Landscape and environmental development during the Middle and Late Pleistocene

B. Urban, M. Hein, M. Theuerkauf
Febuary 2023

Climatic alternations throughout the Middle and Late Pleistocene had a substantial effect on landscape-forming processes with an interdependence on vegetation, sedimentation and hydrology. Hence, deciphering landscape, palaeoenvironmental and climatic conditions of the past 300 ka, and particularly of the last interglacial-glacial cycle, sets the foundation for understanding early hominin/Neanderthal migration patterns and adaptability. Our research will therefore focus on reconstructing the nature of local environmental changes and on regional landscape development. We will analyze site formation processes, vegetation patterns and deduce climate and palaeoenvironment of different archives at archaeological sites and/or link them to the particular archaeological findings. This will enable us to substantially contribute to our first research question:

How did landscapes look like during early human presence and which ecological factors triggered their appearence and restricted their dispersal?

By means of our site-specific as well as regional approach of landscape and climate reconstruction we will provide basic data related to the second research question:

When and under which climatic conditions did early humans appear in Lower Saxony and how did climatic fluctuations influence the development of technological and socio-economic solutions?

In order to shed light on these dependencies it is crucial to directly and comprehensively link the often low-resolution archaeological deposits (e.g in caves or slope positions) with the nearby highly-resolved sediment archives whose information will be decrypted by a joint multi-proxy approach using bioindicators, sedimentology and geochemistry (Fig. 1). This can only be achieved by the investigation of landscape processes employing drills, geophysical and remote-sensing methods.

To improve landcover reconstructions for past glacial- and interglacial periods we will use a set of quantitative approaches. The first step is the application of ROPES on long, high-resolution pollen records to produce pollen productivity estimates (PPEs) ( With PPEs available, the next step will be regional and local scale landcover reconstructions for single sites using REVEALS and Marco Polo. For selected time periods, e.g of the Eemian interglacial, the Extended Downscaling Approach will be applied on a collection of pollen records to reconstruct patterns in the landcover. The analysis will be based both on existing pollen records from the main study region and beyond. Additionally, further pollen records will be produced for key study sites of the CCEHN project (Fig. 2).

Apart from palynological, sedimentological and geomorphological investigations we will prepare samples from sediment cores and excavation sites for geochronological and palaeontological analyses. The results will be used to unravel the environmental history jointly with other subprojects.

Using this approach, field work and research will focus on the famous (Middle) Palaeolithic sites of Schöningen, Salzgitter-Lebenstedt, Lichtenberg and Lehringen, but additionally we intend to conduct prospection for hitherto unknown Middle Palaeolithic sites (e.g. in Plönjeshausen and the Wendland region).

Figure 1: Examples for stratigraphic descriptions of an archaeological trench and a sediment core including sampling positions for palynological analysis. Alterations of organic and clastic sediments are clearly visible.
Figure 2: For the recognition of pollen and other microscopic objects we further develop approaches of automatic recognition using the Tofsy approach.
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