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La géoarchéologie française au xxie siècle

Nathalie Carcaud
Gilles Arnaud-Fassetta

Partie III. Alluvionnement, peuplement, stratégies et formes d'adaptation/Section 3. Alluviation, settlement strategies and adaptation

Chapter 11. Beyond determinism

A local approach to nature/society interactions in the southern Balkans at the transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age

Laurent Lespez, Zoï Tsirtsoni, José-Antonio López Sáez, Yann Le Drézen, Arthur Glais et Robert Davidson

Texte intégral


1Over the last twenty years, the scientific literature has been marked by a resurgence of publications linking cultural transformation with changes in environmental conditions (e.g., Weiss et al., 1993; DeMenocal, 2001; Weninger et al., 2006; Büntgen et al., 2011, 2013). Bounding arguments emphasise the decisive role of changes in biophysical factors in the emergence or decline of certain societies. These arguments are in accordance with some determinist positions that give a crucial role to more or less favourable qualities attributed to certain geographic areas in order to understand the spatial organisation of societies. Recently obtained data in Greece for the Holocene enables study of two aspects of these arguments that seek to attribute a determining role to geographic conditions (Lespez, 2008, 2012; Lespez et al., 2013). In this article, we focus more specifically on the consequences of environmental changes on societies by comparing the hypotheses proposed by some researchers working in the Balkans with data acquired in northern Greece in the framework of an ANR research programme entitled “Balkans 4000”.

Environmental determinism and Neolithic societies

The issue of environmental determinism

2“Determinism” is synonymous with the modern scientific approach since, in its broad sense, it simply means that any phenomenon has an identifiable cause or series of causes. Since the beginning of Western Science, reflections on the role of natural causes in the explanation of societal structures and sociocultural changes have held an important place in research. The most well-known and most frequently cited example is that of “climate theory”. Developed during antiquity by philosophers such as Aristotle, it was formalised by more modern philosophers, including Montesquieu who proposed, in Esprit des Lois (1748), a more developed formulation. In chapter X of Book XIV, he expressed it as follows: “It is the variety of wants in different climates that first occasioned a difference in the manner of living, and this gave rise to a variety of laws”. Thus this theory proposes a causal explanation for certain social phenomena that gives climate a key role. This philosophical position did not survive to the end of modernity, but nonetheless it shows how the effort to rationalise the world and the role of nature during the Enlightenment included physical causes.

3In geography, determinism has often been considered “a mechanistic determinism by natural factors”, as lamented by Durand-Dastès (2004) and unfortunately contemporary geographic dictionaries discuss this concept in largely from this perspective (Levy, 2003). Interpretations proposed in the initial phases of development of the discipline, which gave the natural environment a determining role in the explanation of spatial organisation, were rapidly criticised. In France, this critique was taken into account by the geography of Vidal de La Blache (1903) in which a strict natural determinism is replaced by the concept of possibilism, as broadly popularised by historians. This proposes that societies develop independently of natural environments, but that they take account of the possibilities offered by biophysical environments in their development. Based on the concepts of advantages and constraints, it was never a complete scientific theory but rather a dialectic position, designed to protect Vidalian geographers from being perceived as strict determinists. This view was, however, broadly criticised, both by proponents of the new geography, because it supported the description of geographic realities rather than the promotion of explanatory models (Levy, 2003), and by physical geographers who reproached it as being “none other than the scientific form of laxity” as Bertrand (1975). Although human geography was largely uninterested in the question of the role of physical environments in social dynamics, Bertrand (1975) proposed the idea of “a determinism relativised by agrotechnical thresholds”. This therefore involves “concretely appreciating the weight of natural factors on the development of rural societies”, by taking into account that “each agrosystem uses the natural environment to the best of its agrotechnical potential and that an equilibrium is established in the capacity of the environment for agricultural activity”. This signifies a reversal of determinism because the biophysical characteristics of the environment have only relative weight conditioned by the determining role of technological other capacities of societies. This position attempted to protect the benefits of Vidalian possibilism by affirming the primordial role of societies, as propounded by Gourou (1982) in, for example, his research on the tropical world, while at the same time rehabilitating causal reasoning. It suggests a view of nature/society relationships punctuated by agrotechnical thresholds and it contributed to stimulate research in agrarian archaeology (Guilaine, 1991). In parallel, Bertrand (1975) stressed the necessity of considering scalar effects in the analysis of determinants and the formulation of causal explanations. This proposition remains explicitly or implicitly accepted by geoarchaeologists trained in geography, enriched by the consideration of the non-linearity of the processes, the role of multiple causes and of contingency.

