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Terrace Archaeology

and Culture in Europe

What is TerrACE?

Agricultural terraces and lynchets (low terraces without stone walls) are both historical landscapes and hotspots of environmental fragility. Most complex societies used, or even relied on hillslope terracing, and ¨TERRace Archaeology and Culture in Europe,¨ or TerrACE, is the first project to systematically study the origins and environmental role of these agricultural terraces by bringing together landscape archaeology, geomorphology and palaeoecology.

Agricultural terraces which were fundamental to the success of European agriculture in hilly terrains, were until recently, part of a sustainable system, but as Bradford suggested in 1957 they are so ubiquitous in Europe they have been archaeologically overlooked. We still do not fully understand their history, nor appreciate how they functioned as complex socio-environmental sub-systems despite considerable debate as to their origins, functioning and reasons for abandonment. TerrACE is novel because it will be the first time landscape archaeology, geomorphology (incl. sediment dating) and cutting-edge palaeoecology have been combined in a cross-cultural study of terraced landscapes. Whilst the cultural context of terraces clearly varied across Europe, there are common questions that, we as archaeologists have; when and what prompted terrace formation, what was the principal land use on terraces (particularly how were crops combined with animals), was terrace use continuous or episodic and what were the reasons for abandonment when that occurred (Gibson 2015).

Archaeological Aims:

1. When and under what social & environmental conditions did the agricultural terraces develop?

2. How did terracing survive, were they in constant use, or frequently abandoned and reconstructed?

3. How was fertility maintained, what was the balance of erosion and soil production and how does this relate to the ancient literature on manuring and agronomy?

4. What implications do these terraces have for both European soil erosion trends and contemporary and future carbon sequestration through maintenance and abandonment?

The research conducted by the TerrACE team will produce a description of the extent, age, use-history and carbon storage of any terrace system. This will include; an estimate of terrace initiation (1st generation construction), subsequent history (2nd… generation etc.), most likely crops, management, soil production and erosion rates and SOC storage. This data will then be contextualised by physical factors (slope, rainfall, lithology) and social factors including the archaeological evidence, estimates of population density and social complexity as outlined in Leveau et al. (1999).

The general objectives of TerrACE are to...

Improve...

...the mapping of terraced landscapes in Europe (LiDAR and TLS)

Develop…

...terrace chronologies and dating methodologies using sediment dating (OSL and cosmogenic isotopes)

Identify...

...past crops, biodiversity & management (phytoliths and aDNA)

Investigate...

...agricultural terraces as carbon sinks and sources

Promote...

...terraces as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Sites