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Time and Temporality in Archaeology. Approaching Rhythms and Reasons for Societal (Trans)formations in Prehistoric Central Europe (TimeArch)

Applicant Heitz Caroline
Number 194326
Funding scheme Postdoc.Mobility
Research institution Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel
Institution of higher education Institution abroad - IACH
Main discipline Archaeology
Start/End 01.11.2020 - 31.10.2022
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All Disciplines (2)


Keywords (11)

Prehistoric Archaeology; Social Transformations; Challenges; Climate History; Mobility; Migration; Temporality; Vulnerability; Resilience; Coping; Social Practice

Lay Summary (German)

Die aktuellen globalen Herausforderungen führen zu einem wachsenden Interesse an der Archäologie, einen Beitrag zur Debatte über Belastbarkeit, Verwundbarkeit und Bewältigungskapazitäten und -praktiken zu leisten. In der gesamten Vorgeschichte Mitteleuropas lassen sich soziale Transformationen beobachten, die sich in veränderten Lebensrhythmen manifestieren. Das Projekt untersucht, was solche Veränderungen in der Vergangenheit ausgelöst hat, ob klimatische, ökologische, wirtschaftliche oder gesellschaftspolitische Herausforderungen in diesem Prozess eine Rolle spielten und wie die Menschen in Zeiten der Unsicherheit damit umgegangen sind.
Lay summary

Gesellschaftlicher Wandel ist ein langjähriges grundlegendes Thema der Prähistorischen Archäologie. In Zeiten der SARS-CoV-2 Pandemie, der Klimaerwärmung und zunehmender Migration ist es lohnend, die Dynamiken ähnlicher Herausforderungen und deren Bedeutung für soziale Transformationen auch in der prähistorischen Vergangenheit neu zu untersuchen. Im Vergleich zu anderen Ansätzen werden durch das Projekt Umweltbedingungen und soziopolitische Ereignisse gleichermassen auf deren transformatives Potential hin befragt. Das Ziel ist es besonders die zeitlichen (Ar-)Rhythmen und die möglichen Gründe für gesellschaftliche Veränderungen zu erforschen. Dabei werden unterschiedliche Konzepte wie etwa Resilienz und Vulnerabilität thematisiert sowie qualitative und quantitative Methoden aus den Geistes- und Naturwissenschaften kombiniert. Als Fallbeispiele werden Reste von neolithischen und bronzezeitlichen Siedlungen in Mitteleuropa herangezogen und vergleichend betrachtet.

Im Projekt werden qualitativ hochwertige Quellen und die hohe zeitliche Auflösung der Daten von UNESCO Welterbe Fundstellen (Pfahlbauten) mit solchen aus anderen Erhaltungskontexten verglichen um eine Methodologie zu entwickeln, die breit anwendbar ist. Ausheutiger Perspektive ist relevant, dass die prähistorische Archäologie über Möglichkeiten verfügt, über grosse Zeithorizonte hinweg den Umgang der Menschen mit klimatischen, urweltlichen, ökonomischen, soziopolitischen oder gesundheitlichen Herausforderungen zu untersuchen und so aus Erkenntnissen zu Vulnarbilität und Resilienz vergangener Gemeinschaften  für die aktuelle Gegenwart und unsere Zukunft zu lernen.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 27.11.2020

Lay Summary (English)

Current global challenges are leading to a growing interest in archaeology to contribute to the debate on resilience, vulnerability and coping capacities and practices. Throughout the prehistory of Central Europe, social transformations can be observed that manifest themselves in changing life rhythms. The project examines what triggered such changes in the past, whether climatic, ecological, economic or socio-political challenges played a role in this process and how people dealt with them in times of uncertainty.
Lay summary
Social change is a long-standing fundamental theme of prehistoric archaeology. In times of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, global warming and increasing migration, it is worthwhile to re-examine the dynamics of similar challenges and their significance for social transformations also in the prehistoric past. In comparison to other approaches, the project questions environmental conditions and socio-political events equally with regard to their transformative potential. In particular, the aim is to investigate the temporal (ar-)rhythms and possible reasons for social changes. Different concepts such as resilience and vulnerability are addressed and qualitative and quantitative methods from the humanities and natural sciences are combined. Remains of Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements in Central Europe will be used as case studies and examined comparatively.

