Geoarchaeological investigations at Tiryns and Stymphalia (Peloponnese, Greece)

The imposing heritage of the Mycenaean culture and subsequent cultural periods is being studied in great detail through archaeological excavations in Greece. Statements about human-environment interactions are often made through written sources (Linear-B) from the respective periods. The analysis of geoarchives directly at or in the immediate vicinity of archaeological excavation sites represent the exception until today. Through geoarchaeological investigations in early settled landscapes it is possible to reconstruct the interventions of humans in the natural environment and to depict the natural development that has occurred as a result of these interventions. Accordingly, the investigations offer an enormous extension of the interpretation possibilities of a settlement context in former societies. One of the most important Mycenaean fortresses is the palace of Tiryns, which can be considered as a central site in southern Europe already in the 3rd millennium BC. Archaeological excavations at the palace allowed to reconstruct economic and trade relations as well as the settlement system of the Mycenaean culture. Ongoing archaeological excavations on the related lower city of Tiryns also show settlement activity in the area while all other palaces in the eastern Mediterranean disappeared in the Late Bronze Age (Late Helladic Period). Another peculiarity was revealed during the excavations under the city area, river gravels were found in the inner courtyard of the houses. One of the aims of this dissertation is to reconstruct the environmental conditions and human-environment interactions in the Argolid region during the Late Bronze. The reconstruction of sedimentary conditions was carried out through sediment analysis and the attribution of fluvial architectural elements. The stratigraphy under the walls of the city showed cultural horizons and single flood periods, which were interrupted by phases of human activity. In addition to the reconstruction of a 150 years long period of river dynamics during the Late Helladic III period, the geoarchaeological investigations also made it possible to detect anthropogenic interventions in which a foundation was laid for the construction of the lower city. Why the great palaces disappeared in the Late Bronze Age is still unclear. However, it is certain that the palace centres were supplied with agricultural products from the surrounding countryside. Another aim of this thesis is to investigate the effects of land use, which lasted for thousands of years, on the soils of the north-eastern Peloponnese in the wider vicinity of important ancients sites like Mycene, Tiryns, Nemea and Corinth. For this purpose the valley of Stymphalia was intensively investigated as an exemplary study. A geomorphological and pedological survey was carried out in a raster covering the entire valley, in which the topography and the topsoils were analysed and classified. The evaluation of the soil quality was done by creating a classified soil quality index. The soil quality index includes the soil parameters of particle size distribution, organic matter, pH value, stone content, C/N ratio and the concentrations of calcium, potassium and magnesium. In order to record the soil genesis and degradation phenomena, selected soil profiles were analysed in detail. Large differences in soil quality were found, which can be attributed to degradation, triggered by human land use, as well as to geological conditions. High soil quality is especially evident in the centre and terraced sites of the valley. Except for the soils of the agricultural terraces, the investigations show a general decrease in soil quality with increasing depth. An average quality is shown by the soils in the east at Kaliani, while the quality of the topsoil in the west at Kastania is the lowest. The results show that in models for reconstructing the land use of prehistoric societies, soils have to be considered in a much more differentiated way and with a stronger weighting. Not only climatic extremes, social unrest or earthquakes can be responsible for a decline or demise of once advanced civilizations, but also soil degradation and exploitation have to be included in these considerations.

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