Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic maritime resilience? The 4.2 ka BP event and its implications for environments and societies in Northwest Europe

This paper deals with prehistoric communities at the end of the 3rd millennium BC in Northwest Europe in relation to the 4.2 ka BP climatic event. In particular, the question of the resilience of these communities to climatic change will be studied here by comparing various climatic records and analysing specific archaeological parameters for social and cultural change. These parameters include the duration and intensity of settlement occupation, the variability of subsistence activities (e.g. cereal cultivation, animal husbandry, hunting, fishing, and gathering) and the connectedness of communities within exchange networks. Rather than answering the often-asked yes/no question with regard to human–environment relations, our research asks what effect resulted from the 4.2 ka BP climatic event, and, from the perspective of resilience, how did communities adopt to these changes in their practices and cultural choices during the later 3rd millennium BC.

In short, we maintain that climate change took place at the end of the 3rd millennium BC, but the changes in humidity and temperature with their effects on vegetation were probably regionally varied across Northwest Europe. We also observe that the studied communities developed differently during the second half of the 3rd millennium BC. On the one hand, we identify new food storage and house building techniques in the Low Countries and Schleswig-Holstein and, on the other hand, substantiate population decrease on the Orkney Islands around 2300 BC. Finally, we note a development of the Bell Beaker phenomenon into an Early Bronze Age maritory of connected communities across the North Sea, in which these communities expressed their resilience to climate change.


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