Modelling landscape transformation at the Chalcolithic Tripolye mega-site of Maidanetske (Ukraine) : Wood demand and availability

Wood was a crucial resource for prehistoric societies, for instance, as timber for house construction and as fuel. In the case of the exceptionally large Chalcolithic Tripolye ‘mega-sites’ in central Ukraine, thousands of burnt buildings, indicating huge population agglomerations, hint at such a massive use of wood that it raises questions about the carrying capacity of the sensitive forest-steppe environment. In this contribution, we investigate the wood demand for the mega-site of Maidanetske (3990–3640 BCE), as reconstructed based on wood charcoal data, wood imprints on daub and the archaeo- magnetometry-based settlement plan. We developed a regional-scale model with a fuzzy approach and applied it in order to simulate the potential distribution and extent of woodlands before and after Chalcolithic occupation. The model is based upon the reconstructed ancient land surface, soil information derived from cores and the potential natural woodland cover reconstructed based on the requirements of the prevailing ancient tree species. Landscape scenarios derived from the model are contrasted and cross-checked with the archaeological empirical data. We aim to understand whether the demand for wood triggered the site development. Did deforestation and consequent soil degradation and lack of resources initiate the site’s abandonment? Or, alternatively, did the inhabitants develop sustainable woodland management strategies? Starting from the case study of Maidanetske, this study provides estimates of the extent of human impact on both carrying capacity and landscape transformations in the sensitive transitional forest- steppe environment. Overall, the results indicate that the inhabitants of the Chalcolithic site did not suffer from a significant shortage in the wood resource at any time of inhabitation in the contexts of the different scenarios provided by the model. An exception is given by the phase of maximum house construction and population within a scenario of dry climatic conditions.


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