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Late Neolithic Agriculture in Temperate Europe—A Long-Term Experimental Approach

Landesamt für Denkmalpflege im Regierungspräsidium Stuttgart, Fischersteig 9, 78343 Gaienhofen-Hemmenhofen, Germany
TU Braunschweig, Abt. Umweltgeochemie, Institut für Geoökologie, Langer Kamp 19c, 38106 Braunschweig, Germany
Institut für Biologie/Geobotanik, Universität Freiburg, Schänzlestr. 1, 79104 Freiburg i. Br., Germany
Department für Geographie, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Luisenstraße 37, 80333 Munich, Germany
Büro für Bodenmikromorphologie und Bodenbiologie, Münster 12, 97993 Creglingen, Germany
Geographisches Institut Universität Köln, Albertus-Magnus-Platz, D-50923 Köln, Germany
Forstamt Hohenlohekreis, Stuttgarter Str. 21, 74653 Künzelsau, Germany
Geologischer Dienst Nordrhein-Westfalen, Postfach 100763, 47707 Krefeld, Germany
Institut für Bodenkunde und Standortslehre, Universität Hohenheim, Emil-Wolff-Str. 27, 70593 Stuttgart, Germany
Arkeologisk Museum i Stavanger, Peder Klows gate 30A, 4010 Stavanger, Norway
Institut für prähistorische Archäologie, Freie Universität Berlin, Fabeckstr. 23-25, 14195 Berlin, Germany
Institut für Geographie und Geologie, Universität Würzburg, Am Hubland, 97074 Würzburg, Germany
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Erle C. Ellis, Kees Klein Goldewijk, Navin Ramankutty and Laura Martin
Received: 14 November 2016 / Revised: 20 January 2017 / Accepted: 24 January 2017 / Published: 7 February 2017
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Anthropogenic Biomes)
Full-Text   |   PDF [9132 KB, uploaded 8 February 2017]   |  


Long-term slash-and-burn experiments, when compared with intensive tillage without manuring, resulted in a huge data set relating to potential crop yields, depending on soil quality, crop type, and agricultural measures. Cultivation without manuring or fallow phases did not produce satisfying yields, and mono-season cropping on freshly cleared and burned plots resulted in rather high yields, comparable to those produced during modern industrial agriculture - at least ten-fold the ones estimated for the medieval period. Continuous cultivation on the same plot, using imported wood from adjacent areas as fuel, causes decreasing yields over several years. The high yield of the first harvest of a slash-and-burn agriculture is caused by nutrient input through the ash produced and mobilization from the organic matter of the topsoil, due to high soil temperatures during the burning process and higher topsoil temperatures due to the soil’s black surface. The harvested crops are pure, without contamination of any weeds. Considering the amount of work required to fight weeds without burning, the slash-and-burn technique yields much better results than any other tested agricultural approach. Therefore, in dense woodland, without optimal soils and climate, slash-and-burn agriculture seems to be the best, if not the only, feasible method to start agriculture, for example, during the Late Neolithic, when agriculture expanded from the loess belt into landscapes less suitable for agriculture. Extensive and cultivation with manuring is more practical in an already-open landscape and with a denser population, but its efficiency in terms of the ratio of the manpower input to food output, is worse. Slash-and-burn agriculture is not only a phenomenon of temperate European agriculture during the Neolithic, but played a major role in land-use in forested regions worldwide, creating anthromes on a huge spatial scale. View Full-Text
Keywords: Neolithic agriculture; experimental archaeology; slash-and-burn; temperate Europe Neolithic agriculture; experimental archaeology; slash-and-burn; temperate Europe

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Rösch, M.; Biester, H.; Bogenrieder, A.; Eckmeier, E.; Ehrmann, O.; Gerlach, R.; Hall, M.; Hartkopf-Fröder, C.; Herrmann, L.; Kury, B.; Lechterbeck, J.; Schier, W.; Schulz, E. Late Neolithic Agriculture in Temperate Europe—A Long-Term Experimental Approach. Land 2017, 6, 11.

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