C24: Climate history | culture history

Adding value through coupled natural and cultural heritage

The aim of  C24 Climate history | culture history project is to provide a historically informed and evidence-based dissemination platform for Coast to Coast Climate Change (C2C CC) that facilitates citizen-near adaptation and long-term behavioural change with a focus on the Danish Central Region of Jutland. Funded by the EU Life IP Programme, C2C CC and its affiliated projects are working on existing environmental and cultural historical datasets together in order to provide evidence-based snapshots of past environmental conditions and human responses. With a focus on hydrological changes in inland (river, lake) and coastal contexts in Jutland, C24 connects directly with other C2C CC projects to showcase the overall project nationally. At the same time, this project reaches out to a wider international network through workshops and participation in international conferences. The specific aim of C24 is to support broad understanding of our natural and cultural given conditions and help us to identify sustainable solutions and to translate climate history into components useable also in sustainable growth via tourism.


Humans have lived in interaction with nature in what is today the Danish Region of Central Jutland for over 13,000 years. Over this vast span of time, climatic and environmental conditions have changed dramatically – and people and societies have handled these changes in manifold demographic and technological ways. Environmental proxies (e.g. pollen, isotopes and sediments) from dated layers facilitate the reconstruction of the full spectrum of and baselines for local and regional landscape changes, while archaeological and historical sources document how people have adapted, or failed to do so, to these changes. Environmental history and climate change archaeology can be used for sketching a roadmap for possible future adaptations. This is particularly relevant as these inherently local and regional scenarios can supplement global models for future climate change; and local/regional narratives generate grass-roots citizen adaptation. How societies have reacted to past climate-driven changes in the hydrological cycle provides a canvass for reflection on how present-day societies may adapt to similar changes predicted to occur under conditions of future climate change. The human presence in Europe has a long shared history and heritage, which is well-documented in often unique archaeological and historical cases. Thinking natural and cultural heritage together can create ecological as well as economic added value measurable through, for instance, the number of visitors to exhibitions and sales and readership statistics of publications generated by the present project.

Danish landscapes are fundamentally cultural landscapes. Ecosystems in the Region of Central Jutland have been under the influence of people for a very long time indeed; they are both natural and cultural at the same time, and they can thus only adequately be understood using both natural science and human science methodologies. Geoarchaeology and environment history contribute to a more precise and temporally dynamic picture of these ecosystems. They thus also contribute to more robust baseline for these ecosystems and to how they may change under conditions of future climate change. It has been suggested that extreme hydrological and meteorological events in particular will occur more often and will become more extreme still in the future (Schiermeier 2011; 2012). But precisely these kinds of extreme events have hitherto been so rare that only a more long-term perspective can reveal how they have impacted the coupled cultural and natural histories in the Region. Previous research has shown that narratives of the local and thereby intimate relationships between climate, environment and culture stimulate similarly local changes in attitude and behaviour (Carter & van Eck 2014).

Research design

C24 is being developed through three main sub-projects:

C24.1 Landscape use and settlement patterns in the early Holocene in Central Jutland

This sub-project focuses on how the earliest inhabitants of the Central Jutland have handled changes in the hydrological cycle. During the period 10,000–6200 BCE, an enormous tsunami generated by a submarine landslide off the coast of Norway as well as marked changes in sea-levels and ground water levels are well-documented. These environmental changes and their human impacts are well-researched elsewhere in Denmark (Fruergaard et al. 2015) and northern Europe (Bondevik et al. 1997; Smith et al. 2004), but only poorly known from Central Denmark. C24.1 brings together Aarhus University researchers and staff of regionally responsible museums to review and evaluate how people have reacted to these hydrological factors. Whilst these past changes are no direct analogues for future climate changes and adaptions, the reactions effected by these past inhabitants of Central Jutland could nonetheless function as a canvas for designing, debating and disseminating future solutions. Key focus areas will be the region’s fjords, islands and rivers, here especially the large inland lakes in the Silkeborg region, which are part of the Gudenå system. C24.1 is collating environmental and archaeological data from borings, excavation, and from the existing Danish sites and monuments register for precise reconstructions of past environments and land-use, especially in the vicinity of water-near archaeological sites (e.g. in the Silkeborg and Herning regions, but also along the coasts). These data will offer temporally deep and local contexts for past and future climate and environmental changes, all with focus on groundwater and sea-level changes, storm surges and tsunami events.

C24.2 Storm surges and tsunamis along the Central Jutland coasts in historical, landscape- and geo-archaeological perspective

This sub-project takes its starting point in the present and works backward in time. Drawing on meteorological, geological, archaeological and historical records, C24.2 is reviewing human settlement along the coasts as well as further inland with the aim of translating into elements useable in C2C Climate Challenge outreach and climate tourism. Historical records about storm surges and corresponding flood pillars are well-known and well-documented in, for example, South Jutland, the Netherlands and Germany. In contrast, these same source data are much less systematically recorded and analysed in the Region of Central Jutland, but recent archaeological investigations of, for instance, the Nørre Vosborg manor hint at the impacts of storm surges on landscapes and people (Kock 2015).

Dyke rupture at the River Elbe in northern Germany during the storm surge in 1661. Engraving by H.M. Winterstein.

