Collapse and Resilience in Prehistoric Archaeology: Questioning Concepts and Causalities in Models of climate-induced Societal Transformations

Heitz, Caroline; Laabs, Julian; Hinz, Martin; Hafner, Albert (2021). Collapse and Resilience in Prehistoric Archaeology: Questioning Concepts and Causalities in Models of climate-induced Societal Transformations. In: Erdkamp, Paul; Manning, Joseph G.; Verboven, Koenraad (eds.) Climate and society in ancient worlds. Divergence in collapse and resilience. Palgrave Studies in Ancient Economies (PASTAE) (pp. 127-199). Cham: Palgrave McMillan 10.1007/978-3-030-81103-7_5

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‘Resilience’, in addition to ‘collapse’, has become increasingly important as a concept for the study of social challenges in archaeology since the turn of the millennium. In this paper, we critically examine both terms and their conceptualisations in archaeology and argue for a data-driven bottom-up approach that harnesses ‘resilience’ beyond system-theoretical approaches such as Resilience Theory and Adaptive Cycle Models. Using high temporal resolution data from the UNESCO World Heritage pile dwellings in the northern Alpine Foreland, this contribution examines how Neolithic communities coped with climatic challenges between 3500 and 3250 BCE. Rising lake-levels destroyed former settlement areas on the lakeshores and led to temporal interruptions of settlement activities. To question their causal relation to climatic fluctuations, we use archaeological information on settlement features as well as various global and regional paleoclimatic proxy data by applying qualitative and quantitative methods utilizing concluding statistics. It can be inferred that especially the longer-term lake-level rises of higher magnitudes hit the agricultural communities hard but did not lead to any form of social collapse. On the contrary, the immediate repopulation of the lakeshores after the lake floods suggests that spatial mobility and the temporary relocation of settlements to the hinterland were a successful social coping practice in dealing with these challenges. Since the frequent relocation of settlements was already immanent to these communities’ social practices, their capacity for residence-based spatial mobility served them as resilience capacity.

Caroline Heitz and Albert Hafner thank the organizers of the conference ‘Climate and Society in Ancient Worlds. Diversity in Collapse and Resilience. Brussels, May 22–24, 2019’, Paul Erdkamp, Joseph G. Manning and Koenraad Verboven for the invitation to speak. The authors thank the editors of this volume for accepting our contribution and Martin Finné, Uppsala University, for his remarks on paleoclimatic proxies. Research for this contribution was supported by three grants of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), projects ‘Time and Temporality in Archaeology. Approaching Rhythms and Reasons for Societal (Trans)formations in Prehistoric Central Europe’, grant number 194326, ‘Mobilities, entanglements and transformations in Neolithic societies on the Swiss Plateau (3900–3500 BC)’, grant number 156205 and ‘Beyond lake settlements: Studying Neolithic environmental changes and human impact at small lakes in Switzerland, Germany and Austria’, grant number 152862.

Item Type:

Book Section (Book Chapter)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of Archaeological Sciences > Pre- and Early History

UniBE Contributor:

Heitz, Caroline Franziska, Hinz, Martin, Hafner, Albert


900 History > 930 History of ancient world (to ca. 499)






Palgrave Studies in Ancient Economies (PASTAE)


Palgrave McMillan




Caroline Franziska Heitz

Date Deposited:

30 Nov 2021 08:44

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:47

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Resilience, Climate Change, Archaeology


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