Middle Holocene vegetation evolution and woodland exploitation (2010-2014)

Middle Holocene vegetation evolution and woodland exploitation of the Lower Scheldt valley.

This thesis concerns different aspects of middle Holocene vegetation and landscape evolution in the Lower Scheldt valley (N-Belgium) and the study of how this landscape was exploited by late Mesolithic/early Neolithic local populations. This is done by the combination of palaeoecological and archaeobotanical analyses of samples from archaeological sites and contemporary natural deposits.

Most of the individual studies presented in this thesis have been excavated and sampled as part of preventive archaeological research preceding the construction of the Deurganckdok at Doel in the Antwerp harbor on the left bank of the river Scheldt and infrastructural works related to the realization of the Sigma plan (Bazel-Kruibeke).

Special attention is given to the role of Taxus baccata in the middle Holocene vegetation of the Lower Scheldt valley (and beyond). This tree occurred in this region during the middle Holocene period, but the chronology of its occurrence and habit preference is badly understood which has important consequences for the interpretation of both palaeoecological and archaeobotanical data. Also new palaeoecological information is produced, based on original research on different sites in the Lower Scheldt valley. In addition, wood charcoal and charred seeds from anthropogenic contexts have been analysed providing additional information on vegetation composition but also on the exploitation of this environment by local human populations during the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition period. Until recently, middle Holocene vegetation reconstructions and the study of human impact on that vegetation in northwestern Europe almost uniquely relied on palynology. Since the last decade, it is realized that much additional information can be obtained by charcoal analyses and many papers discussing middle Holocene vegetation composition and its exploitation, based on charcoal identifications have recently been published.  This work now presents the first results from charcoal analyses for the middle Holocene period from northern Belgium. These charcoal data are combined with results from palynological analyses as the combination of both disciplines results in a much more detailed image of the past vegetation composition and structure.


  • Deforce K., Bastiaens J., Ervynck A., Lentacker A., Van Neer W., Sergant J. & Crombé Ph. (2013). Wood charcoal and seeds as indicators for animal husbandry in a wetland site during the late Mesolithic/early Neolithic transition period (Swifterbant culture, ca. 4600-4000 BC) in NW-Belgium, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 22: 51-60.
  • Van Neer W., Ervynck A., Lentacker A., Bastiaens J., Deforce K., Sergant J. & Crombé Ph. (2013). Hunting, gathering, fishing and herding: animal exploitation in Sandy Flanders (NW Belgium) during the second half of the 5th millennium BC, Journal of Environmental Archaeology 18(2): 87-101.
  • Deforce K.,  Bastiaens J. & Crombé Ph. (2014). A reconstruction of middle Holocene alluvial hardwood forests (Lower Scheldt River, N-Belgium) and their exploitation during the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition period (Swifterbant Culture, c. 4500–4000 BC). Quaternaire 25(1): 9-21.
  • Deforce K., Storme A., Bastiaens J., Debruyne S., Denys L., Ervynck A., Meylemans E., Stieperaere H., Van Neer W. & Crombé Ph. (2014). Middle-Holocene alluvial forests and associated fluvial environments: A multi-proxy reconstruction from the lower Scheldt, N Belgium. The Holocene 24(11): 1150-1564.
  • Crombé Ph., Verhegge J., Deforce K., Meylemans E. & Robinson E. (2015). Wetland landscape dynamics, Swifterbant land use systems, and the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in the southern North Sea basin. Quaternary International 378: 119-133.


Prof Dr Philippe Crombé