C24.2 is developing a systematic collation of existing material regarding storm surges in the Region of Central Jutland. Historical maps primarily held at the University Library in Aarhus and the Royal Library in Copenhagen are being digitised and will be subsequently archived at Aarhus University Library/State Library, where they will be publically accessible. This will be the first time, historical and archaeological as well as cartographic material will be presented and analysed together for this region and with a view towards using these data in contemporary discussions about sustainable coastal development. Comprehensive information on existing flood pillars that commemorate storm surge events will be collected (photographically and geo-referenced). Together with written reports and maps these will reflect the coupled natural and cultural heritage of past violent weather events. Dissemination will be through established digital channels for historical and cartographic materials, i.e. www.danmarkshistorien.dk and http://historiskatlas.dk. These are resource used extensively be high school students and teachers in particular. In addition, this sub-project will provide background information for a coast-to-coast climate tourism cycling/kayaking route aimed at climate-interested and environmentally conscious tourists visiting the Region

C24.3Citizen-near story telling and marketing of coupled culture and climate history

C24.3 focuses on innovative communication of the coupling between climate history and culture history via established cultural institutions, as well as the marketing of CC2 CC with an eye towards climate tourism. The results of the C24 sub-projects as well as other selected C2C CC projects will be presented through exhibitions at Moesgård Museum’s Exhibition Laboratory, the Region of Central Jutland’s many relevant museums, and a CC2 CC’s specific show cases – the Geopark Lemvig, the Climatorium and the AquaGlobe. Culture historical museums rarely focus on climate-related issues, past, present or future. Climate adaptation, however, is in part a cultural issue and this sub-project moves climate questions into cultural institutions, which have well-established interfaces with the local public at the local, regional, national and international levels as well as tourists. The aim of this sub-project is therefore to create democratic debate and long-term behavioural changes through communication and knowledge sharing, for instance, in relation to where we place settlements and how we relate to climate-related actions. The sub-project’s focus on climate tourism will also strengthen local economies. In line with recent initiatives at various museums internationally to tackle issue of climate change (e.g. Cameron et al. 2013), C24.3 will create exhibitions and presentation materials that can be used to inform and involve citizens and tourists in climate issues in general and specifically in relation to the climate-related challenges and proposed solutions in the Region of Central Jutland. The sub-project will be executed in collaboration with the Masters degree programme in Sustainable Heritage Management at Aarhus University and will be scaffolded by a series of stakeholder workshops with focus on the coupling between climate history and culture history. Coupled elements of cultural and natural heritage can serve as a source of specific climate-related identify-building and a platform for increasing climate literacy (see CPO), which in turn strengthens local resilience vis-à-vis future climate challenges. The exhibitions and presentation material will relate specifically to a coast-to-coast climate tourism cycling/kayaking route through the Region.

Dissemination and wider impact

Cultural heritage is a known source of local, regional and national identity-building, not least in relation to climate and climate change (see Harvey & Perry 2015). Identity and a sense of history thus play a role in local and regional climate adaptation matters. This is illustrated by several case studies throughout Europe, some specifically relating to hydrological issues (Stelljes & Martinez 2013). The implementation of the action’s teaching materials will contribute to the C2C CC’s overall aim of long-term and citizen-borne climate adaptation.

Project session organised at the 23th European Association of Archaeology Meeting, Masstricht, 2017.

Cultural heritage is a known source of local, regional and national identity-building, not least in relation to climate and climate change (see Harvey & Perry 2015). Identity and a sense of history thus play a role in local and regional climate adaptation matters. This is illustrated by several case studies throughout Europe, some specifically relating to hydrological issues (Stelljes & Martinez 2013). The implementation of the action’s teaching materials will contribute to the C2C CC’s overall aim of long-term and citizen-borne climate adaptation.

The coupling of natural and cultural heritage provides a platform for disseminating and discussing the challenges, knowledge and solution options, all in fora close to the citizens concerned (i.e. local museums, libraries, schools). In this way, coupled natural and cultural heritage adds value to any adaptation initiative, especially when seen in a longer-term perspective where education and knowledge sharing play decisive roles. Research shows that there is a clear relation between local/regional identities and historical and archaeological narratives. This relationship can be employed in achieving long-term behavioural changes via small changes in thought and action (the so-called nudging principle) at the same time as dissemination activities via museum strengthen the synergy between cultural and natural heritage in the Region.

In March 2018, we held a workshop bringing together a range of local and regional stakeholders as well as international perspectives on the couling of cultural and natural heritage. Through keynote presentations covering environmental art, narratives, legislation and museums, we identified a range of actors and structures within which the prudent management of such resources can be achieved. Better communication and increased knowledge was a key!

From this workshop, we produced a booklet, a how-to guide that we hope can be useful to other practicioners: https://pure.au.dk/portal/files/170207625/PI_Climate_Heritage_Booklet_digital.pdf

Major collaborators and affiliated institutions

Aarhus University

Region of Central Jutland


Project Leader: Professor MSO Felix Riede, PhD, Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, Aarhus University

Mailing Address: Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, Moesgård Allé 20, 8270 Højbjerg, Denmark

E-mail: f.riede@cas.au.dk