Umweltgeschichte Deutschlands (Environmental History of Germany) / Hans-Rudolf Bork

Umweltgeschichte DeutschlandsIn his new book Umweltgeschichte Deutschlands (Environmental History of Germany), Hans-Rudolf Bork, PI of the ‘Cluster of Excellence ROOTS’ at Kiel University and member of the subcluster ‘Socio-Environmental Hazards’ (Link), illustrates the manifold relationships between people and their environment. This book consists of 260 stories, ranging from Roman lead pollution in the Eifel to the “Fridays for Future” movement. The volume presents diverse narratives from numerous fields of research and epochs, including, for example, an explanation of how aurochs, bear and wolf disappeared in Germany and corn, tobacco and potatoes arrived. The reclamation of the large bogs from Lower Saxony to Bavaria and the large floodplains of the Rhine and Oder with the subsequent unexpected negative effects on the environment and the people living there is also addressed. One account describes how whale oil from bowhead whales illuminated Hamburg and how these giant mammals have almost become extinct. The era of oil, which continues until today, follows.

Illustrated with 182 figures and supported by a large glossary, the book addresses selected environmental histories of Germany, spanning from the storm tides that made the occurrence of malaria in the North Sea marshes possible to the locusts that destroyed harvests or farmers who colonised the last near-natural landscapes of Central Europe under great hardship: bogs disappeared.

This volume presents a cross-section on the environmental history of Germany from a wide perspective, discussing significant developments in the human-environmental relationship from many different angles. For instance, while the coal and steel industry darkened the cities over the Ruhr and Saar, the structure and use of the landscapes changed, also due to the division of the commons. Ever larger canals were built in order to be able to ship goods more efficiently, while in February 1784, Ludwig van Beethoven fled from the great winter flood of the Rhine. Germans also studied the environment abroad: Alexander von Humboldt explored Latin America and Amalie Dietrich hunted plants and animals in Australia for Johann Caesar Godeffroy.

Scientific advancements, economic development and the industrialisation of Germany are impressively described in this anthology, highlighting their influence on nature and society. For example, industrial enterprises with high pollutant emissions became unpopular in the cities and had to move, only to subsequently pollute suburbs and rural areas. Many discoveries, for example in medicine and biology, provided advancement for human society. For instance, spotted fever and cholera were rampant in urban contexts. Scientists, such as Robert Koch, helped to determine the pathogens of such infectious diseases, whereas Carl Sprengel and Justus von Liebig discovered the importance of plant nutrients. Other advancements in agricultural chemistry reformed agriculture once again, for example, the synthesis of ammonia and mineral fertilisation by Fritz Haber in the early 20th century, making harvest yields explode. Synthetic insecticides were also developed. In light of improper use, some of these seminal developments also resulted in detrimental effects for nature.

Further narratives in Bork’s book also deal with the expansion of transport systems. New railroads and road networks both connected and divided the land, whereby the sealing of soil surfaces continues incessantly. Early on, Carl Benz applied for a patent for the first carriage without horses, while Theodor Lessing founded an anti-noise association. In the course of the First and Second World Wars, Germans devastated many landscapes, Otto Bayer synthesised polyurethane and Kok-Saghys was intended to replace natural rubber, for which “research” was carried out in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

After the Second World War, fields in the West were reallocated and in the East collectivised. The post-war West German economic miracle was based on oil and gas, but air and water pollution had serious consequences for both German states, while highly toxic chemicals were let into the Rhine and caused the death of fish. These detrimental effects on the environment led to subsequent laws that have been passed to improve water, air and later soil quality, to preserve biodiversity and reduce noise.

Scientists continued to study and warn society about the exploitation of nature by humans. Bernhard Grzimek denounced cruelty to animals through factory farming, whereas Bernhard Ulrich vehemently warned about forest decline (Waldsterben). Consequently, air pollution control measures have been installed to prevent further forest dieback, and on a social level, the Green party was founded in West Germany.

