Reconstructing paleoenvironments of highland societies in Iran from sedimentary records of Holocene climate change and landscape evolution

Applicant: Privatdozent Dr. Martin Kehl
Universität zu Köln
Department für Geowissenschaften
Geographisches Institut
Subject Area: Physical Geography
Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies
Term: since 2019
Project identifier: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) - Projekt number 424584141

Project Description

Farming and pastoralist societies of the Iranian highland have evolved in ecologically diverse arid to subhumid environments including deserts, steppes, open forests and high mountain grasslands. The study of sedimentary archives has shown that during the Holocene these ecological zones have shifted in space and time as triggered by climate change. The kind and timing of paleoenvironmental change is still a matter of dispute, though, and comparatively little information is available for the interior highlands. Likewise questions arise in how far highland societies reacted to this purported change, for instance by retreat to environmentally more favorable areas and abandonment of settlements, or adoption of new techniques to overcome climate related shortage of resources. Eventually, we can pose the question, in how far highland societies themselves have caused shortage of resources and affected paleoenvironments. The SPP presents an excellent framework to jointly study these questions in interdisciplinary discussion and collaboration. In this subproject, we apply for detailed paleoenvironmental investigations on sedimentary archives of two terminal basins located in the central part of the northern Zagros Mountains and its transition towards the interior highland. The first basin is partly covered by Lake Gandoman, situated at an altitude of about 2250 m above sea level (a.s.l.) in the transition zone between steppe and open forests, a mountainous area traditionally used by pastoralists. The second study area is Gavkhouni playa, located at about 1450 m a.s.l at the margin of the interior deserts. The scope for the first phase of the SPP is to retrieve sediment cores from each basin and to set up litho- and chronostratigraphies using sedimentological methods as well as radiocarbon and luminescence dating. Phases of Holocene sediment accumulation and post-depositional alteration will be identified through high resolution analyses of granulometry, organic and inorganic carbon, major and trace elements and physical properties such as color or magnetic susceptibility. The results will be integrated to describe the genesis of different layers and evaluate their palaeoclimatic implications. Screening for pollen, botanical macro remains and gastropods will be done to assess the potential for conducting detailed investigations on these biological proxies. The results of the project will be discussed concerning the magnitude and drivers of climate and paleoenvironmental change and possible effects on highland societies. Close collaboration with archaeologists and other geoscientists will deliver a clear picture of man-environment interactions in the Iranian Highlands.