Southern French Alps

Kevin Walsh

Project overview

We know relatively little about the long-term histories of human-environment engagements in the high altitude (sub-alpine and alpine zones) of the Alps. Research that started in the Ecrins National Park and the Ubaye Valley (Mercantour National Park) in 1998 has allowed us to develop a new understanding of how peoples have lived in and managed these areas during the last 8000 years. This research comprises the integration archaeological and palaeoecological data; including the results of excavations and surveys across a number of valleys, the study of pollen cores from peat and lakes and the study of carbonized wood remains. This project emphasises a (pre)historical ecological approach, where the synthesis of our archaeological evidence with the palaeoenvironmental data allows us to consider how different have engaged with, managed and perhaps understood these environments. Starting with the Mesolithic, we see the first incursions of hunter-gatherers into the zones above 2000m. Towards the end of the Neolithic and into the Bronze Age (c. 2400 BC to 900 BC) we see the development of truly alpine, pastoralism. This activity includes the construction of the first animal enclosures at around 2200m, as well as evidence for the active manipulation of the forest. Whilst during the Iron Age and Roman period (700 BC – 400 AD), there appears to be a reduction in the intensity of activity in the sub-alpine altitudes. From the 12th and 13th centuries onwards, a new intensive exploitation of all altitudinal zones evolved, with an emphasis on mining activities and long-distance transhumance.