4Alongside reflections on the role of biophysical qualities attributed to different geographic areas, as discussed for the northern Aegean region by Lespez (2008, 2012), questions immediately arise concerning the role of global change, and particular global climatic changes on societies. Today these form one of the most frequently discussed topics by archaeologists and paleoenvironmental specialists, especially as they can exploit the recent and rapid advances in paleoclimate research (e.g., Weiss et al., 1993; DeMenocal, 2001; Berglund, 2003; Diamond, 2005; Weninger et al., 2006, 2009; Tol and Wagner, 2010; Büntgen et al., 2011, 2013; Butzer, 2012; Drake, 2012).

5Like the entire planet, the Mediterranean world underwent profound climatic changes during the Holocene. It is divided into three parts (Walker et al., 2012). In the temperate zone, after fundamental changes resulting from global warming between the Lateglacial and the onset of the Holocene, the distinction between the Middle and the Late Holocene corresponds broadly to the transition from the climatic optimum (“Holocene Thermal Optimum” or “Hypsithermal”) to a cooler period, increasingly called the “Neoglacial”. In Mediterranean latitudes, south of 43o-40o N, this corresponds to the transition between a wetter period and one marked by increasing climate aridity (Magny et al., 2012). This transition is principally explained by orbital factors. The progressive reduction of insolation in middle and northern latitudes, especially during summer, leads to a permanent readjustment of the climate on a global scale. However, the complexity of this readjustment means that the precise tempo of the transition remains a question (Wanner et al., 2008, 2011). This took place after 3500 BC but appears to have accelerated after 2500 and 1800 BC, the period in which it ends (Magny et al., 2009, 2012). This explains that the Middle-Late Holocene boundary is now often placed at 2200 BC (Walker et al., 2012).

6Independent of this large amplitude change, a series of secular or pluri-secular sub-Milankovitch climatic oscillations has been identified throughout the Holocene (Magny, 1995; Mayewski et al., 2004; Wanner et al., 2008, 2011). Their cause continues to be debated due to the complexity of the teleconnections in global climate, however, the major factors are thought to be radiative forcings linked to solar activity, volcanic eruptions and changes in thermohaline circulation. Palaeoclimatic data obtained from the study of oceanic cores in the Atlantic (Bond et al., 1997), the western and eastern Mediterranean (Comabrieu-Nebout et al., 2009; Pross et al., 2009; Rohling et al., 2009; Geraga et al., 2010; Kotthoff et al., 2011), humid zones and Alpine Mediterranean (Magny et al., 2009, 2011; Peyron et al., 2011; Magny et al., 2012) and spelothems (Bar-Matthews et al., 1998; Schilman et al., 2001) all show the recurrence of periods of rapid climate change (RCC). These record allow identification of five main RCC periods during the last 10000 years: ca. 6200 BC, 4500-3000 BC, 2800-2000 BC, 1300-500 BC, AD 250-650 and AD 1200-1850 (Mayewski et al., 2004; Wanner et al., 2011). These are most often characterised by a cooler and damper climate in Western Europe and a trend toward aridification south of 40 ° N in the eastern Mediterranean (Magny, 2004; Magny et al., 2012). During these RCC it is not just climate, the entire environment that is affected (Fletcher and Zielhofer, 2012). The effects on vegetation (Combrieu-Nebout et al., 2009; Jalut et al., 2009; Sadori et al., 2011) and fluvial systems have been clearly demonstrated. For large temperate rivers, such as the Loire and the Rhône (Arnaud-Fassetta et al., 2010) and British rivers (Lewin et al., 2005; Macklin et al., 2006, 2010), the succession of periods marked by elevated hydrodynamics has been elaborated. Consequences have also been shown for the many rivers north and south of the Mediterranean, as seen in research conducted on the Iberian Peninsula (Benito et al., 2008) and the Maghreb (Zielhofer and Faust, 2008).

7The role of these climate changes has been part of recent debates on the emergence and/or collapse of civilisations during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. Some have argued that the transition from the Late Dryas to the onset of the Holocene had profoundly implications for the availability of dietary resources and facilitated the development of agriculture (Hillman et al., 2001), whilst for others climate change did not play a triggering role (Willcox, 2005). This topic is particularly relevant in the Mediterranean world, especially in the eastern Meditarranean (see e.g., Carpenter, 1966; Weiss et al., 1993; Weninger et al., 2006; Berger and Guilaine, 2009; Weninger et al., 2009; Drake, 2012).

The Neolithic-Bronze Age transition in the southeast Balkans: An archaeological problem and possible environmental solutions?

