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Floodplain Landscapes

Paleo-ecological investigations into the late-glacial and Holocene development of Floodplain landscapes in the river system of Jeetzel and Elbe

Participants: Prof. Dr. Richard Pott, Falko Turner

Climate fluctuations and anthropogenic impacts have strongly modified the fluvial topography within the last 15,000 years. The geoscientific and paleo-ecological investigations presented here are concerned with the traces of these alterations in the river system of Jeetzel and Elbe. The objective pursued is to reconstruct as detailed as possible the landscape structures of the past, including their abiotic and biotic elements. Apart from the high-resolution geological mapping of previous river courses, their floodplains and fens, the focus is set on standing waterbody sediments of silted old branches as archives of the climate and landscape history. These sediments preserved, over millenniums and in the absence of oxygen, not only spores and pollen grains but also botanical macroremains of the microflora and microfauna of the previous waterbodies.

The following studies are conducted in the scope of an interdisciplinary project by the project partners (see below) and the members of the Institute of Geobotany:

  • High-resolution geological mapping and digital landscape modeling (Antje Schwalb, Falko Turner, Ulrich v. Bramann)

  • Paleo-pedological analyses of selected soil profiles (Johann Friedrich Tolksdorf, Knut Kaiser)

  • Pollen analyses in selected sediment cores (Richard Pott, Falko Turner)

  • Analysis of macroremains (Felix Bittmann, Falko Turner)

  • Analysis of the ostracod fauna (Anja Schwarz, Finn Viehberg)

  • Analysis of the diatom flora (Anja Schwarz)

  • Analysis of the chlorophyceal flora (Falko Turner)

  • AMS radiocarbon dating (Pieter M. Grootes)

  • Tephrochronology of selected sediment cores (Cassian Braham-Law, Rupert Housely)

Preliminary results give an insight into the development of recent river landscapes. We were able to map a succession of silted-up river channels and allocate the respective river courses to time segments by the application of pollen analyses and age determinations. In particular, three late-glacial channel systems of different ages enabled us to reconstruct the reactions of the river system to the partially drastic climate fluctuations that occurred in the late-glacial period. Analyses of the sediments filling up these three channel generations will lead to an almost uninterrupted reconstruction of the development of vegetation in this region, ranging from a Meierdorf interstadial (as defined by Usinger, 1998) to the mid-Holocene, and provide new information about sedimentation events, climate development, and successions within the watercourse systems. The development from a glacial cold steppe with a braided river system to a meandering forested river landscape is being registered with high spatial and temporal resolution.

The studies represent the first investigations of their kind into the glacial valley of the Elbe river and thus close a gap in our knowledge of landscape development of running watercourse landscapes in central Europe.

In addition, the geoscientific studies in this research area are also conducted at one of the largest discovery sites with reference to late-glacial hunter and gatherer cultures and are closely associated with archeological studies. Excavations in almost undisturbed layers of high-flood Jeetzel sediments were conducted by the Regional Museum of Lower Saxony in Hanover and produced hitherto unique finds and new insights into the ways of life of humans in the late paleolithic age.

The interdisciplinary combination of the humanities and the life sciences thus contributes to reaching a better understanding about the interactions between humans and the environment and enables new explanatory approaches to the question as to the extent in which cultural development in central Europe was controlled by natural processes.

The studies are part of the project

Interdisciplinary geoscientific and archeological studies on the amber finds at the Weitsche Federmesser site in the District of Lüchow-Dannenberg”,

financed with research funds from the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture.

Next to those mentioned above, further project partners involved are:

  • Dr. Stephan Veil, Klaus Breest (Lower Saxony Regional Museum, Hanover)

  • Prof. Dr. Antje Schwalb, Ullrich v. Bramann, Dr. Anja Schwarz Dr. Finn Viehberg (Institute of Environmental Geology, Technical University, Brunswick)

  • Johann Friedrich Tolksdorf, Dr. Knut Kaiser (Archeological Seminar, Philipps University, Marburg and/or Helmholtz Center, Potsdam)

  • Dr. Felix Bittmann (Lower Saxony Institute for Historical Coastal Research)

  • Prof. Dr. Pieter M. Grootes (Leibniz-Laboratory for Radiometric Dating and Isotope Research, Kiel)

  • Dr. Rupert Housley, Cassian Braham Law (RESET, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway College, University of London bzw. Research Laboratory for Archaeology, Oxford)