What has driven Mediterranean landscape change since the Neolithic: human or natural agencies?

Monday 28 January 2019, 1.00PM

Speaker(s): Neil Roberts

It is often argued that Mediterranean landscapes have been gradually 'ruined' by deforestation and over-grazing, with eroded hills and badlands considered as visible evidence of this human mis-use. On the other hand, the Mediterranean region contains some of our most iconic cultural landscapes - such as the olives groves of Tuscany and the wild flower meadows of the Peloponnese. How can the Mediterranean be both ruined and harmonious? In this talk, I outline the results of a programme of inter-disciplinary research that has brought together palynogists, archaeologists, geomorphologists and palaeo-climatologists to reconstruct regional syntheses of socio-environmental change during the Holocene. We ask, for example, how far has demography been a driver of long-term land cover change. Using a series of case study regions stretching from Iberia to the Levant, we show that rural population has typically undergone a series of long 'boom and bust' cycles. These were accompanied by periods of forest clearance and cultural landscape creation, followed by intervening periods of abandonment and re-wilding. During the latter, the trajectory of landscape recovery was spatially heterogeneous, linked to both natural factors, such as soil loss, and societal drivers.


Neil Roberts is Emeritus Professor of Geography, University of Plymouth, and Honorary Research Associate in Archaeology at Oxford University. His main research concerns Holocene environmental changes, especially in Mediterranean and tropical regions, via natural sedimentary 'archives' that enable the reconstruction of past climate changes and the landscape transformations brought about by human activities. From 1992 to 2002 he directed the KOPAL (Çatalhöyük off-site environmental programme) in Turkey. His most recent Leverhulme-funded project (2015-2018) has been on the “Changing the face of the Mediterranean: land cover and population since the
advent of farming”, with Plymouth and UCL. He is an editor of the journal Quaternary Science Reviews (Elsevier) and author or editor of books including The Holocene: an environmental history. Blackwell-Wiley (3rd edition 2014). In 2007 he was visiting Blaustein Professor, Stanford University, and in 2018 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Ankara University in recognition of his work in Turkey over more than four decades.

Location: The Philip Rahtz Theatre (K/133), Kings Manor

Admission: Free and open to all

Email: cr603@york.ac.uk