RESET: RESponse of humans to abrupt Environmental Transitions

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: Geography

Abstract

The inability to synchronise records precisely compromises palaeoenvironmental and prehistoric archaeological research. We address this challenge through a five year consortium bid that brings together expertise from four institutions. Our aim is to re-assess the precise timing relationship between environmental and archaeological events. Our objective is to test the long-accepted hypothesis that major shifts in human development coincided with, or immediately followed, specified abrupt environmental transitions (AETs). The RESET consortium builds on existing collaborations between the four institutions. It combines expertise in human palaeontology and Palaeolithic archaeology with earth and marine scientists and science-based dating. The purpose of the consortium is to combine these interdisciplinary strengths in order to overcome the current impasse to synchronising between the varied archives available to RESET members. We will achieve this by fully exploiting the potential of physical time markers co-registered within key sedimentary archives: volcanic ash deposits. Crucially, we include the detection and identification to source of microtephras, to refine the framework provided by conventional tephrostratigraphy. On this basis, we will create a European-wide 'lattice' for synchronisation of palaeo-environmental and archaeological archives. For this project's aims to be realised, several co-dependent, strategic prerequisites must be met: (I) archaeological events must be selected that are unambiguous in their interpretation and wide in geographical impact; (II) the archaeological events should occur within time windows that are characterised by marked AETs that also impacted over wide areas; (III) several tephras must be common to the selected archaeological and environmental records to provide the isochronous tie-lines between them; and (IV) the sequences selected for study must satisfy a number of stratigraphical and analytical criteria which optimise the potential for developing age models of decadal to centennial resolution. A consortium approach is the only feasible way to (a) successfully integrate these demanding scientific co-prerequisites, (b) develop the new schema and (c) test its success in less than 10 or more years; we estimate that RESET can achieve these goals within 5 years. RESET members have proved the feasibility and potential of the project by achieving sub-centennial resolution on cores from the Soppensee (Switzerland) and through the identification of 24 additional microtephras layers in core SA03-11 from the Central Adriatic. The project will comprise seven workpackages led led by a PI and resourced with PDRAs, tied PhDs and technicians. The secondment of an experienced researcher (Dr.Housley) as project manager, with a proven record of administration and data management (ORADS, NERC standard grants), will ensure the consortium's goal of providing a step change to the scientific challenge through a well-coordinated approach. Specifically, workpackage 4 (WP-4 Geochemistry of tephras) will extend the resolution obtained in the proof of concept to other tephras and microtephras and then applied to five related workpackages examining archaeological (WP1-3) and environmental archives (WP5-6 marine and continental). Age modelling (WP-7) will integrate all workpackages into a single synchronised record. For application of this approach, we target key events and processes in human prehistory, including the timing of modern human arrivals in Europe, the effect of a changing Sahara on North African populations, and the repopulation of Europe after the LGM. These target events for RESET's approach encompass key AETs of the last 130,000 years, which will exemplify the power and benefits of this approach to both our specific objective, and the wider palaeo-environmental agenda.

Publications

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BRAMHAM-LAW C (2013) New findings regarding the Saksunarvatn Ash in Germany in Journal of Quaternary Science