8In the southeast Balkans, the transition from the Neolithic (ca. 7000-3000 BC in the Greek chronology) and the Bronze Age (ca. 3300-1100 BC) provides contradictory evidence regarding cultural evolution. On one hand, there are many signs of discontinuity or rupture, with the disappearance of certain material and cultural traits indicative of the final phases of the Neolithic (the Chalcolithic in Bulgaria), including decorated ceramics, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figurines and decorative ornaments (Anthony and Chi, 2010). On the other hand, the persistence of some techniques (architecture, stone tools and even metal tools) and the permanence of the location of some settlements suggest that if not continuity, there could have been at least an affiliation or transition between the two periods (Tsirtsoni, 2004, 2010). Radiocarbon dates obtained in recent decades have significantly tipped the balance toward discontinuity since they show that, on sites where both periods are represented, several centuries separate the last Neolithic (Chalcolithic) levels from the first Bronze Age levels. The hiatus extends, depending on the sites and the precision of the dates, from ca. 4300-4000 to 3400-3000 BC (Maniatis and Kromer, 1990; Görsdorf and Bojadžiev, 1996). Moreover, very few sites have yielded dates falling within this interval (Boyadziev, 1995; Maniatis and Papadopoulos, 2011).

9Yet the scientific community is not unanimous in the interpretation of these data. Most researchers working in Greece have a tendency to minimise the problem, pointing out the provisional nature of the dates and focusing on signs of continuity (Andreou et al., 1996; Demakopoulou, 1996; Treuil et al., 2008). In contrast, in Bulgaria, different hypotheses have been proposed to explain the causes of what is often seen as a total collapse of civilisation. Some archaeologists implicate human factors, such as invasions by peoples from the steppes north of the Black Sea (Boyadziev, 1995, 1998), whilst others emphasise environmental factors, that is, climate change causing global rise in water levels (Todorova, 1978, 1995, 2007) or inversely, a serious drought (Nikolov, in press). If drought or severe flooding the inhabitants would have perished and/or turned toward nomadism and pastoralism. The gap in the 4th millennium BC would thus have been the result of population movement to zones sheltered from flooding, drought or invasions, notably in the southern mountainous zones (the Rhodopes) where the Chalcolithic appears to have persisted longer, until 3800-3700 BC. Several researchers have proposed the idea of a progression of population displacement from northeast (the zone closest to the Eastern European steppes and the most susceptible area from an environmental point of view) to the west and south. The identification of such patterns is based on existing radiocarbon dates (around 220 in Bulgaria for the Chalcolithic and the start of the Early Bronze Age prior to the “Balkans 4000” project; Görsdorf and Bojadžiev, 1996) and, on parallels between the different local chrono-typological sequences (Todorova, 1995; Boyadjiev, 1998). Testing this hypothesis requires proving the synchronous nature of collapse in each region and the succession of regions following a predictable order. Relating the presumed population evolution with the impact of global climatic oscillations, such as that which affected the 4th millennium BC centred on 4500-3900 BC and 3400-3200 BC (Mayewski et al., 2004; Wanner et al., 2011), has been part of hypotheses that propose the critical role of climate change in the social transformation of the Eastern Mediterranean during the Neolithic and the Bronze Age (Weninger et al., 2009). The end of the Aegeo-Balkan Neolithic (Chalcolithic) is seen in this context not only as an exemplary case study, but also as a real model as: “if [the hiatus] is confirmed, this is perhaps the first time that chronological climate determinism is shown to allow a precise decadal-scale forecasting of periods for which major social variation may be expected” (Weninger et al., 2009, p. 37).

The “Balkans 4000” project: A multiscalar combined research programme

10The “Balkans 4000” project had a dual objective. For archaeology, this involved remedying the biases and imprecision in the available data, particularly for 14 C dates, in order to prove or disprove the postulated hiatus, and then to measure it and describe its characteristics (Tsirtsoni, in press). Broadening the framework of the study region was essential to be able to test the hypothesis of a progression of site abandonment and to identify, where applicable, its origin. The framework selected thus extends from Attica to the lower Danube Valley, covering a total area of ca. 360000 km². But within this vast area, the data-scale of observation was that of the site. The sites examined have diferent proiles, in terms of archaeology (habitations, cemeteries, etc.), geomorphological situation (lat open-air site, tells, caves), location (plains, mountains, coastal) and duration of occupation. To be able to detect the spatial pattern in the results, we studied sites distributed as equally as possible, taking into account the density of the archaeological data and the realistic possibilities for sampling (Fig. 1).

