U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government


Main content area

Doing palaeo-social volcanology: Developing a framework for systematically investigating the impacts of past volcanic eruptions on human societies using archaeological datasets

Riede, Felix
Quaternary international 2019 v.499 pp. 266-277
case studies, data collection, human communities, humans, tephra, volcanic activity, Northern European region
Over geological and cultural evolutionary timescales, volcanic eruptions are relatively frequent events. In some parts of the world they are common and usually small in scale, and past human communities have been repeatedly exposed to these hazards. In other regions, they are rare and large, at times with severe consequences for contemporaneous human communities in the eruptions' near and far fields. Archaeologists have long been fascinated by these events, not least because of their power to seal and preserve archaeological sites, and the chronostratigraphical convenience provided by their isochronous tephra fallout. Regarding contemporary eruptions, volcanologists are increasingly including human science approaches to better understand societal responses, an approach often labelled social volcanology. Drawing on the existing literature on volcanic eruptions and their climatic, ecological and societal effects, I attempt to develop a systematic ‘palaeo-social volcanology’ framework that facilitates a hypothesis-driven approach to the investigation of past volcanic eruptions' impact on human societies at different distances to the eruption, and across different timescales. The Laacher See eruption and its impact on contemporaneous Final Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers in northern Europe serves as an example. In concluding, I reflect on how such case studies of ancient calamities can be made relevant in contemporary settings.