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Dynamics of human settlement and paleoenvironments


Project leaders: Yvan Pailler (UMR Trajectoires), Aurélie Penaud (UMR LDO)

Main objectives: This theme, which is fundamentally interdisciplinary and innovative, aims to understand the links between the human groups that have succeeded each other from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Modern period, i.e., over a period of fifteen or so millennia, and the environment made up of the islands, shores, catchment basin, bay of Brest and Iroise Sea.

Keywords: Coastal and maritime archaeology, navigation, prehistory, proto-history, sea levels, climate changes, eutrophication, paleoecology, geomorphology, anthropization, marine resources, marine biodiversity

Description of the research work: Studies are being made of human groups using approaches from archaeology (material remains) and history (archives). In this theme, specific focus will be made, on the one hand, on the recognised types of human occupation (domestic, funereal, craftsmanship, strategic, etc.), and on the other hand, to their duration (occasional, seasonal or perennial) and mode (pioneer settlement, stabilisation of populations, demographic growth). Consequently, the status of the islands is essential for understanding the different periods considered (uninhabited island, ‘stopover’ island, burial island, food-producing island, etc.) as well as the relationships between islander groups and neighbouring mainlander groups. One of the central questions concerns the impact of anthropogenic activities on how natural landscapes evolved in terms of deforestation, soil erosion, over-fishing and geomorphological changes. From the Neolithic era, anthropogenic activities left a lasting mark on natural landscapes (deforestation, soil erosion, over-fishing, geomorphological changes, pollution, etc.). Similarly, natural environmental constraints (atmospheric and oceanic oscillations, storm activity dynamics and solar activity) impacted coastal communities during the Holocene. Climate history over the last 15 000 years is characterised by strong variability, where the GS-1 (Younger Dryas) and the 8200 cal. BP event (drastic drop in temperatures) are probably the most significant periods. Following that time, the cooling and warming phases of the North Atlantic oceanic water over a 1500-year period have been acknowledged and have probably led to more frequent and stronger storms on the coasts of Western Europe. These natural climate variations are accompanied by the gradual rising of sea levels in the Holocene, which have noticeably modified the geography of shorelines, the nature of the seafloor and marine biodiversity. As a result, the question of the ability of coastal communities to adapt to these changes over the long term is at the heart of this theme. The integration of all the archaeological and paleoenvironmental data into a geographical database is foreseen in order to bring all this multi-sourced information together, thereby achieving a ground-breaking step for Brittany. Over the last few years, approaches of this kind – covering a long time period – have come to the fore in several projects at the IUEM (European Institute for Marine Studies), involving an ever-growing number of researchers from different disciplines. Furthermore, this theme also draws on information gathered within the framework of several archaeological programs.


Laboratories: LETG-Brest, LEMAR, LDO, CRBC, Ifremer, Trajectoires, CEPAM, CReAAH, MNHN

Non-academic partners: Institut National de Recherche Archéologique Préventive (INRAP), PNMI, CG29, GIS Histoire Maritime et Sciences de la Mer.

Institutes, government services concerned, management actors: Conservatoire du Littoral (French coastal protection agency), DRASSM (French department of research in sub-aquatic archaeology), ONCFS (French national agency for wildlife), Service Régional de l’Archéologie, Conservatoire National de Botanique, Réserve géologique de Crozon, SEPNB-Bretagne vivante (local nature protection society), Musée des goémoniers (Seaweed harvesting museum)

Preferential study sites: island of Béniguet, islands and islets within the Molène archipelago, bay of Brest, bay of Douarnenez