11From a palaeoenvironmental viewpoint, this involved countering the weakness of the information on which hypotheses concerning environmental forcing afecting social organisation in the Balkans at the end of the Neolithic, are based. The research developed aimed to deine the conditions for settlement and the life-ways of the inhabitants and their neighbouring territories, both at the moment of their abandonment and ater, in order to evaluate the potential role of the natural environment in the locally observed phenomena. Proiting from the density of recent and ongoing archaeological research and the results obtained from human-environment studies in northern Greece (Lespez, 2003, 2007, 2008; Lespez et al., 2013), we decided to develop and extend the investigations into eastern Macedonia. The lower Strymon Valley was thus selected, at its conluence with the Angitis, the last tributary on the let bank (Fig. 2). his area, which includes at least one site (Fidokoryphi) occupied during the critical periods covered by the project, had the advantage of being situated in the middle of the archaeological study zone and at the end of a north-south oriented axis that we know played a crucial and repeated role in the population dynamics of the Balkans and in trade between the Aegean world and Southeast Europe. It is also an environment susceptible to environmental change, particularly hydroclimatic, and favourable for the recording of transformations due to agro-pastoral activities. Indeed, the initial results obtained between 2000 and 2005 demonstrated the signiicant and still largely unexploited potential of the thick (10-30 m) luvio-lacustrine deposits in this area (Lespez, 2007).

Fig. 1. Archaeological sites in the “Balkans 4000” programme» and the study area for palaeoenvironmental analyses. 1: settlement sites (circles) and burials (rectangles) dated during the “Balkans 4000” programme; 2: other settlement sites (circles) and cemeteries (rectangles) with dates; 3: undated reference sites.

Fig. 2. The study area in the lower Strymon and Angitis Valley and the location of the cores bored. 1: border of the Neogene and Quaternary formations; 2: lake border changes derived from the old maps.

Research in the lower Strymon Valley: Land physiognomy, scientific approach and methods

12South of the Bulgarian border, the lower Strymon Valley develops in a large rift basin that extends from north to south approximately a hundred km, is 15-20 km wide, and is bordered by long Neogene (limestone and marl) and Quaternary piedmonts (alluvial fans) more or less dissected and dominated by four mountain massifs with altitudes above 1100 m: the Cercine Mountains (2031 m) to the north, the Menikion (1880 m) to the east, the Kerdyllion and Vertiskos Mountains (1179 m) to the southeast, and the Pangeans (1956 m) to the southwest. The Strymon River (mean discharge 80 m3/s) enters this basin through a narrow gorge later modiied (Fig. 2). During the irst third of the 20th c. (Ancel, 1930), complete drainage of the depression led to the development of industrial farming of crops, such as beets, cotton and corn, although until the drainage work was completed, the depression was still occupied by the marshy Achinos Lake. The evolution of this lake could be determined using historical archives. Tales of voyages since the 16th c. point out the importance of the river and the lacustrine and marshy nature of its loodplain, as well as seasonal changes. Thus, for example, the lithograph “Vue du Lac Cercine prise aux environs de Zighna” (Fig. 3) and the testimony of Cousinery (1831) reveal broad lacustrine landscapes. The available historical data for older periods suggest the persistence of lake and wetland landscapes during the Byzantine period (Bellier et al., 1986). Older evidence is rare, but Herodotus, hucydides and Appian also attest to the permanence of a lake associated with the river in its lower valley; this may have been afected by the same seasonal changes described for the modern era (Bellier et al., 1986).

Fig. 3. View of the Cercine Lake in the vicinity of Zighna (from Langlumé in Cousinery, 1831).

13Palaeoenvironmental and geoarchaeological research that has been conducted in this region can be broadly described as “classical”. A principal transect was deined, taking into account the palaeogeographic evolution of the lake shown on ancient maps (Fig. 4). It crosses the lower Angitis valley on either side of a Neogene butte or knoll that formed an island in the middle of the lacustro-paludal areas as depicted at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th c. his butte was the location of a settlement (Fidokoryphi) that was occupied at the end of the Late Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age, based on the archaeological material recovered on the surface (Gramménos and Fotiadis, 1980).

14Chronostratigraphic analysis of the Holocene deposits was undertaken using regularly spaced cores employing a mechanical percussion corer over two ield seasons (June 2008 and September 2009). A detailed description of the core stratigraphy was done using sedimentological classification (Miall, 1996) and organic samples (peat, charcoal, plant macro-remains) that were dated by AMS to establish core chronology. Two representative cores from the Holocene deposits were retrieved as continuous samples (1 metre long tubes) in order to undertake high-resolution analyses in the laboratory. Microstratigraphic analyses (FC1, FC2, FC4) were based on micromorphological and particle-size analyses and measurements of density and magnetic susceptibility (FC4) were used to precisely deine the provenance and depositional processes as well as associated hydroclimatic changes. In addition, in some cores, the organic fraction of the sediment was described to identify changes in the local vegetational landscapes and, in particular, to provide additional dating and data concerning modes of human modification of the landscapes. This study was based on the analysis of pollen grains, palnyofacies and non-pollen micro-fossils and on an analysis of charcoal and charred particles in order to resolve the ire signal. Sampling was undertaken every 10 cm (106 and 91 samples, respectively). We discuss of the main indings of these results and then their implications for the archaeological debate discussed at the beginning of this chapter.

