holocene climate variability’. Detailed palynological studies on annually laminated lake sediments aim at high temporal resolution reconstruction of human impact and vegetation dynamics during the middle Neolithic period in selected study areas. In addition the digital compilation of existing pollen profiles from northern Germany will help to reconstruct regional patterns in 200 years time slices. Hereby three categories of pollen data, representing different spatial scales, are distinguished. Large lakes (>50ha) are regarded to provide a regional picture (meso-scale) of the environmental history, as the area from which most of the pollen derives increases with the size of the lake. Small lakes are regarded to reflect mainly changes on an extra-local level (micro-scale). The investigation of on-site material, i.e. archives in context of archaeological features/investigations, is used to investigate human impact on a local level.

Botanical macro-remains from various archaeological investigations and also archive material of Neolithic origin are analysed within this project. A standardised sampling routine was developed and is used to collect material from ongoing archaeological excavations.

Results from different sites are compared to identify local and regional land-use patterns within the Neolithic landscape. Therefore the investigation of representative sites will help to improve our knowledge of the role of agriculture within the TRB societies.

Research to date

Up to now little is known about the economical background of the TRB culture. New investigations aim at improving our knowledge in this regard. In addition existing data, i.e. pollen profiles, macrofossil identifications, are critically revaluated and integrated into a central database. AMS-dating might be applied to existing data (macrofossil and pollen profiles) to reassure the chronological context of these records.