The project will compare high-quality sources and the high temporal resolution of data from UNESCO World Heritage sites (pile dwellings) with those from other conservation contexts in order to develop a methodology that can be widely applied. From today's perspective, it is relevant that prehistoric archaeology has the potential to study the way in which people deal with climatic, primeval, economic, socio-political or health-related challenges over a wide range of time horizons, and thus to learn from findings on the vulnerability and resilience of past communities for the present and our future.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 27.11.2020

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


The current challenge posed by global warming necessarily leads to a growing interest in archaeology to contribute to that debate. This is evident in the wording of titles such as 'Lessons from the Past: Ancient Knowledge, Contemporary Issues' or 'Collapse or resilience? Archaeology, metaphor and global warming’. Past societies, more or less vulnerable or resilient, have also been confronted with climate variability. Parallel to this, social transformations - evident as al-tered cultural, economic and social rhythms of life - can be observed throughout the entire prehistory of Central Eu-rope. What has triggered societal transformations in the past? Are there synchronicities between the temporal (ar)rh-ythms of climatic fluctuations and societal transformations? Can we separate climatic influences from other drivers for societal change? What were the coping strategies of past societies? Can we learn from the past to shape our future? Societal transformation is a long-standing fundamental topic of Prehistoric Archaeology. However, in times of global warming and the digital revolution it is necessary to reconsider this question for two reasons: First, the research environment has changed radically in recent years. The availability and density of high-resolution - especially scientific - digital data for prehistory has increased dramatically (referred to as ‘science turn’ in archaeology). Secondly, current research on the topic harbours the risk of approaching past transformation too climate-deterministic underestimating other factors for societal change, as. e.g. economic ones or migration. The approach of TimeArch that addresses transformation is innovative in the following respects: Compared to other approaches, all possible reasons for societal change in the prehistoric past will be taken into account to the same extend. Therefor a new non-deterministic bottom-up Mixed Method approach will be developed to inquire the tem-poral (ar)rhythms and the possible reasons of societal changes. Within a theoretical framework of temporality and transformations the pattern of archaeological and paleoclimatic time series will be quantitatively correlated and tested for synchronicity. In addition, past societies’ long-term vulnerability and coping strategies will be inquired qualitatively. The chosen qualitative and quantitative methods belong to sub-fields of (bio)archaeology and climate science encom-passing multivariate and time series statistics. The novelty of the approach lies in the method’s combination based on the epistemological framework of Reflexive Archaeology (referring to P. Bourdieu’s Reflexive Anthology). Such a bal-anced methodology is essential for providing an innovative perspective to research that has been stuck in approaches taken over from ecology, such as resilience theory and the adaptive cycle model that led to determinism and mono-causal explanations. The chosen case studies allow to compare the epistemic potential of two fundamentally different preservation conditions in Archaeology, dry- and wetland sites, regarding the project’s questions for the first time: 1. The UNESCO-world heritage wetland sites at Lake Zurich, Switzerland (ca. 4300-2400 BCE) providing an exceptional high temporal resolution to inquire societal transformations during the 5.4 ka BP cooling period or the 4.2 ka BP event; 2. The dryland megasite Vráble, Slovenia (ca. 5250-4950 BCE) is one of the largest late LBK (‘Liner Pottery Culture’) set-tlements, promising new insights into the end of the social world of the first farming communities in Central Europe.TimeArch will for the first time inquire the temporality of transformations, provide a new transferable methodology in this field and an open access online database (XRONOS) that could be used for a multitude of projects in the future.