Fig. 4. Angitis Holocene alluvial deposits along the Fidokoryphi transect. 1: coarse sand, gravels; 2: medium to coarse sand; 3: micaceous fine sand; 4: sandy silt; 5: silt; 6: grey silt; 7: organic to peaty silt; 8: laminated carbonated silt.

Transformations of the environment based on the transect study at Fidokoryphi

15The chronostratigraphy of the Fidokoryphi transect is currently based on six cores (FC1 to FC7) and a section (FCp1) on which detailed observations were made and which provided 27 dates with precision varying from 30 to 50 years BP (Fig. 4). We identified a sequence of eight sedimentary units (SU), each with an association of speciic sedimentary facies.

Reconstruction of the hydromorphological dynamics

Sedimentary facies

16Ten recurrent types of sedimentary facies with diferent palaeoenvironmental interpretations have been identified (Fig. 5). The first two are coarse sediments indicating fluvial flow and deposition within the channel or on the immediate channel margins (F1, F2). The four following deposits indicate a luvio-lacustrine environment (F3 to F7) indicating a permanent stretch of water marked by variability in luvial detrital contributions (sandy deposits) and carbonate (clayey silt varying in carbonates). Such variability may have been seasonal, although the input of luvial low rather suggests variability linked to hydrological contributions, including flooding from the Angitis and the Strymon. This is not true for facies F6, as shown by its massive structure. The following two facies (F7, F8) are found on the margins of these luvio-lacustrine environments and indicate marshy contexts. The last two facies indicate a loodplain characterised by alluvial silts (F9) alternating with periods of more or less developed pedogenesis (F10).

Hydromorphological evolution

17Based on the study of the geometry of the deposits that cover the Pleistocene formations typical of the piedmonts of eastern Macedonia and the sequence of the sedimentary facies, it is possible to propose an interpretation of the dynamics in the lower Strymon Valley involving seven successive phases:

  1. The Pleistocene formations were irst incised by the Angitis along the modern axis of the valley. A vertic-type palaeosoil (vertisol) develops laterally (U2), characterised by Holocene pedogenesis and on which populations settled locally during the end of the Middle Neolithic and/or the start of the Late Neolithic (middle of the 6th millennium BC), as shown by core FC2.
  2. The sedimentary inilling of the depression began during the 6th millennium BC (U3) indicating the development of a lacustrine environment accompanied by lateral swamps that progressively and slowly cover the lower slopes of the piedmonts.
  3. The slow development of these lacustropaludal environments is abruptly interrupted by significant fluvial contributions on each side of the Fidokoryphi butte just before 3638-3518 BC and until ca. 2926-2777 BC (U4). Such evolution evidences increased hydrodynamics of the Angitis and the Strymon, contemporaneous with the period of rapid climate change observed globally. Thus, between the end of the Late Neolithic and the start of the Early Bronze Age, rivers transporting much more detrital load occurred at the same time as water tables rose to cover the soils, which had developed on the distal parts of the piedmont and which became in part fossilised.
  4. Deposition becomes progressively iner (U5), indicating less energetic low except to the right of the flooding of the Angitis. Lacustrine contexts persist in the depression and along the river while the marshy contexts spread along the margins. This phase, that covers the entire Bronze Age and Classical and Hellenistic Antiquity, corresponds to the broadest spatial extension of lacustro-paludal environments. It is also marked by the development of carbonate-rich deposits that begins with the Bronze Age in FC4 and increase across the transition between the Iron Age and Classical Antiquity. Such deposition reflects the regular input of material in suspension, originating from the erosion of Neogene formations surrounding the lower valleys of the Strymon and the Angitis.
  5. This deposition is interrupted, probably due to an activation phase and the incision of fluvial systems, between the Roman period and the start of the Byzantine period (U6). After this period, the marshy lake again develops (U7). It has a locally dual extension separated by the Fidokoryphi butte, whilst the seasonally dry marshy areas spread onto the lower part of the piedmont and at the base of the butte. The fill of the marshy lake is once again quite rich in carbonates, indicating the regular input of material in suspension from the erosion of the Neogene formations of the piedmont during the Byzantine period and the first centuries of Turkish domination. The size of the lake decreases during the Bronze Age and Greek Antiquity.
  6. The lake surface area abruptly decreases during the Ottoman period starting in the 18th c. The alluvial deposits are found on the margins of the lacustrine depression, although they are also regularly intercalated with the lacustro-paludal formations in the centre of the depression (U8). Alluviation begins around two centuries before it causes permanent fragmentation of the marshes as observed at the start of the 20th c. on old maps.
  7. The channel is re-incised artificially in the early 1930s and sandy-gravel meander banks form (U9).

