Holocene anthropogenic landscapes in the Balkans: the palaeobotanical evidence from southwestern Bulgaria

Research paper by Elena Marinova, Spassimir Tonkov, Elissaveta Bozilova, Ivan Vajsov

Indexed on: 11 Jan '12Published on: 11 Jan '12Published in: Vegetation History and Archaeobotany


Palaeoecological reconstructions from the region of southwestern Bulgaria were used for inferring the human impact on the vegetation and landscape during the last 8 millennia. They are based on data from pollen analyses of lakes and peat-bogs, plant macrofossils, archaeobotanical finds and radiocarbon dating. During the early Holocene, after 7900 cal. b.p. (5950 cal. b.c.) the climate changed to cooler summers, milder winters and higher precipitation resulting in the formation of a coniferous belt dominated by Pinus sp. and Abies alba. These favorable environmental pre-conditions had a positive influence on the Neolithisation of the Balkans after the 8200 cal. b.p. (6250 cal. b.c.) cold event, which caused drought in the Eastern Mediterranean. Direct evidence from wood charcoal records from the Neolithic settlement layers in the study area shows a slight modification of the surrounding woodlands and an increase of the light-demanding components, probably expressed through larger forest border zones and thinning out of the wood stands. The increase in the number of settlements in the valleys of southwestern Bulgaria intensified the human activity visible in the palaeobotanical record from 6950 cal. b.p. (5000 cal. b.c.) onwards. Between ca. 5700–5100 cal. b.p. (3800–3200 cal. b.c.) signs of anthropogenic influence on the vegetation are virtually absent. The intensity of human impact increased notably after 3200 cal. b.p. (1400–1250 cal. b.c., approx. Late Bronze Age), documented by a rise of pollen anthropogenic indicators. The final transformations in the natural forest cover after 2750 cal. b.p. (800 cal. b.c. onset of the Iron Age) marked the reduction of the coniferous forests dominated by Abies alba and Pinus sp. and the expansion of Fagus sylvatica and Picea abies. These vegetation changes are contemporaneous with increase of the palaeofire activities and the next peak of anthropogenic indicators. The changes in the landscape during the Roman period and the medieval period reflect regional environmental features and were forced by the diversification of anthropogenic activity.