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boratory for Past Disaster Science


Volcanic eruptions and prehistoric culture change

Project presentation

Large-scale and potentially destructive environmental events such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis have happened throughout human history and prehistory. Yet, disasters are generated only in the interplay between such events and the human societies they impact.

LaPaDiS is a physical/distributed laboratory that brings together scholars interested in past disasters – the way human individuals and groups in the past responded to and coped with rapid environmental change and punctuated events. We draw broadly on natural scientific methods in order to answer questions arising from archaeological, anthropological, and sociological concerns. We use a wide array of analytical techniques to investigate the relationship between past cultures and environmental events with a current emphasis on volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. The case study we currently focus on aims to clarify the extent to which the Laacher See volcanic eruption (10,966 BCE) impacted on the culture-history of contemporaneous hunter-gatherer populations in northern Europe during this so-called Late Glacial period. By investigating local changes in the archaeological record in relation to this eruption, and by matching these local patterns to global trends seen in the responses of traditional societies to similar events, a more robust interpretative context will be provided to better understand this as well as other cases where such societies were affected by volcanic eruptions.

The project continues as one of the regular research groups under the umbrella of the Materials, Culture and Heritage research programme and as a sub-component of Aarhus University's Climate|Culture|Catastrophe Network (C3NET).


Between 1.7.2011 and 30.6.2013 LaPaDiS was funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research (DFF) Sapere Aude career programme.

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Revised 25.11.2014