Fig. 5. The main sedimentary facies observed on the Fidokoryphi transect. 1: coarse to medium sand layers with reworked peat and organic remains (F1);
2: laminations of medium to fine sandy deposits with amorphous organic matter and organic remains (leaves, twigs, etc.) in subhorizontal position (F3);
3: laminations of medium to fine sandy deposits with amorphous organic matter, numerous microcharcoal and organic remains (eaves, twigs, etc.;F4);
4: laminations of micaceous sand and fine silt (F5); 5: rhythmic deposits with lamination of fine carbonated silt and fine organic silt (F6); carbonated silt with organic remains (F7); grey massive silt (F8); massive light brown silt (F9); dark grey organic silt with numerous pedogenetic features (channels and chambers organised in a polyedric structure) and archaeological artifacts (bones, fired clay, potsherds; F10).

Palaeobiological data and their interpretation

18The pollen diagram and non-pollen microremains (NPMRs) from core FC1 show five different palynozones (Fig. 6). Initially in palynozone (FC1-1), covering most of the Late Neolithic (5300-4500 BC), we see confirmation of forest cover on the edges of a humid zone. Forest is found both on the basin piedmonts with the development of oak-hornbeam (Quercus and Ostrya-Carpinus) and shrub cover, and on bordering mountains as shown by the presence of fir (Abies), pine (Pinus) and birch (Betula). Riverine vegetation is also present with alder (Alnus) and willow (Salix). Despite known occupation from the end of the Middle Neolithic and the start of the Late Neolithic (dates at the base of cores FC2 and FC4), evidence of human modification of the landscape remains rare, as is any fire signal.

19The next palynozone (FC1-2), near the end of the Late Neolithic (4500-3900 BC), the forest cover is maintained, but two important changes occur: (i) the development of meso-eutropic humid contexts, characterised by the development of non-pollen indicators (Botryococcus, Pediastrum) restricted to the humid zones and even to puddles of open water and (ii) in parallel, cereal pollen is continuously recorded, whilst pollen and non-pollen indicators also show the development of pastoral activities (synanthropic taxa and coprophilous mushrooms). This palynozone, contemporaneous with the start of the archaeologically demonstrated occupation on the Fidokoryphi butte, shows the development of agro-pastoral activities and local human modification of the landscape.

20Between 3900 and 2800 BC (Late Neolithic-Early Bronze Age transition), the development of humid meso-eutropic contexts is confirmed in palynozone FC1-3. This is consistent with the sedimentary interpretation that indicates the progressive development of lacustro-paludal environments. The forest cover is maintained throughout, however, oak retreats at the start and end of the period, whilst Poaceae increase significantly. In parallel, evidence of human activity (cereals, synanthropic taxa, coprophilous mushrooms, NPMRs reflecting erosive processes) whilst visible at the start and end of this period, clearly decreases during this period. During the same period, we see a continuous fire signal that appears to have been of human origin. At the end of the period, rapid change is suggested by (i) the decrease not only in mesophilic arboreal pollens and other trees but also humid plants and non-pollen micro-remains (NPMRs), indicative of humid contexts (Botryococcus, Pediastrum), and (ii) the simultaneous rise in evergreen oak (evergreen Quercus), the Poaceae, xerophilous plants (Ephedra) and NPMRs, indicating the development of erosive processes.

21The following FC1-4 palynozone represents the transition from Early Bronze Age II to antiquity (2800-700 BC). It shows the progressive retreat of oak-hornbeam forest and a larger opening-up of the piedmont landscapes. The development of evergreen oak and trees in montane context is, in return, better recorded, in particular with beech (Fagus) and Scots pine (Pinus silvestris). Wetlands progressively contract, thus confirming the sedimentary analyses. Increase in human modification of the landscape is confirmed, as shown by (i) the widespread development of indicators of agro-pastoral activities and pyrophilous mushrooms and especially (ii) confirmation of a marked fire signal during the Late Bronze Age, the Thracian period and Greek colonisation, as shown by high values not previously attained in the core. It suggests an increase in fires and a practice of fire-use possibly adopted at a regional scale.

Fig. 6. Synthetic diagram of the pollen and non-pollen palynomorphs (NPMRs) obtained on the FC1 core.

22The next palynozone (FC1-5) shows a progressive drying of the marshes (disappearance of Botryococcus and Pediastrum) and a further opening-up of piedmont vegetation at the edges of the fluvio-paludal depression. The only trees to persist are riparian trees such as alder and willow.

