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Mona Court-Picon, Hélène Collet and Dominique Bosquet (2012)

Palaeoenvironments and human activities during the Neolithic in Wallonia (SE Belgium) as inferred from Pollen and Non-Pollen Palynomorphs

In: Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium, Geologica Belgica 2012.

It is now widely accepted that human impact has been the most important factor effecting vegetation change, at least in Europe, during the last 6000 years. With the onset of agriculture and stock breeding, at the so-called Neolithic revolution, the human role changed from a passive component to an active element which directly affects nature. This change had dramatic consequences for the natural environment and landscape development. During this important period of transition, arable and pastoral farming, the actual settlements themselves and the consequent changes in the economy significantly altered the natural vegetation and started to create the cultural landscape with its many different and varying aspects. Conversely, human settlements and economic activity throughout the Neolithic are often closely related to natural environments and their changes induced by climatic variability. In this context, and in order to better understand anthropogenic/natural processes interactions in lowland ecosystems, an integrated research based on a multi-proxies approach has recently been undertaken in Wallonia (SE Belgium) within the framework of a convention between the “Service Public de Wallonie” and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, which aims at investigating the archaeological sites of the area in terms of palaeoenvironmental potentials. As a part of the archaeobotanical studies of this broader research, we present here the results of palynological analyses (pollen, NPPs, micro-charcoal) realised at two Middle Belgian sites: an Early Neolithic village (Belgian LBK) with two occupation phases (Fehxe-le-Haut-Cloché), and a Middle-Late Neolithic flint mines areaof around one hundred hectares exploited for more than 1 800 years (Spiennes). The purposes of this work are (1) to reconstruct the vegetation around each site and its evolution between the different occupation phases, (2) to elucidate human action on the vegetation history and questions relating to the vegetal economy during the Neolithic, and (3) to try to characterize local settlement dynamics, nature and function of different structure types, and specialized activities such as animal husbandry, cultures, waste management or mining. Our data represent the first “non-pollen palynomorphs” (NPPs) records in Wallonia and accent will be made here on these new biological indicators. In recent years the demand for more comprehensive past climatic and environmental reconstructions has stimulated the expansion of this new set of complementary microfossils. It is a broad group representing a wide variety of micro-remains of bacteria, protozoa, fungi, invertebrates, testate amoeba, algae and higher plant remains, which are encountered (but frequently ignored) during standard pollen analysis. They provide complementary insight into climate and/or human-driven processes, as well as vegetation shifts, even where pollen is scarce or absent (which is often the case in sediments from archaeological sites). If the value of NPPs as paleoenvironmental indicators has now been demonstrated, their identification (up to now more than one thousand NPPs have been described!) is still progressing and more and more studies are needed to improve our knowledge about their ecology and representativeness.
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