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CORDIS - Résultats de la recherche de l’UE

People under Pressure: Settlement Abandonment and Human Responses to Environmental and Socio-Economic Stress during the Medieval and Post-Medieval Periods

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ABANDONMENT (People under Pressure: Settlement Abandonment and Human Responses to Environmental and Socio-Economic Stress during the Medieval and Post-Medieval Periods)

Période du rapport: 2016-01-01 au 2017-12-31

The ABANDONMENT project explored the pan-European phenomenon of settlement desertion and shrinkage, which occurred especially during the 14th and 17th centuries. Despite considerable attention being paid to this phenomenon, the process of abandonment still remains poorly understood. However, new procedures of landscape research emerged in recent decades enable us to look again at this phenomenon from different points of view and consider newly formulated questions within this traditional theme. The project aimed to explore how rural communities and the settlements they lived in responded to socio-economic and environmental stress. Are some communities more vulnerable than others? Which factors had the strongest impact in shaping their existence? Answering these questions and testing broader geographical applicability of the outcomes have extended current knowledge about settlement abandonment and landscape evolution in general. An integral part of the research programme has been to explore whether environmental constrains affected people’s actions in the past.

The research objectives were laid out as follows:
(a) To determine the processes of settlement shrinkage and abandonment across England.
(b) To contextualise changes in settlement patterns within wider transformations of land-use in distinct regions from the longue durée perspective.
(c) To explore the cultural and environmental context of settlement evolution (and extinction) across Northern and Central Europe to determine the impact of these factors on communities.

Main conclusions:
1. The process of settlement abandonment falls within a long period ranging from the 12th to the 19th century, the peak of abandonment was in the 14th century. Intensive abandonment is not directly connected with a specific type of landscape (marginal areas) neither crisis events.
2. Most settlements went through a very complicated history with various transformations in the whole settlement territory; instead of abandonment, continuity has been revealed, albeit with an extensive change in land use.
3. Environmental characteristics and a relationship to elements of cultural landscape caused vulnerability of some settlements as well as prevention against abandonment. The impact of natural environment on human communities is not as significant as previously assumed – cultural factors are very important in the shaping of human communities.
Information through the easily accessible data sources has being searched across England to reveal the dating and the range of occupation. The process of settlement abandonment falls within a long period ranging from the 12th to the 19th century with the peak of abandonment in the 14th century. Data were evaluated in GIS and the regions for further detailed analyses of settlements identified. I have also determined the behaviour of communities during the abandonment – the vast majority of the settlements was being abandoned gradually and intentionally unlike the prevailing violent extinction in Central Europe (included in Holata in preparation: a).
Based on the study of multiple sources (application of LiDAR published in Holata in press) and landscape archaeology perspective, I have explored the development of settlement forms and the various transformations of the full range of areas within the original hinterland. Complicated settlement histories have been found out together with various changes of land-use. Based on the comparison at multi-scale levels, I have set up a definition of the term ‘deserted medieval settlement’ founded on a new principle which paves the way to understanding of these transformations. An extraordinary evidence of continuity has been revealed in many sites which were previously considered abandoned (included in Holata under review; Holata in preparation: a; Holata in preparation: d). An innovative method of the precise 3D documentation revealing specific land-use development has been set up (Holata in preration: b).
Relationships between settlements and various factors of natural and cultural landscape have been explored using GIS and quantitative methods. Factors that shaped the existence of human communities have been determined. In contrast, the impact of natural environment on human communities is not as significant as had been previously assumed. In contrast, the importance of cultural factors and active role of human communities have been pointed out. Two trends in settlement abandonment have been revealed – retreat from marginal areas and concentration of settlements (included in Holata in preparation: a; published in Holata in press; Holata in preparation: d).
The comparison with Central Europe has proved that some factors have a broader geographical applicability. Based on the comparison, general overview of Czech settlement research has been provided (Čapek - Holata 2017). I have obtained evidence of extensive soil erosion and soil degradation as a consequence of inappropriate land use and management in the territory of deserted villages, together with responses of local communities (published in Holata et al. 2018; Holata in preparation: c, potential to solve current environmental problems is discussed now).
In Europe, communities’ behaviour during abandonment has not yet been systematically examined. The results in England strongly contrast with the situation in Central Europe. This opens up another direction of the research. I have evaluated data in ‘grey literature’, my published outcomes can now be utilized by other scholars. The innovative study approach of this research using GIS and quantitative methods has enabled evaluating the process of settlement abandonment from a completely different perspective. I managed to put together two groups of international scholars who otherwise would have never met each other. As a result, an innovative method of 3D documentation has been set up.
New approaches and specific techniques of landscape archaeology which I learned during the Fellowship have been applied in my home country and enriched the study of deserted settlement there (see below). A follow-up funding of a new research line is being prepared now. The publication of a substantial paper in English (Čapek - Holata 2017) summarizing the general overview of rural settlement research in the Czech creates an important step towards international cooperation and integration of European research communities.
Newly established cooperation with the Research Institute for Soil and Water Conservation in Prague and Department of Geology and Pedology in Mendel University in Brno has led to the investigation of an impact of human activities on the environment (especially soil erosion and degradation) and human responses to this stress. There is an ongoing discussion with another organisation (CzechGlobe) how this research can contribute to the solution of current environmental threats and problems in connection with the impact of human activities.
An example of settlement vulnerability exploration–a relationship with markets and communications
An example of a deserted settlement in the database