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Heathlands as interspecies, inter-societal landscapes of the Atlantic façade

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Atlantic heathlands were once one of the most extensive open landscapes existing across Northern Europe. They are most frequently defined in biological terms as open, treeless landscapes, dominated by evergreen sclerophyllous plants, and thriving on sandy, nutrient-poor soils. Heather connects large stretches of landscapes above ground (Calluna canopy) and below ground (rhizomes and ericoid mycorrhiza); as well as connecting its accompanying (non)human others who, in turn, ensure its rejuvenation by e.g. systematic burning, turf cutting and grazing. However, although they are frequently portrayed as disowned, disposed and degraded landscapes, the deep-time history of heathlands is one of incredible interspecies complexity, leading to exceptional economic infrastructures, funerary complexes and heath-bound traditions. These deeply integrated ecocultural Atlantic heathlands once formed a connected but somewhat patchy belt along the European west coast spanning from Portugal to the Netherlands, Britain and Ireland, Scandinavia and the steppes of Ukraine in the east and up to Lofoten in northern Norway. At their greatest extent, in the early 19th century AD, they covered millions of hectares, whereas today only a small percentage remains. This poses an intriguing question of what drove and linked the earliest human-driven expansions of heathland-associated grazing regimes and their sometimes incredibly deep-time existence. This paper presents a series of interim results from the newly commenced ERC project: ‘Anthropogenic heathlands: The Social Organization of Super-Resilient Past Human Ecosystems [ANTHEA]’, including new paleoecological and palynological evidence and landscape organisation modelling. These analyses shed new light on how particular landscape-bound practices of resurgence and extraction-oriented disturbances emerge, entangle and institutionalise. Practices that bind people to landscapes and landscapes to people, connecting humans, plants and animals across incredible distances and timespans. As a consequence, I will propose that both the extensive geographical range and deep-time success of the Atlantic heathlands were an interspecies, inter-societal achievement.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Event27th European Archology Association Annual Meeting - Kiel, Germany
Duration: 7 Sep 202112 Sep 2021

Conference

Conference27th European Archology Association Annual Meeting
CountryGermany
CityKiel
Period07/09/202112/09/2021

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