Due to their unique biological and geological resources, mountains have attracted humans since prehistoric times, despite their sensitivity to environmental and climatic changes. Few studies, however, have investigated the detailed history and dynamic of alpine agro-pastoral activities or their impacts on plant cover and erosion. This is largely due to the lack of suitable proxies for human activities in these environments. The PALEO-AGRI project proposes to address this challenge: 1) through the optimization of a powerful and innovative tool, DNA metabarcoding, and 2) its application to archaeological layers and lake sediment archives distributed across elevation and latitudinal gradients in the French Alps in order to investigate how human-climate-environment relations evolved in diversified environments.
In recent years, our ability to sample and characterise ancient DNA from buried sediments has allowed archaeologists and environmental scientists to identify specific changes in vegetation, and the presence of different animals in a landscape over time. Lake cores will be taken from a number of zones across the French Alps. We will then extract ancient DNA from these cores. The results should then permit an assessment of the development of human use of and impact on alpine landscapes. We aim to identify when pastoralism first developed in the Alps and then consider its development over time, adding to existing archaeological ecological information.