Original paper

High impact: early pastoralism and environmental change during the Neolithic and Bronze Age in the Silvretta Alps (Switzerland/Austria) as evidenced by archaeological, palaeoecological and pedological proxies

Kothieringer, Katja; Walser, Christoph; Dietre, Benjamin; Reitmaier, Thomas; Haas, Jean Nicolas; Lambers, Karsten


The beginnings of the continuous human presence and of pastoral activities in the high mountainous region of Central Europe have recently become a frequently discussed topic in both archaeology and palaeoecology. In extreme environments such as the high Alpine main ridge and adjacent areas, highly adaptive subsistence strategies were required to exploit natural resources available in the subalpine and alpine zones. Such strategies were determined by changing environmental, social, and economic conditions. To investigate the relationships between settlement dynamics, human impact, and Holocene climatic changes, we studied the valleys of the Silvretta Massif in the central Eastern Alps between the Paznaun (Austria) and Lower Engadine valleys (Switzerland). We are presenting new archaeological, palaeoecological, and pedological evidence of continuous human activities from the Early Neolithic Period to the Bronze Age (∼ 5,500–800 BC). This evidence sheds new light on the beginnings of intensified human impact on the high mountainous landscape, i.e. activities beyond Mesolithic hunting along the timberline. Archaeological data suggest a shift in subsistence strategies from hunting to herding at the end of the Neolithic Period (∼ 2,800–2,500 BC). While palaeoecological data confirm this trend, they also indicate potentially earlier human and livestock impact through forest clearances by fire and grazing from about 4,200 BC onwards. In addition to archaeological sites and peat bogs, soils in high-altitude regions prove to be appropriate archives indicating former vegetation cover, shifts of timberline altitudes as well as disturbance of soil formation by human activity such as by slash-and-burn and by livestock grazing.


early pastoralismeuropean alpstimberlinehuman impact