Discussion: Transformations of the environment and their social consequences

The complexity of cultural process

23Re-examination of the data from several archaeological sites in Greece and Bulgaria and radiocarbon dating of a large number of new samples (195 samples from 34 sites) now make it possible to reconsider the nature of the “lost millennium” (Tsirtsoni, in press). Most of the new dates obtained in this programme have BP sigmas between 30 and 40 years, enabling us to compare the dates to associated events with a precision ranging from 250 to 80 years depending on the position on the calibration curve. They confirm a definite abandonment of Neolithic (Chalcolithic) sites in the southern Balkans at a time that clearly precedes the appearance of the Early Bronze Age at the same sites or in the same regions. Whether a hiatus is visible or not in the stratigraphy, the chronological gap is now indisputable everywhere both regions are dated: indeed, no site shows continuity from one period to the next. This phenomenon also affects both settlement sites and organised cemeteries, and concerns all kinds of habitation sites in the environments studied. In other words, abandonment does not appear to be linked to a specific form of settlement nor type of environment that could have been less stable than the others (e.g., the lower parts of the plains and the coast), but occurred equally, though not simultaneously, everywhere.

24However, it is possible to identify several chronological “plateaus”: ca. 4300/4250 BC, ca. 4000 BC, and ca. 3800/3700 BC. However, their spatial distribution does not reflect a progression of the phenomenon, neither in the presumed NE/SW direction nor in any other. The sites making up these different “plateaus” are found apparently randomly throughout the study region. As a result, any hypothesis based on a single cause, whether human or natural, for abandonment should be rejected. The combined data suggests local choices, even if these may have been in part a response to local forcing factors.

25The only site among those studied in the “Balkans 4000” project that provided dates in the 3500-3300 BC period (i.e., before the Early Bronze Age occupation) is Mikrothivès in Thessaly, which had been discovered a few years before during rescue excavations (Adrymi-Sismani, 2007). This flat site, differing from the stratified tell sites that dominated the preceding period (tell, magoula) is now entirely invisible because it has been covered by more than a meter of alluvial deposits. It appears to represent a transitory stage between a network of earlier sites a few km away (Sesklo, Pefkakia and Palioskala) and later sites (again Pefkakia and possibly also Sesklo). The site gives us an idea of patterns of territorial occupation during this threshold period and very interestingly reopens the taphonomic question – coud the pattern we have reflect differential site preservation and visibility in the lower Strymon Valley during this critical period?

From global change to minor local repercussions?

26The palaeoenvironmental data obtained in the lower Strymon Valley show significant changes in the deposits during the 4th millennium BC. Lacustro-paludal environments at the end of the 5th millennium BC are replaced by fluvio-lacustrine environments. These cover the lower part of the once inhabited piedmonts, as shown by the burial of an occupation attributed to the end of the Middle Neolithic and start of the Late Neolithic crossed by FC2. They indicate more important alluvial contributions while, in parallel, the level of the water table rises, favouring the expansion of the marshy lake. From then on, the expansion and nature of the wetlands does not fundamentally change until the onset of antiquity. However, detrital contributions diminish and are concentrated only along the principal channel, whilst the increase in the level of the water tables slows at the start of the 3rd millennium BC. The pollen data obtained at Fidokoryphi suggest a rapid and short dry pulse that affects the vegetational landscapes ca. 3200 BC.

27The palaeoenvironmental data thus reveal two notable transformations of the environment during the period of global climate change that typifies the 4th millennium BC (Mayewski et al., 2004). The first begins at the start of the period and initiates permanent transformations. This may be explained by the progressive rise in sea level downstream, which controls in large part the level of the groundwater in the lower Strymon Valley, and by the important of river flow, probably supported by wetter climatic pulses that affect continental Europe ca. 5500-5000 BC, and then ca. 4200 BC (Kohtoffet al., 2008; Geraga et al., 2010; Magny et al., 2011; Wanner et al., 2011). It is thus the local response to external forcing for which the Strymon and the Angitis (Balkan rivers of northern origin), were the vectors. By contrast, the second transformation, with short duration repercussions characterising the end of the period were more broadly identified in the Mediterranean south of 40 °N. This most likely constitutes the response to the dry pulse centred on 3200 BC observed in the western basin (Combourieu-Nebout, 2009; Fletcher and Zielhofer, 2012), in the northern part of the Aegean (Kotthoffet al., 2008; Geraga et al., 2010) and also in the Near East (Bar-Matthews and Ayalon, 2011). These results confirm a threshold existed in the study zone and its sensitivity to climatic fluctuations, which affected both the northern coast of the Mediterranean and Middle Europe. At the same time, the pollen data indicate two periods of human modification of the landscape (ca. 4500-3600 BC and ca. 3100-2800 BC) corresponding to the end of the Late Neolithic and the start of the Early Bronze Age periods of occupation at Fidokoryphi. They thus demonstrate an intermediate period (ca. 3600 BC and 3100 BC) marked by a decrease in indicators for agro-pastoral activities. It is therefore possible that local populations abandoned their settlement, surrounded by an expanding marshy lake, that then underwent rapid climate change at the end of the 4th millennium BC. However, these environmental changes that could have engendered such population displacement, or even the retraction of well-drained lands in valley bases, did not affect the entire regional landscape mosaic (Kotthoff et al., 2008; Bordon et al., 2009). Moreover, the systematic occurrence of cereal pollen and synanthropic taxa and the constancy of the fire signal throughout this period suggests the persistence of agro-pastoral activities not far from the core location. The populations at Fidokoryphi moved to cope with environmental change, but although they moved away from the areas most affected by the consequence of climate change, they probably settled on the southern piedmonts that border the fluvio-lacustrine depression. As Willcox (2005) has noted regarding climate change in the Near East at the onset of Neolithisation in physically very contrasting environments – it is often sufficient to move very little distance to find different but more suitable environmental conditions. One must therefore look elsewhere for the causes of cultural transformations that affected societies at the end of the Neolithic in the Balkans.



