Mid–Holocene massive and sudden environmental changes triggered large-scale ecological and cultural shifts

Event reconstruction through Bayesian chronology: Massive mid-Holocene lake-burst triggered large-scale ecological and cultural change

From The Holocene

Our present environmental and cultural landscapes have essentially been formed during the Holocene period. This study conducted a comprehensive synthesis on the effects of a sudden environmental change on the ecological, cultural and demographic landscapes of mid-Holocene hunter-gatherers in eastern Fennoscandia. It emphasized that a massive and sudden water level decline of Lake Saimaa took place. The sudden decline in the lake level triggered ecological change and facilitated the increase of the moose population in the area, and this encouraged the TCW hunter-gatherers to settle in the area. Event sequences triggered by the glacial or post-glacial environmental changes have been common throughout the past. Hence, it is suggested that a transdisciplinary approach based on event sequencing could give new insights into many old paradigms.


Precise timing of natural and cultural events provides a foundation for understanding how past natural phenomena have driven changes in population and culture. In this study, we used high-resolution Bayesian chronology to describe an event sequence of a massive and abrupt water level decline of a large lake and the contemporaneous cultural changes that occurred in eastern Fennoscandia during the mid-Holocene. The study provides the first transdisciplinary analysis of the causes and effects of the events by using a combination of archaeological, geological and ecological data. Nearly 6000 years ago, ancient Lake Saimaa, estimated to cover nearly 9000 km2at the time, was abruptly discharged through a new outlet. The event created thousands of square kilometres of new residual wetlands. The archaeological record shows a profound cultural replacement and a subsequent sharp human population maximum in the area during the decades after the decline in water level. During the population maximum, the proportion of Alces alces (moose) in the diet rapidly increased and became prominent as a dietary resource. The eventual population decline in the area coincided with ecological development towards old boreal conifer forests, along with the colonization of a new species of tree Picea abies (Norway spruce). The new ecosystem was less suitable for moose to forage in, and this attenuated the dietary role of moose and thus contributed towards the eventual population and cultural decline. The methodological approach described in this paper allowed the reconstruction of past natural and cultural events and demonstrated how they can be causally intertwined.

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Article details
Research papers:
Markku Oinonen, Petro Pesonen, Teija Alenius, Volker Heyd, Elisabeth Holmqvist-Saukkonen, Sanna Kivimäki, Tuire Nygrén, Tarja Sundell, and Päivi Onkamo
Event reconstruction through Bayesian chronology: Massive mid-Holocene lake-burst triggered large-scale ecological and cultural change
The Holocene November 2014 24: 1419-1427, first published on August 20, 2014 doi:10.1177/0959683614544049



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