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Hunter-gatherers shaped European landscapes thousands of years ago, moving from place to place, hunting, fishing and foraging. With time they mastered fire, and started using it for clearing spaces from unwanted plants, shaping their surroundings. Gradually they adopted farming techniques, starting with small scale agriculture practices and slowly drifting away from hunting and gathering to embrace agriculture as the main activity.

Not every region started the transition to the new ways at the same time. Some regions transitioned earlier, some later. Agriculture came to Europe from the Near East, spreading to the Mediterranean region and from there all the way North. This spread transitioned Europe from one socio-metabolic, or energy regime, to another, from the society of hunter-gatherers to agricultural society, which took thousands of years.

Old Egyptian hieroglyphic painting showing an early instance of a domesticated animal (cow being milked). By Unknown author – Scanned from 1000 Fragen an die Natur, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1948., Public Domain,

So for how long did hunter-gatherers and farmers co-exist in Europe? What we now call the Agricultural Revolution (transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture and animal domestication) did not happen at once. It was rather a slow and steady process of agriculture spread and development across the globe. For hundreds and in some places even thousands of years hunting-gathering and farming practices coexisted within the same communities. Researchers say that the Agricultural Revolution lasted in Europe for about 3000 years (6500–3500 BP). 

By Wikirictor – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

How did this compare to later transitions?

Later transitions between the energy regimes finished faster due to enhanced communication and exchange between the regions. Transition of Europe from an agrarian to industrial world only took several hundred years. Nowadays we are experiencing new societal change. We are making our first steps towards the next energy regime and building a new society – a society of low-carbon and renewable energy. And knowing that technology and communication went a long way from the industrialization times, we expect current transition to end faster than ever before, and in just a few decades from now we might live in an entirely new Europe. 

What do you think our new low-carbon reality would look like?

1 Comment

  1. Sjoerd Kluiving

    Intriguing questions of how change comes across in landscape change over time. What information of the past will feed future plans for landscape management of rewilding, agriculture, energy and cultural heritage?

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