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Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 1. Archaeological sites in the “Balkans 4000” programme» and the study area for palaeoenvironmental analyses. 1: settlement sites (circles) and burials (rectangles) dated during the “Balkans 4000” programme; 2: other settlement sites (circles) and cemeteries (rectangles) with dates; 3: undated reference sites.
Fichier image/jpeg, 376k
Légende Fig. 2. The study area in the lower Strymon and Angitis Valley and the location of the cores bored. 1: border of the Neogene and Quaternary formations; 2: lake border changes derived from the old maps.
Fichier image/jpeg, 586k
Légende Fig. 3. View of the Cercine Lake in the vicinity of Zighna (from Langlumé in Cousinery, 1831).
Fichier image/jpeg, 502k
Légende Fig. 4. Angitis Holocene alluvial deposits along the Fidokoryphi transect. 1: coarse sand, gravels; 2: medium to coarse sand; 3: micaceous fine sand; 4: sandy silt; 5: silt; 6: grey silt; 7: organic to peaty silt; 8: laminated carbonated silt.
Fichier image/jpeg, 211k
Légende Fig. 5. The main sedimentary facies observed on the Fidokoryphi transect. 1: coarse to medium sand layers with reworked peat and organic remains (F1);2: laminations of medium to fine sandy deposits with amorphous organic matter and organic remains (leaves, twigs, etc.) in subhorizontal position (F3);3: laminations of medium to fine sandy deposits with amorphous organic matter, numerous microcharcoal and organic remains (eaves, twigs, etc.;F4);4: laminations of micaceous sand and fine silt (F5); 5: rhythmic deposits with lamination of fine carbonated silt and fine organic silt (F6); carbonated silt with organic remains (F7); grey massive silt (F8); massive light brown silt (F9); dark grey organic silt with numerous pedogenetic features (channels and chambers organised in a polyedric structure) and archaeological artifacts (bones, fired clay, potsherds; F10).
Fichier image/jpeg, 386k
Légende Fig. 6. Synthetic diagram of the pollen and non-pollen palynomorphs (NPMRs) obtained on the FC1 core.
Fichier image/jpeg, 218k


Researcher, National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), Mixed Research Unit (UMR 7041) CNRS/Universities of Paris 1 & Paris 10/Ministry of Culture and Communication (Archaeologies and Sciences of Antiquity – ARSCAN), Nanterre, France (

Doctor, Grupo de Investigación de Arqueobiología, Madrid, Spain (

Associate Professor, Panthéon-Sorbonne (Paris 1) University, Mixed Research Unit (UMR 8586) CNRS/Universities of Paris 1, Paris 4 & Paris 7/IRD/AgroParisTech (Research Unit for the Organisation and Dissemination of the Geographic Information–PRODIG), Paris, France (

Ph. D Student, University of Basse-Normandie (Caen), Mixed Research Unit (UMR 6554) CNRS/Universities of Angers, Bretagne Occidentale, Caen, Nantes & Rennes 2 (Littoral, Environment, Remote Sensing, Geomatics–Physical Geography and Environment – GEOPHEN), Caen, France (

Engineer, National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), University of Basse-Normandie (Caen), Mixed Research Unit (UMR 6554) CNRS/Universities of Angers, Bretagne Occidentale, Caen, Nantes & Rennes 2 (Littoral, Environment, Remote Sensing, Geomatics – Physical Geography and Environment – GEOPHEN), Caen, France (

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