University of Nottingham

Environmental change in pre-history: An interdisciplinary examination exploring linkages between climatic, environmental and cultural change in the 6th millennium BP

Project outline

This network investigated the impetuses for one of the most interesting but understudied cultural disjunctions in prehistory occurring in much of the Mediterranean after 6000 calibrated BP (4000 calibrated BC). In Europe, the Near East, Cyprus and North Africa, widespread reorganisation of settlement patterns and social and economic behaviour happened at this time. Traditional interpretations have favoured cultural explanations but more recently, collaborations between climate scientists and archaeologists have highlighted the possible impact that climate change may have had on the processes of cultural change.

Outcrop of lake sediment in a hyper-arid area of the central Sahara, in the far south of Libya.
Outcrop of lake sediment in a hyper-arid area of the central Sahara, in the far south of Libya.


The Environmental Change in Pre-History (ECiP) network brought together archaeologists and climate scientists with expertise in the early and mid Holocene for two workshops.

Workshop 1

Location: School of World Art and Museology Studies, University of East Anglia
Date: 25th-26th February 2011

In the first workshop participants reviewed the archaeological and environmental data relating to the 6th millennium BP in the wider Mediterranean region, and how these data have been interpreted, particularly with respect to the role of climatic and environmental changes in the development of human societies. The aim was to assess what data were currently available and what could be said about links between climatic, environmental and cultural change based on existing data, and to identify data gaps and needs. The correlations and synchronisms were not a perfect fit but all agreed that climate during the long 6th millennium was anything but benign and must have impacted upon societies to various degrees. The environmental scientists were therefore largely seeking confirmation from the archaeologists that their findings could be supported by the archaeological evidence.


Workshop 2

Location: School of World Art and Museology Studies, University of East Anglia
Date: 10th-11th June 2011

The second workshop focussed specifically on solving problems to do with demonstrating a causal relationship between climate change on the one hand and cultural transitions/shifts on the other. Network members presented summaries of results of partnerships arising from the first workshop, investigated in more detail gaps and inconsistencies in data sets, chronological disparities and contradictory evidence, examined ways in which existing archaeological, environmental, palaeoecological and palaeoclimatic data might be integrated and identifed future partnerships, links and research projects.



To some degree archaeologists were able to provide evidence that correlated with the climate record, particularly in some regions where abandonments and settlement shifts were broadly contemporaneous with specific climate events, for example in Cyprus and parts of the Near East and North Africa. Most archaeologists agreed, however, that archaeological evidence is much more complicated than the climate evidence and notoriously difficult to interpret.

The core network group are planning to produce a position paper in order to apply for further funding for the project.

Project web page:

Funerary monument from Western Sahara


Award details

Duration: July 2010 - October 2011 

Principal Investigator:
Dr Joanne Clarke

Nick Brooks, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

Higher Education Institution:
School of World Art Studies, University of East Anglia


Related links


Landscape and Environment Programme

School of Geography
University Park
University of Nottingham
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 84 66071