The Palaeoenvironmental Impact of Prehistoric Settlement and Proto-Historic Urbanism: Tracing the Emergence of the Oppidum of Corent, Auvergne, France

Paul M. Ledger, Yannick Miras, Matthieu Poux, Pierre-Yves Milcent

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Early human societies and their interactions with the natural world have been extensively explored in palaeoenvironmental studies across Central and Western Europe. Yet, despite an extensive body of scholarship, there is little consideration of the environmental impacts of proto-historic urbanisation. Typically palaeoenvironmental studies of Bronze and Iron Age societies discuss human impact in terms of woodland clearance, landscape openness and evidence for agriculture. Although these features are clearly key indicators of human settlement, and characterise Neolithic and early to Middle Bronze Age impacts at Corent, they do not appear to represent defining features of a protohistoric urban environment. The Late Iron Age Gallic Oppidum of Corent is remarkable for the paucity of evidence for agriculture and strong representation of apophytes associated with disturbance. Increased floristic diversity – a phenomenon also observed in more recent urban environments – was also noted. The same, although somewhat more pronounced, patterns are noted for the Late Bronze Age and hint at the possibility of a nascent urban area. High percentages of pollen from non-native trees such as Platanus, Castanea and Juglans in the late Bronze Age and Gallic period also suggest trade and cultural exchange, notably with the Mediterranean world. Indeed, these findings question the validity of applying Castanea and Juglans as absolute chronological markers of Romanisation. These results clearly indicate the value of local-scale palaeoecological studies and their potential for tracing the phases in the emergence of a proto-historic urban environment.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0121517
Number of pages25
JournalPloS ONE
Issue number4
Early online date8 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2015

Bibliographical note

We are grateful to a number of people for assistance with various aspects of this paper. We would like to thank Olivier Voldoire, Erwan Roussel and Aude Beauger for help in the field and Emmanuelle Defive for help with lithological descriptions. Gaspar Charrier for assistance with maps, Alexandre Garreau for undertaking pollen preparations and Bertrand Dousteyssier for images in Fig. 2. Finally we would also like to acknowledge Romain Laurenson and Hélène Duchamps for their help with archaeological material. This manuscript has also benefitted from the comments of two anonymous reviewers and the Academic Editor Celine Rozenblat.


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