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New insights into vegetation dynamics and settlement history in Hümmling, north-western Germany, with particular reference to the Neolithic

Abstract

Palynological investigations on two well-dated peat profiles provide insights into Neolithic vegetation and settlement history from Hümmling in north-western Germany. The site selections allow comparisons between local and regional vegetation changes and are used to estimate the extent of Neolithic influence on the vegetation. The interpretation of the fossil spectra relied on radiocarbon dating, evaluation of pollen indicator taxa, non-pollen palynomorphs and multivariate techniques. During the late Mesolithic the vegetation was dominated by mixed oak forests while openings in forest cover were detected, with a decline in elm reflected in the regional pollen record around 4250 cal. b.c. The presence of humans is shown by settlement indicators that are first recorded at ca. 3800 cal. b.c. Vegetation changes were small between 4300 and 3600 cal. b.c. This suggests that regional vegetation was relatively resilient to small-scale disturbances. Possible indications of grazing were recorded in the spectra of the local pollen profile but there is no clear-cut evidence for Neolithic activity. Between 3520 and 2260 cal. b.c. decreases in forest cover were inferred from both profiles and increases in settlement indicators reflect farming activity. These changes coincide with the emergence in the area of the Funnel Beaker Culture and the subsequent Single Grave Culture. Both profiles suggest that settlement probably ceased between ca. 3230 and 3050 cal. b.c. This lull or cessation in activity was probably regional in character. After 2260 cal. b.c. human impact on the vegetation decreases and woodlands regenerate. The longevity of the regeneration phase—ca. 690 years—was probably connected with the low resilient capability of the vegetation on the poor soils.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Gerfried Caspers for providing insights into archived maps from the Hümmling, Stefanie Müller for introduction to analysis of testate amoebae, Ingo Feeser for an introduction to the OxCal program, Steffen Wolters for helpful discussions and, together with Jens Lühmann, for help during fieldwork. An earlier version of the manuscript benefited from constructive comments by Michael O’Connell, Walter Dörfler and an anonymous reviewer. This research was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG Jo 304/3).

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Kramer, A., Bittmann, F. & Nösler, D. New insights into vegetation dynamics and settlement history in Hümmling, north-western Germany, with particular reference to the Neolithic. Veget Hist Archaeobot 23, 461–478 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-013-0409-z

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Keywords

  • Neolithic
  • Pollen analysis
  • Human impact
  • Northern Germany
  • Funnel Beaker Culture
  • Single Grave Culture