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Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (Toulouse II-le Mirail)

Human environmental interactions in high altitude zone between Neolithic and roman period / K. Walsh

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Human environmental interactions in high altitude zone between Neolithic and roman period / K. Walsh

A History of Transitions : human environmental interactions in the high altitude zone between Neolithic and roman period. Kevin WALSH. In "La construction des territoires montagnards : exploitation des ressources et mobilité des pratiques", 2e International Workshop on archaeology of european mountain landscape, organisé par les laboratoires GEODE, FRAMESPA, GEOLAB et Chrono-Environnement. Université Toulouse 2-Le Mirail, 8-11 octobre 2009. [seconde journée]

Understandably, archaeologists tend to characterise cultures, and the transitions between cultures via an assessment of material culture. It is the ceramic material, the flint and other objects, along with evidence for buildings and monuments that provide the foundations for the definition of chronology and the investigation of certain types of economic practice. Since the 1960s, scientific archaeology, in particular the study of past environments and evidence for the exploitation of plants and animals, has made an important contribution to these discussions. However, more often than not, the assessment of transitions is still one founded on the study of artefacts and the associated chronologies rather than one that also considers changes in cultural ecology. A cultural ecological approach must underlie the study of milieus where there is a dearth of material evidence, such as in the Alpine zone. Here, the premise is that each society’s engagement with the environment is culturally specific; consequently, if we can elucidate the manner in which past peoples manipulated and responded to their milieus, then this is an effective hermeneutic for the investigation of past cultures and the transitions or changes in culture across a given landscape.This contribution will consider two important “transitions”; first, the Neolithic-Bronze Age transition; the second, the Iron-age Roman transition. This discussion will interpret palaeoenvironmental and archaeological evidence from the Ecrins and the Ubaye Valley in the southern French Alps. This first “transition” comprises the third and second millennia BC. The early part of this period saw the continued use of this landscape as a hunting zone, as represented by lithic scatters, with pastoralism concentrated towards the lower altitudes. From c. 2500 BC onwards, there was a fundamental change in the use of and engagement with this landscape. The appearance of the first substantial pastoral structures at high altitude (2000m and above) made from stone appear at this time. This first section, that deals with the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age will consider the archaeological and palaeoecological evidence within a framework that assesses the evidence for so-called “cultures” that were present in this region, and assess the difficulties of identifying these so-called archaeological cultures. The archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence for pastoralism and probable manipulations of the forest environment will be assessed. We will then consider the Iron Age to Roman transition. Here a far greater range of archaeological evidence allows us to present a more sophisticated assessment of alpine cultures than for the preceding prehistoric periods. However, archaeologists rarely consider how attitudes towards the environment changed during these periods. Despite palynological signals that imply continued human impact on these landscapes during the first millennia BC, and into the Roman period, there is a relative absence of archaeological sites in the high altitude zone. There is however a radical reconfiguration of the valley bottoms with the development of towns and associated route ways. For the Iron Age, this may well have been due to climatic deterioration, although we must also consider the importance of changing cultural perceptions of the mountains. The presence of cultic sites, such as the burnt mound at Les Sagnes, is indicative of a complex pattern of different uses the high altitude zone during this period. For the Roman Period, a continued absence of activity in the high altitude zones is implied by the archaeological evidence. However, some of the environmental evidence indicates pastoral activity. Here we must consider how the archaeological, environmental and historical evidence intersect with one another. It is important to consider Roman attitudes to the mountains and how these may have influenced the ways in which people lived at worked in the Alps. At one level, Rome may have adapted existing agricultural systems, and the relative absence of Roman sites at high altitude might be a continuation of Iron Age system.
This part of the communication will consider the archaeological and environmental evidence for these periods and will develop a cultural ecological assessment for these periods.



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