Archaeology under water
With the Excellence Project EXPLO, archaeologists and biologists are on the trail of Europe's first farmers.

Intercultural knowledge

Climate research goes Stone Age

Researchers from the Universities of Bern, Oxford and Thessaloniki are working together in interdisciplinary cooperation to examine how Europe's first farmers lived. They are also focusing on how climate, the environment and agriculture have developed and influenced each other over the last 10,000 years.


Within the framework of the European Excellence Project EXPLO, the researchers are going to the bottom of various lakes in Greece and the southern Balkans and examining sunken prehistoric settlements. These are considered the cradle of European agriculture. More than 8,000 years ago, agricultural techniques reached Europe here from Western Africa. The lakes are thus a unique archive of European cultural and environmental history.

To examine the prehistoric settlements, the research project is combining underwater archaeology with methods used by ecologists, biologists and climate scientists for the very first time. Thousands of wooden building structures have been preserved in the lakes and along their banks. These woods are used as the basis for dendrochronology, a method which uses the growth rings of oaks and conifers to work out the age of the wood. This permits highly precise dating. The analysis of lake sediments is intended to show how land use and also the climatic conditions in this region have changed over time.

Did you know?

«The lakes of Northern Macedonia are thus a unique archive of European cultural and environmental history.»

EXPLO arose from the initiative of two professors from Bern

Albert Hafner, Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology, initiated the research project together with palaeoecologist Willy Tinner, also a professor at the University of Bern. “The backbone of the project,” says Hafner, “is the extremely precise dating of posts to chronologize the spots where they were found.” This chronology gives rise to valuable scientific facts.

European Excellence Project

EXPLO (short for Exploring the dynamics and causes of prehistoric land use change in the cradle of European farming) is being supported by the EU with 6.4 million euros and is one of two dozen projects awarded an “ERC Synergy Grant” for interdisciplinary collaboration in 2018 – and one of the very few in the humanities area. The Synergy Grants are the highest level of excellence support provided by the European Commission and are much-sought-after by researchers. Fewer than five percent of applications submitted are approved.