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Measuring how past sociocultural and environmental pressures shaped animal biodiversity: the extinction of the endemic small mammals of the Tyrrhenian Islands


Human-caused biodiversity loss, including the extinction of a broad range of species, has dramatically increased over the years, with enormous repercussions on ecosystems worldwide. However, present-day species extinctions are only the latest stage in a considerably longer-term sequence stretching far back into the Holocene, when several extirpation events occurred in the prehistorical and historical eras. A remarkable case is the extinction of the last endemic small mammals of Corsica and Sardinia: while the large vertebrate fauna extinction occurred soon after the first human arrival (ca. 12,000 years ago), the small endemic mammals vanished much later, between the late prehistoric and Roman periods (8th c. BC–5th c. AD), precisely at the moment when colonial agents as Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans expanded and intensified trade networks. Although the disappearance of these species has been linked to anthropogenic causes, it remains uncertain whether this event occurred in both islands simultaneously as the result of a single, rapid cause or as a result of several interrelated causes. This project attempts to redress this imbalance and establish a new empirical framework by integrating cutting-edge analyses (GMM, DMTA, and direct 14C dating) with the abundant but underutilized archaeozoological record of the Tyrrhenian islands. This project will focus on three of these islands’ most emblematic species—the pika Prolagus sardus and the rodents Microtus (Tyrrhenicola) henseli and Rhagamys orthodon—as proxies to investigate the mechanisms and effects of past human-induced environmental changes and how this is interconnected with the colonial and cultural exchange evidenced in the historical and archaeological records. Integrating archaeozoological data with other source materials is not only crucial to develop richer and more nuanced view of past cultural practices but also can help to elucidate innovative solutions of the ongoing extinctions.


Net EU contribution
€ 211 754,88
Rue cuvier 57
75005 Paris

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Ile-de-France Ile-de-France Paris
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
No data

Partners (1)