Researchers join €10m project examining cultural and climate change across Europe

The University of Plymouth is part of a €10million project examining how the genetic and cultural diversity of Europe developed over thousands of years.

Funded by a European Research Council Synergy grant, the research will focus on the northern areas of the continent over a time period from the beginning of farming (around 6000 BCE) to the end of the Bronze Age (500 BCE).

Uniting world-leading experts in a number of disciplines, it will explore how numerous small-scale changes generate large-scale patterns of genetic and cultural adaptation.

This will be achieved through novel modelling approaches with the aim to explain how changes have been shaped by the dynamic interaction of cultural innovation, migration, admixture, population growth and collapse, dietary change, biological adaptation, social structure, and the emergence of new diseases within the context of changing landscapes.

The project is being led by the University of Gothenburg (Kristian Kristiansen and Karl Göran Sjögren), the University of Copenhagen (Kurt Kjær, Eske Willerslev and Fernando Racimo) and University College London (Mark Thomas and Stephen Shennan).

The research component to be conducted in Plymouth by Dr Jessie Woodbridge and Professor Ralph Fyfe (School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences) will contribute findings on European fossil pollen-inferred vegetation change essential to understanding how past human populations interacted with their landscapes.

The project findings will serve to determine what the impact of the movement of people was on the European landscape, simultaneously and on multiple scales.

By identifying prehistoric regularities in the interactions of human biology, social and economic organisation, landscape change and demography, we can compare them to anthropological and historical models of such processes in recent times.

The project will combine results from hundreds of human prehistoric genomes, with analyses of environmental, past vegetation and climate data, archaeological data, and data from strontium isotopes on mobility.

Spanning a period from the first farmers to the Iron Age, the project aims to reveal whether climate change preceded social and economic change, how cultural and genetic changes influenced each other and why people started to migrate.

The research benefits from the University’s existing expertise in the field of past land cover change, which has previously shown when human activity began to have significant impacts on Europe’s landscape.

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