Exploring the dynamics and causes of prehistoric land use change
in the cradle of European farming
Oxford PI: Prof. Amy Bogaard
The ERC Synergy Grant ‘EXPLO’ is an interdisciplinary project exploring prehistoric farming societies who settled on lakeshores in south-east Europe.
EXPLO is a collaboration between the University of Oxford, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the University of Bern, running from 2019 to 2024. The four PIs on the project are Prof. Amy Bogaard (School of Archaeology, University of Oxford), Prof. Albert Hafner (Institute of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bern), Prof. Kostas Kotsakis (Dept of Archaeology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) and Prof. Willy Tinner (Institute of Plant Sciences, University of Bern).
The project explores Neolithic-Bronze Age lakeshore settlements in the ‘lake district’ of northern Greece and the southern Balkans, building up a high-resolution picture of prehistoric farming through the Neolithic and Bronze Age, inspired by world-leading lakeshore settlement research in the Alpine region. Bioarchaeological reconstruction of subsistence practices will be framed by new dendrochronological dating of ‘pile fields’ (waterlogged vertical timbers driven into the lakebed to support pile-dwellings) to reconstruct settlement histories, and high-precision palaeoecological work based on coring of lake sediments.
The project’s website will provide news and updates as the work develops.
Work at Oxford
Oxford’s focus within EXPLO is the bioarchaeology, featuring extensive archaeobotanical work led by Dr Michael Charles and Prof. Amy Bogaard. We will build a picture of plant use and management at each site by analysing the macroscopic remains of cereals, pulses, oil-seed crops and gathered plant foods. The anaeorobic waterlogged conditions of submerged lakeshore settlements are ideal for preserving plant tissues, including the fragile parts (such as leaves, pods and stems) not typically preserved by carbonisation on dry sites. Waterlogging also affords a holistic view of plant use beyond the crops and stored plants highlighted in carbonised assemblages. In this way we can build a detailed record of consumption patterns and foodwebs, and of how these changed through time within site sequences and among settlements and lake regions.
An initial fieldwork season in 2019 at the submerged site of Ploča, in the Bay of Bones on the south-east side of Lake Ohrid, in North Macedonia, confirmed excellent preservation of crop and other food plant remains in thick (>1 m) layers of waterlogged organic detritus preserved on the lakebed, sampled through coring and excavation. Our preliminary analysis during the 2019 season – in collaboration with Prof. Ferran Antolín of the Integrative Prähistorische und Naturwissenschaftliche Archäologie, University of Basel – identified abundant remains of cereals (e.g., chaff and bran), pulses (e.g., pods and stems), oil-seed crops and a diverse spectrum of gathered plants, including Cornelian cherry, acorn, hazelnut, strawberry, blackberry, fig and grape.