During recent decades, Klaus Hasselmann identified man-made climate change. Further current incidents effecting landscapes and society are mentioned as the outcome of human-environment exploitation. For example, large floods on the Oder, Elbe and Danube, which were only made possible by changes in the landscape and its utilisation by humans, aggravate people living on the banks of these rivers. Trees are snapped over by storms en masse because forest officials planted tree species in monocultures – mainly for economic reasons – that are not very stable against extreme weather events. Further negative effects resulting from environmental and species exploitation are mentioned in this volume, for example, that cattle are affected by BSE and birds by the H5N8 virus, free bisphenol is found in the blood of mothers, antibiotics have been verified in groundwater and surface waters, and a disease threatens to cause ash tree distinction. Despite such developments, diesel-powered vehicles (still) transport Germans through the landscape.

Why do we often not react, act wrongly or (too) late? What is to be done? How can a future with healthy people and even better social conditions be achieved? For people who decide to assume environmental responsibility and live in an “intact” environment, a deep understanding of the past is necessary, and thus of the diverse human-environment relationships and their driving forces. Once this has been achieved, we can turn the existing uncertainty about human impact and environmental change into confidence. Moreover, we can look forward with joy into a future that is characterised by respect, precaution, empathy and a deep positive knowledge of human-environmental relationships.

You can find a detailed review of the book by Udo E. Simonis (in German) here: link

Umweltgeschichte Deutschlands (Environmental History of Germany) by Hans-Rudolf Bork, Springer (2020), 408 pages, 182 illustrations (in German).

Historical case studies on pandemics

Pandemics and Crisis Reloaded

The German version of this text can be found here

Learning from the past: new publication by Kiel University’s Cluster of Excellence ROOTS

Whether it’s the plague, cholera or currently COVID-19: epidemics are part of human history. Long before there were vaccinations or microscopes for the investigation of pathogens, societies had to develop coping strategies. These are described in the brochure "Distant Times so Close: Pandemics and Crises reloaded", published by the Cluster of Excellence "ROOTS – Social, Environmental, and Cultural Connectivity in Past Societies" at Kiel University (CAU), which is the first in a series of historical-archaeological publications on current topics.

"In a situation like the present, it is worthwhile to look in the past, and remind ourselves of the strategies used by earlier cultures in order to deal with epidemics and/or pandemics," said the cluster spokesperson, archaeologist Professor Johannes Müller, regarding the motivation behind the publication. If modern technologies have reached their limits, for example, if there are still no vaccines or appropriate treatments available, then people of today essentially in the same position as the people centuries ago. The interdisciplinary-oriented brochure, which appears in German and English, contains snapshots ranging from the Neolithic Age, through classical antiquity and to the Middle Ages. The authors are relevant experts from a wide spectrum of subjects represented in the cluster, which equally involves scientists from the natural sciences, life sciences and humanities. In short, easily comprehensible, richly illustrated articles describe significant cases of epidemics, their origins, their developments, surprisingly diverse strategies to cope with them, and last but not least, the culturally enshrined knowledge drawn from contemporary reflections.

Not modern phenomena: social upheavals and zoonoses

The contributions aim to provide unexpected insights into what is partly considered well-known. "For example, it is hardly remembered that in his epic poem, the Iliad, the Greek poet Homer constructed his narrative of the Trojan War around the outbreak of an epidemic," reported Professor Lutz Käppel. "The root of the tragedy in the Iliad, all of the pointless killing and dying, ultimately lies in the failure to tackle the epidemic on a socially-equitable basis, and not in the medical situation itself." The real danger for a community – according to this work from the beginnings of European literary history – lies in the internal social distortion of interests, rather than the actual epidemic. In his new interpretation of the work, Käppel shows how this approach applies to the present situation.

