Research focussing on human responses to major environmental shifts (such as prehistoric climate change) tends to be catastrophic in nature, underlining the decline and collapse of past societies. Although environmental factors certainly have often constituted an insurmountable obstacle to succession, this project aims at nuancing the picture through investigating the process in the wake of the empirically well-founded Dust Veil event of the mid-6th century AD, in Norse mythology translated to the Fimbulwinter. It is proposed that certain local communities seem to have prospered economically and reproductively from this event. The main case at hand is the Åland Islands, centrally positioned in the Baltic Sea, where archaeological evidence strongly indicates a boosting effect at this time, which stands in stark contrast to earlier research. Thus, the Åland case can serve as a witness to human resilience and adaptability in the face of cataclysmic challenges.
This project – funded by Academy of Finland (332396) – is focusing on the biocultural heritage and will investigate cultural and landscape development on Åland in an integrative manner. This entails using a multidisciplinary approach, combining traditional archaeological methods such as excavation, artifactual- and stratigraphical studies with reconstructive landscape studies, radiometric dating, botanical sampling and a pioneering fibre analysis of archaeological soil samples. The focus is on the interplay between a changing environment, fluctuations in networks for people and material goods, endogenous cultural development versus adoption of external cultural traits and changes in economy and ideology. The project will capture the complex nature of human action through multi-variable research framework and will contribute to our understanding of migrations and socio-cultural transformations resulting from environmental perturbations happening in comparable settings in the present-day world.
The explanatory power of prehistoric migrations has witnessed somewhat of a revival in modern archaeology, not least due to the advent of genome sequencing and improvements in the extraction of ancient DNA. The studies almost always involve very small samples, sometimes advertised as reflecting entire past populations, even when the results are conflicting with archaeological data. Within this project, migration as a concept is accepted as a proximal explanatory cause, but the main concern is with the social dynamics at locations acting as environmental refuges.