CRC 1266 - Scales of Transformation

Phase 1 - Research activities 2016-2020

F1: Supra-regional crises: Abrupt climate change and responses of (multi-cultural) ancient societies in the western Mediterranean area and in Southern Central Europe around 4200 years BP

Principal Investigators: Priv.-Doz. Dr. Mara Weinelt, Dr. Jutta Kneisel, Dr. Christoph Rinne, Prof. Dr. Ralph Schneider
Staff: Julien Schirrmacher, Dr. Artur Seang Ping Ribeiro



With the aim of assessing the role of the 4.2 ka BP event in the Iberian Peninsula, the research started with a comprehensive survey of sites comprehending the Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age period. This was done by collecting information through online databases (‘Portal do Arqueólogo’ of the ‘Direção Geral do Património Cultural’). This initial work provided us a general basis for the comparison of data produced by the archaeological team and the paleoclimatological team. More specifically, the two areas we focused on were southern Portugal including the Spanish borderzone (catchment of the Tejo and Guardiana rivers) and south-western Spain (catchment of the Guadalquivir river). These areas were chosen as the stand at the interface of archaeological data and paleoclimatological data obtained from the Guadiana and Guadalquivir areas (Fig.1). During this time, collaborators in Portugal and Spain were contacted with the aim of outlining a plan for field research and other collaborative tasks. Additionally, laboratory work was started by the paleoclimatological team in order to assess drought and temperatures changes in Southern Iberian Peninsula.

Working areas during the initial phase of the project
Fig. 1. Working areas during the initial phase of the project.


During this time, the archaeological team has established a databank of 600 sites around the catchment area of the rivers Guadiana and Guadalquivir, and 20 000 datasets have been entered into the radiocarbon database Radon/Radon-B, allowing the project to conduct population reconstructions and analyse demographic trends in the Iberian Peninsula during prehistory. The paleoclimatological team has analysed two marine sediment cores from the Gulf of Cadiz and the Alboran Sea, providing the project with a more accurate assessment of sea surface temperatures and drought conditions affecting the prehistoric populations living in the Iberian Peninsula during prehistory, more specifically during the 4.2 ka BP event.

A brief trip was conducted to Portugal to verify the viability of two sites for future fieldwork: Horta do Albardão (Fig. 2) and Monte da Contenda. Although there is evidence of both Chalcolithic and Bronze Age occupation at Horta do Albardão, which made it very attractive for our project, it was located in a very challenging area to research (cut by a road and located under modern structures), which led us to choose Monte da Contenda as the most viable site for future research.

Location of the site of Horta do Albardão
Fig. 2. Location of the site of Horta do Albardão, which early Portuguese intervention had revealed structures and material culture of both Chalcolithic and Bronze Age period.


During this year, the F1 project and our Portuguese collaborators (António Valera and Era-Arqueologia) teamed up to conduct a geomagnetic survey at the site of Monte da Contenda, located in the Alentejo region of Portugal. The site is one of many ditched enclosures located in the Alentejo region, which were only discovered and intervened upon in recent decades. Whereas in the late 1990s, only five ditched enclosures were known in Alentejo, this number has jumped up to c. 65 in the present day. Chronologically, these ditched enclosures belong the Neolithic and Chalcolithic period, sensibly from mid IV to the end of III Millenniums BCE, placing the end of this archaeological phenomenon around the same time of the 4.2 ka BP event.

The geomagnetic survey conducted at Monte da Contenda was quite challenging, given the conditions of the terrain (Fig. 3) and the extreme heat in Southern Portugal during the summer, which affected the geomagnetic equipment. Nonetheless, it was possible to obtain a very comprehensive magnetogram of the site, revealing two ditch-systems in their entirety and, as of now, Monte da Contenda is the site that contains the largest number of ditches in Portugal (Fig. 4.). The site also contained a great number of surface finds, namely polished stone axes and adzes, grinding stones, weight looms, decorated pottery, and knapped lithic material (Fig. 5).

Monte da Contenda is a ditched enclosure site currently located under an olive tree and almond tree plantation
Fig. 3. Monte da Contenda is a ditched enclosure site currently located under an olive tree and almond tree plantation.

The Magnetogram of Monte da Contenda
Fig. 4. The Magnetogram of Monte da Contenda produced by the F1 project in 2018.

Knapped arrowhead in jaspoide schist
Fig. 5. Knapped arrowhead in jaspoide schist.

Shortly after the fieldwork, and given the presence of many members of the F1 in Portugal, we organized a small networking conference titled “Climate and Prehistory in Southern Iberia” that brought together the F1 team and experts on prehistoric archaeology from Spain and Portugal and climatologists from Portugal (Fig. 6) in order to establish further collaborative tasks and compare different results.

Contributors of the workshop “Climate and Prehistory in Southern Iberia”
Fig. 6. Contributors of the workshop “Climate and Prehistory in Southern Iberia”.

Also during this year, a member of subproject F1 also collaborated with subproject A1, towards understanding theoretical issues associated to socio-environmental determinism, which resulted in an article that can be found, and the relation between theory and empirical socio-environmental research, which also resulted in article that can be found.


Central to understanding the interface of past climate conditions and archaeological cultures, the F1 has also devoted some of its energy towards analysing how climate affects ideological systems, such as that prevalent in Chalcolithic culture of the southern Iberia Peninsula. With this in mind, two campaigns in Portugal were conducted in order to analyse the pottery of the site of Perdigões (Fig. 7) and compare it with that of the site of Bela Vista 5. Both of these sites are also ditched enclosures, which have been intervened and studied for many years by our Portuguese partners, and which reached their end phase during the last centuries of the III Millennium BCE, coinciding with 4.2 ka BP event. The work conducted in these campaigns is currently being further studied in Kiel, but at this stage it can be said that the “exuberant” ideological system, represented in pottery decoration, becomes gradually absent towards the end phase of these sites, adopting a coarser form of producing pottery and also more open forms (plates), which indicate a change in dietary strategies, possibly linked to the lack of water resources. A lack of water resources could also be inferred from the paleoclimatological studies, which document an overall decrease in precipitation (Schirrmacher et al. 2019).

Going through the pottery of the late III Millennium of Perdigões
Fig. 7. Going through the pottery of the late III Millennium of Perdigões.

Also this year, in collaboration with our Portuguese partners, and a palynological team from Stuttgart, a palynology pilot project was conducted at the site of Perdigões (Fig. 8) with the aim of reconstructing the paleoenvironmental conditions of the site throughout its almost 1500 years of history. This project is currently underway.

Obtaining palynology samples from a stratigraphic profile at the site of Perdigões
Fig. 8. Obtaining palynology samples from a stratigraphic profile at the site of Perdigões.

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