Learning from history

"The underlying idea within the cluster is that it’s always connectivities which significantly shape the development of human societies: connections and interactions between humans and the environment, groups and other groups, and in the broader sense also between various domains of action, such as ways of life, social orders, knowledge cultures, economic strategies, diets or disease patterns. This could also serve as the starting point here," summarised Lutz Käppel.
The articles do not provide a panacea for dealing with the current pandemic. "However, they make an indispensable contribution to dealing with such a threat in a historically enlightened manner, in which the historical experience together with modern medical knowledge must be part of an overall strategy to overcome it," concluded Johannes Müller.


Original publication:

Distant Times so Close: Pandemics and Crises reloaded. With contributions by V.P.J. Arponen, Martin Furholt, Lutz Käppel, Tim Kerig, Ben Krause-Kyora, Cheryl Makarewicz, Johannes Müller, Almut Nebel, Henny Piezonka and Chiara Thumiger, ROOTS Booklet Series No. 1, published by Lutz Käppel, Cheryl Makarewicz and Johannes Müller, 64 pages, numerous images, Sidestone Press, Leiden 2020.
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Past societies. Human development in landscapes.

Past Societies

Two years after the publication of “Past Landscapes”, the sequel “Past Societies” has now been published. This book presents research projects mainly by former PhD students of the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ at Kiel University. The authors conducted research in different disciplines within the humanities and natural sciences. Their common research interest focuses on past societies.
The Kiel Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ has conducted research on socio-environmental issues of past societies during the last years. From the North Atlantic to the Persian Gulf and from Peru to the Near East, different attempts on the interfluve of environments and societies in landscapes describe certain historical moments and processes in which the interplay of ecological and societal factors is entangled. Events, processes and structures are described on local, regional and global scales as well as methodological developments on ecological and societal archives.
The selected case studies are linked by the general idea of the ability to integrate discovery, documentation, description and interpretation within the scope of analyses and synthesis. Thus, the interdisciplinary framework of the Kiel Graduate School formed the agenda for a holistic approach. ‘Landscapes of power’, transitions during neolithisation processes, maritime and other networks, site formation dynamics, ‘landscapes of identities’ and the ‘making of heritage’ are only a few topics included in this book.

The Kiel Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ constituted the major pioneering institution of the interdisciplinary research focus at Kiel University, from which the CRC 1266 – Scales of Transformation – Human-Environmental Interaction in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies, the Johanna Mestorf Academy and the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS – Social, Environmental, and Cultural Connectivity in Past Societies, emerged. Hence, several members of the CRC 1266 and ROOTS also contributed to this volume.

Müller, Johannes; Ricci, Andrea (eds.) 2020: Past societies. Human development in landscapes. Leiden: Sidestone Press. ISBN: 9789088909245

To the publisher: Sidestone Press

Maidanets’ke: Development and decline of a Trypillia mega-site in Central Ukraine

In his recently published dissertation, René Ohlrau presents the development and decline of Maidanets'ke, which represents a Trypillia 'mega-site' in Central Ukraine" that dates to the end of the 5th millennium BCE. Maidanets’ke is the most complex example of these enormous sites and is also among the best investigated ones.
Based on new excavations by an international team, the author examines the history and structure of this settlement and its regional context. Results on pottery kilns, the ditch work and several houses are presented in detail. Due to extensive radiocarbon dating and modelling from different parts of the settlement, a phase model for the development of a 'mega-site' could be generated for the first time. Furthermore, calculations on population size and development provide information on the mega-site phenomenon.
Targeted geophysical surveys in the main distribution area of mega-sites verify a uniform structure of small and large settlements. The results on population density and settlement structure are used to reassess the urban character of Trypillia mega-sites.

René Ohlrau completed his PhD thesis in the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ (GSC 208). In addition to his position within the Graduate School, he was also supported by Graduate School research funds.

