The Mountain Exile Hypothesis (DFG Research Unit 2358) P4 Paleoecology

  • Glaser, Bruno (PI)
  • Lamb, Henry (PI)
  • Naub, Thomas (PI)
  • Opgenoorth, Lars (PI)
  • Vogelsang, Ralph (PI)
  • Zech, Wolfgang (PI)
  • Zech, Michael (PI)

Project: Externally funded research

Project Details


High altitude ecosystems are still widely perceived as natural and anthropogenic transformation is generally considered to be concentrated on lower elevations and late. However, recent studies challenge this view and for quaternary environmental science and prehistory, the question where humans retreated to during the driest intervals of the last 20 ka when lowlands may have become uninhabitable is still demanding. Based on previous own and third-party research and a total of four reconnaissances to the study area as part of the preparation of this research unit, we challenge the initially stated long-held belief. Given the higher humidity of the African mountains archipelago, the afro-alpine environments are a potential glacial refuge not only for plants and animals, but also for humans. Among others, this idea is backed up by the facts that - highland people of Ethiopia are genetically adapted to high altitude hypoxia which indicates their presence at least in parts of the higher areas over evolutionary time scales. - surface scatters of stone artefacts showing heavy abrasion have been found during the most recent reconnaissance trip between 3,700 and 4,100 m which for the first time likely indicates the presence of stone working people on the Sanetti Plateau. - the mosaic of isolated groves of Erica trimera across the plateau cannot be explained by climatic gradients but indicates a human induced and fire-based shaping of the afro-alpine heathlands. As a consequence, we postulate not a late but early afro-alpine occupation expressed as the “Mountain Exile Hypothesis”. Hence, the research unit will focus on reconstructing the natural and the anthropogenic history of this afro-alpine environment in space and time and the identification and quantification of the natural and anthropogenic drivers and processes that shaped the ecology evolution of the research area. To tackle the research questions arising from the Mountain Exile Hypothesis and to test the hypothesis itself, a multi-disciplinary and multi-proxy approach which combines established as well as newly developed and complementing methods has been designed which focuses on both the - human side of environmental change (P1 – Archeology and Archeozoology, P2 – Anthrosols and Intensity of Human Occupation) and the - natural side of environmental change (P5 – Paleoclimatology, P6 – Glacial Chronology and P7 – Ground Beetles as a Human-Independent Paleoproxy). The respective investigations are bridged by paleoecological investigations (P4 – Paleoecology) which focus on pollen, spores and macrofossil analyses and discriminate the human and natural signals. To complete the scientific inventory required to address the overall objectives, relevant baseline environmental and ecological information is provided (P3 – Environmental Baseline Assessment) and all datasets are combined as part of a central scientific analysis and synthesis platform, the BalePaleoGIS (C2 – Central Scientific Services).
Effective start/end date01 Oct 201630 Sept 2019


  • DFG Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft - German Research Council (Funder reference unknown): £173,634.00

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 13 - Climate Action


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