Global climate change is not only one of the biggest challenges of the present day, but it has also confronted us humans in the past. How did our ancestors react to these changes? Did they adapt or relocate? The interdisciplinary research program Groundcheck addresses these questions in order to describe complex human-environment relationships in a historical long-term perspective and thus sharpen future predictions. Another important aspect is the protection of our cultural heritage, which is threatened in many places by the regional effects of climate change. Groundcheck thus lays the foundation for developing sustainable solutions for the future.

At best, we let our coordinators explain what Groundcheck is…

Ferran, what is Groundcheck and why is it important?

Groundcheck is one of nine research clusters of the German Archaeological Institute. Research clusters were implemented in order to foster scientific exchange between the many projects that our institute runs all around the globe. The resulting synergies generate knowledge beyond the locality of the case studies. This is, after all, one of the big goals of Archaeology. Groundcheck, as a cluster, incentivises our researchers to focus on climate change and its effects both on past societies and also currently on our cultural heritage. All of the projects supported by Groundcheck have an interdisciplinary nature and thus strengthen the collaboration with dozens of institutions worldwide. Only through this cooperation can complex human-environmental relationships be described in a historically long-term perspective and the data made usable for global future prognoses: Our ultimate goal is to protect cultural heritage and to provide useful knowledge from the past to understand current climate change and its manifold consequences.

Ingo, you have been doing research on palaeoclimate in several institutions around the world. Is there still a lot to investigate regarding climate change in the past? And how is Groundcheck going to make a difference?

Yes, it is true that in the past decades palaeoclimatology has already answered many big questions, especially on a global scale. However, in many parts of the world it is not really known how global change has and will affect regional climate conditions. Furthermore, there are still important climate dynamics we still discover with the aid of palaeoclimatology which help us to better understand the complex processes of human-induced climate change. We already know for sure that climate change has severe and to some extent irreversible consequences on our world heritage, and the German Archaeological Institute wants to minimize the impending heritage loss by investigating how to predict and prevent the effects of climate change on world heritage, regardless of how incommensurable it may sound.

Within Groundcheck, palaeoclimate research is making good use of already existing data and samples, of which the DAI holds large quantities in archives. Some of the samples are quite unique and going back to the early 19th century, as a result of DAI´s very long research tradition. Our Groundcheck teams are now revisiting some of the collections and apply new analysis techniques, in order to find additional hints about the past, almost like in a cold case department of the police. The new local and regional data can be combined with social and cultural dynamics of earlier societies to create models describing the impact of global climate change on past societies.

And, to both of you, how does Groundcheck contribute to these important questions? Are money and efforts well invested and reviewed?

The research program Groundcheck has been designed to tackle this twofold challenge of investigating past climate and societal dynamics as a tool for future opportunities, as well as supporting research on heritage protection while facing current climate change at the same time. We recommend to you: have a look at the many projects that are being conducted with Groundcheck funding. Groundcheck focuses on the effects of global climate change on cultural heritage, for example through its research on changes in coastlines, thawing permafrost soils and the increasing aridification of landscapes. In cooperation with the Archaeological Heritage Network, concrete measures for the protection and preservation of monuments are being developed.

Groundcheck is made possible thanks to the specific funding of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the German Government. Projects are funded on a yearly basis and their outputs reviewed at conferences and through publications on a scientific level and exhibitions for the public are being planned. Stay tuned!

Prof. Dr. Ferran Antolín is head of the Natural Sciences Unit of the German Archaeological Insitute and of the Archaeobotany Group within this unit. He graduated with a PhD in Prehistoric Archaeology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in 2013 and worked for 8 years, first as a PostDoc, later as Assistant Professor, at the University of Basel, within the Integrative Prehistory and Archaeological Science. He was awarded a prestigious SNF Professorship funding for 4 years, which allowed him to lead an interdisciplinary team of researchers focusing on agricultural resilience and climate in the Neolithic period in the Northwestern Mediterranean region and Switzerland. Since Autumn 2021 he is Adjunct Professor (Titularprofessor) at the Department of Environmental Sciences of the University of Basel, where he teaches Archaeobotany and the Domestication of Plants in the Old World. He is also Associate Editor of Vegetation History and Archaeobotany.

PD Dr. Ingo Heinrich is head of the Dendrochronology Group at the German Archaeological Institute (DAI). He graduated with a PhD in Resource Management and Environmental Science from the Australian National University in 2004. His research focuses on dating archaeological wood as well as dendroclimatology and –ecology utilizing special techniques to measure quantitative wood anatomy and stable isotopes in tree rings. In 2017 he completed his Habilitation at the Department of Geography, Humboldt-University Berlin (HU Berlin) and since 2018 he is officially lecturer (Privatdozent) for Geography at HU Berlin. He teaches climatology and palaeoclimatology at HU Berlin Geography and is also guest scientist at the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences.

Mira Leo has been a student assistant at the DAI since April 2021. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Geography at HU Berlin in 2020 and is now studying in the Master’s program „Global Change Geography“. During her bachelor studies she absolved an internship at the Dendrochronology Department of the GFZ Potsdam, where she also wrote her final thesis on pine trees and their climate signal, applying dendrochronological and dendroclimatological methods. At the DAI she is now responsible for various tasks for the Groundcheck research cluster and has primarily taken care of the development of the website. She is also working together with Dr. Ingo Heinrich in the Dendrochronology Department on a research project in Northeast Germany.