Ohlrau, R. 2020. Maidanets’ke: Development and decline of a Trypillia mega-site in Central Ukraine, Scales of Transformation in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies 07. Leiden: Sidestone Press. ISBN: 9789088908484

To the publisher Sidestone Press

The Power of Urban Water


With the volume “The Power of Urban Water”, the Subcluster Urban Roots presents its first results. The two core themes of the Subcluster – Urban Agency and Urban Perception – are questioned in relation to a particularly central urbanistic aspect: water. The contributions examine the fundamental cultural significance of water in the city and water for the city from various perspectives. Symbolic, aesthetic and cultic aspects are addressed as well as the role of water in politics, society and the economy. Chronologically, the spectrum ranges from antiquity to early modern times.

Chiarenza, N., Haug, A., Müller, U. (eds.) 2020. The Power of Urban Water. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.
ISBN: 978-3-11-067664-8 doi:

To the publisher: De Gruyter

Marks on the Rocks. Rock and mobile art as an expression of the hunter-gatherers groups Weltanschauung in the Sicilian landscape from Lateglacial to Early Holocene.


This newly published research investigation by Gianpiero Di Maida (winner of the Johanna Mestorf Award 2019) deals with a complete re-evaluation of the late glacial rock and mobile art record of Sicily. The highlights of this volume include a detailed theoretical overview, up-to-date links to the most recent research investigations of the coeval European record, and a fresh chronological perspective.
For the first time, absolute dates in direct connection with the art record of Sicily and a new framework regarding the first habitation of the island are presented together, thus providing a stimulating starting point for any future research in this field and region.
Finally, alongside the available traditional documentation, a new digital-based documentation of the most relevant specimens in the record is presented to the reader, thus updating the records of Sicilian art of the final Pleistocene/Early Holocene in light of the so-called digital turn that has recently stormed archaeology as a discipline.

Gianpiero Di Maida completed his PhD thesis in the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ (GSC 208). In addition to his position within the Graduate School, he was also supported by Graduate School research funds.

Di Maida, G., Marks on the Rocks. Rock and mobile art as an expression of the hunter-gatherers groups Weltanschauung in the Sicilian landscape from Lateglacial to Early Holocene. Universitätsforschung zur prähistorischen Archäologie, Vol. 343. Graduate School Human Development in Landscapes, Vol. 16. Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH. ISBN 978-3-7749-4238-7

To the publisher: Link

Embracing Bell Beaker. Adopting new ideas and objects across Europe during the later 3rd millennium BC (c. 2600-2000 BC)

Embracing Bell Beaker

The newly released volume of the CRC series “Scales of Transformation in Prehistoric and Historic Societies” presents the results of the research completed by Jos Kleijne on settlement evidence from the Bell Beaker period. Kleijne indicates that local communities adopted new ideas and objects in different ways during the second half of the 3rd millennium BC. While some prehistoric communities adopted the Bell Beaker phenomenon rapidly and as a whole package, other communities adopted it more slowly or reshaped ideas to adapt them to their own cultural sphere. The study demonstrates that these varying strategies and tempi related to existing social networks of information exchange between Bell Beaker communities. These emerging networks were based on long-distance mobility of a limited number of individuals, who spread new technologies and practices.

This research was completed with the support of the Graduate School Human Development in Landscapes (GSC 208).

Kleijne, J.P., 2019. Embracing Bell Beaker. Adopting new ideas and objects across Europe during the later 3rd millennium BC (c. 2600-2000 BC). Scales of Transformation in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies 2. Leiden: Sidestone Press. ISBN:987-90-8890-755-5

To the publisher Sidestone Press

Face urns – Images of humans in the past

Face Urns

Faces fascinate, especially those of the past. Face depictions attracted the interest of collectors and museums early on.

Jutta Kneisel, prehistorian archaeologist, co-PI of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS and project leader of the CRC 1266 subproject D3, published a vivid volume on the latest results of her research on anthropomorphic vessels, which were mainly used as grave urns during both the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. This richly illustrated volume provides an insight into the life of a society that lived almost 3000 years ago. The book provides answers to questions such as: who was an important woman and what role did an old man play in this society? In addition, the reader gets to know children and warriors and also learns about trade and exchange networks, which were already established across Europe. Face recognition and the significance of the face play a pivotal role for the investigations.

