Pyrenean landscapes were anthropized gradually, from the Bronze Age to the Middle Ages, following a general elevational pattern, from lowlands to highlands.
Human settlement, as derived from archaeological evidence, may occur much earlier than irreversible anhtropogenic transformation of landscape, as deduced from paleoecological evidence, mainly pollen analysis. The main signs of landscape anthropization are total or parcial deforestation and meadow expansion (landscape opening), treeline lowering, unexpected changes in forest composition, increases of fire incidence, and intensification and/or expansion of cropping and grazing practices.
In a paper that will be published soon in Quaternary Science Reviews, we identified a general upward anthropization trend in the southern-central Pyrenees from the Bronze Age (basimontane belts) to the Middle Ages (subalpine and alpine levels), which progressed at a general average rate of 40 m elevation per century.
The elevational gradient is most clear between the Bronze Age and the Roman occupation, suggesting a progressive upward anthropization trend from the south with the likely involvement of Iberian cultures. During the Middle Ages, a massive anthropization pattern of subalpine/alpine areas is observed; this pattern is chronologically consistent with the incursion of northern cultures crossing the Pyrenees and the development of extensive high-mountain pastoralism and horizontal transhumance.
Further work is needed to confirm these observations, especially in areas with few available paleoecological studies, notably the basal and montane belts. It could be interesting to develop similar studies on other Pyrenean regions and other mountain ranges.
Rull, V. & Vegas-Vilarrúbia, T. 2021. A spatiotemporal gradient in the anthropization of Pyrenean landscapes. Preliminary report. Accepted in Quaternary Science Reviews. Preprint available at PalorXiv, doi 10.31233/osf.io/9u2b5