Terrace - Terrace Archaeology and Culture in Europe

Terrace Archaeology and Culture in Europe (TerrACE) is a five-year European Research Council grant funded archaeological research project under the direction of Tony Brown of the Tromsø University Museum. The project seeks to apply modern geoarchaeological and botanical techniques to the investigation of agricultural terraces across Europe. TerrACE aims to uncover how and when these landscapes were created, as well as what crops were cultivated in these engineered landscapes.

Agricultural terraces and lynchets (terraces without stone walls) are both historical landscapes and hotspots of environmental fragility. Most complex societies used, or even relied on hillslope terracing, and ¨TERRace Archaeology and Culture in Europe,¨ or TerrACE, is the first project to systematically study the origins and environmental role of these agricultural terraces by bringing together landscape archaeology, geomorphology and palaeoecology.

Agricultural terraces which were fundamental to the success of European agriculture in hilly terrains, were until recently, part of a sustainable system, but as Bradford suggested in 1957 they are so ubiquitous in Europe they have been archaeologically overlooked. We still do not fully understand their history, nor appreciate how they functioned as complex socio-environmental sub-systems despite considerable debate as to their origins, functioning and reasons for abandonment. TerrACE is novel because it will be the first time landscape archaeology, geomorphology (incl. sediment dating) and cutting-edge palaeoecology have been combined in a cross-cultural study of terraced landscapes. Whilst the cultural context of terraces clearly varied across Europe, there are common questions that, we as archaeologists have; when and what prompted terrace formation, what was the principal land use on terraces (particularly how were crops combined with animals), was terrace use continuous or episodic and what were the reasons for abandonment when that occurred (Gibson 2015).