This research was completed with the support of the Graduate School Human Development in Landscapes (GSC 208).

Kneisel, J., 2019. Gesichtsurnen, Menschenbilder der Vergangenheit. Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH.

To the publisher: Habelt Verlag


Socio-Environmental Dynamics along the Historical Silk Road

The edited volume ‘Socio-Environmental Dynamics along the Historical Silk Road’ discusses socio-environmental interactions in the middle to late Holocene, covering specific areas along the ancient Silk Road regions. The 22 chapters provide insight into this topic from various disciplinary angles and perspectives, ranging from archaeology, paleoclimatology, antiquity, historical geography, agriculture, carving art and literacy. Versions of most of the chapters were initially prepared for the international workshop entitled “The Rise and Fall: Environmental Factors in the Socio-Cultural Changes of the Ancient Silk Road Area”, which was convened by the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ (GSHDL) at Kiel University during September 27-28, 2017.

The Silk Road is a modern concept for an ancient network of trade routes that for centuries facilitated and intensified processes of cultural interaction and goods exchange between West China, Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. Coherent patterns and synchronous events in history suggest possible links between social upheaval, resource utilization and climate or environment forces along the Silk Road and in a broader area.

Studies in the volume indicate both that climate conditions significantly influence human socio-cultural systems and that the socio-culture systems are certainly resilient to climate impacts. The cross-cutting theme has been to reach beyond simple explanations of environmental or human determinism, but social resilience under environmental impacts.

Both the workshop and the volume were jointly sponsored by the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ at the Kiel University (GSC 208/2) and the Past Global Changes project (PAGES).

The publication is freely accessible online via the publishing house Springer, but can also be purchased as printed versions: here

Yang, L., Bork, H.-R.,  Fang, X., Mischke, S., 2019. Socio-Environmental Dynamics along the Historical Silk Road. Springer-Nature, Cham, Switzerland. 535 Pages. ISBN 978-3-030-00727-0

'Past Landscapes': New edited volume by the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’

The edited volume ‘Past Landscapes. The Dynamics of Interaction between Society, Landscape, and Culture’ presents theoretical and practical attempts of scholars and scientists, who were and are active within the Kiel Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ (GSHDL) at Kiel University. It comprises 18 papers dealing with central issues of interdisciplinary research on past landscapes, inhabiting societies and the development of socio-environmental interaction, with special focus on the definition and application of the term ‘landscape’:Landscapes are understood as products of human-environmental interaction. At the same time, they are arenas, in which societal and cultural activities as well as receptions of environments and human developments take place. Thus, environmental processes are interwoven into human constraints and advances.

This book presents theories, concepts, approaches and case studies dealing with human development in landscapes. On the one hand, it becomes evident that only an interdisciplinary approach can cover the manifold aspects of the topic. On the other hand, this also implies that the very different approaches cannot be reduced to a simplistic uniform definition of landscape. This shortcoming proves nevertheless to be an important strength. The umbrella term ‘landscape’ proves to be highly stimulating for a large variety of different approaches.

The GSDHL makes the major pioneering institution of this interdisciplinary research focus at Kiel University, from which the CRC 1266, the Johanna Mestorf Academy and the excellence cluster ‘ROOTS - connectivity of society, environment and culture in past worlds’ emerged. Hence, several members of the CRC 1266 and ROOTS contributed to different papers of this volume.

The publication is freely accessible online via the publishing house Sidestone Press: Link

  Haug, A., Käppel, L., Müller, J., 2018. Past Landscapes. The Dynamics of Interaction between Society, Landscape, and Culture. Sidestone Press, Leiden.
ISBN: 9789088907319.


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