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Fragility and sustainability in restricted island environments: adaptation, cultural change and collapse in prehistory

Objective

Sustainability of societies in a restricted or fragile environment forms a perpetual question, past and present underpinning questions of the rise and fall of civilisation. Today, the eroded Maltese islands support one of the densest human populations in the world. When first colonised in the 6th millennium BC, pristine soil and forest covered the landscape, but within centuries the landscape was bare and under intensive cultivation. The Neolithic perpetrators of the original clearance developed a sophisticated if isolated island civilisation in the face of the precarious environment and limited natural resources. Their megalithic temples focused on ritual feasting whilst complex social organisation controlled food distribution. Over centuries, Malta maintained an intensive subsistence economy and a controlled population, but 2500 years after the first settlement that socio-economic system seems to have imploded resulting in the collapse of its island civilisation.
What precise conditions led to this collapse, and was there complete or only partial economic and cultural failure? Did external factors - episodes of climatic instability, sea-level change, disease, invasion – impact irreversibly on the island inhabitants, or did over-intensification cause internal political and economic failure? Were the islands abandoned or was life sustained on them? Were other small islands affected in similar ways? These questions underpin my investigation which aims to extract eroding and fragile environmental and archaeological evidence from rapidly deteriorating landscapes. The goal is to understand the relationship between environmental change, stress and cultural continuity or collapse. I will address these questions through application of modern interdisciplinary environmental sciences (including palynology, climate studies, dating, dietary isotopes and landscape archaeology) to establish the impact of environmental change on island populations.

Call for proposal

ERC-2012-ADG_20120411
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Host institution

THE QUEEN'S UNIVERSITY OF BELFAST
Address
University Road Lanyon Building
BT7 1NN Belfast
United Kingdom

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Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Principal investigator
Caroline Ann Tuke Stoddart (Dr.)
Administrative Contact
Rory Jordan (Mr.)
EU contribution
€ 1 451 405,20

Beneficiaries (6)

THE QUEEN'S UNIVERSITY OF BELFAST
United Kingdom
EU contribution
€ 1 451 405,20
Address
University Road Lanyon Building
BT7 1NN Belfast

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Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Principal investigator
Caroline Ann Tuke Stoddart (Dr.)
Administrative Contact
Rory Jordan (Mr.)
THE CHANCELLOR MASTERS AND SCHOLARS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
United Kingdom
EU contribution
€ 402 751,20
Address
Trinity Lane The Old Schools
CB2 1TN Cambridge

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Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Renata Schaeffer (Ms.)
HERITAGE MALTA
Malta
EU contribution
€ 124 159,20
Address
Old University Buildings, Merchants Street
VLT 03 Valletta

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Activity type
Public bodies (excluding Research Organisations and Secondary or Higher Education Establishments)
Administrative Contact
Olivianne Briffa (Ms.)
UNIVERSITA TA MALTA
Malta
EU contribution
€ 332 359,20
Address
Tal Oroqq
2080 Msida

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Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Mark Debono (Mr.)
SUPERINTENDENCE OF CULTURAL HERITAGE-SOVRINTENDENZA TAL PATRIMONJU KULTURALI SCH
Malta
EU contribution
€ 169 153,20
Address
Triq San Kristofru 173
VLT 1467 Valletta

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Activity type
Research Organisations
Administrative Contact
A A
UNIVERSITY OF PLYMOUTH
United Kingdom
EU contribution
€ 11 940
Address
Drake Circus
PL4 8AA Plymouth

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Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Suzanne Ash (Ms.)