Late Neolithic Mondsee Culture in Austria: living on lakes and living with flood risk?
Neolithic and Bronze Age lake dwellings in the European Alps became recently protected under the UNESCO World Heritage. However, only little is known about the cultural history of the related pre-historic communities, their adaptation strategies to environmental changes and particularly about the almost synchronous decline of many of these settlements around the transition from the Late Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age. For example, there is an ongoing debate whether the abandonment of Late Neolithic lake dwellings at Lake Mondsee (Upper Austria) was caused by unfavourable climate conditions or a single catastrophic event. Within the varved sediments of Lake Mondsee, we investigated the occurrence of intercalated detrital layers from major floods and debris flows to unravel extreme surface runoff recurrence during the Neolithic settlement period. A combination of detailed sediment microfacies analysis and μXRF element scanning allows distinguishing debris flow and flood deposits. A total of 60 flood and 12 debris flow event layers was detected between 7000 and 4000 varve years (vyr) BP. Compared to the centennial- to millennial-scale average, a period of increased runoff event frequency can be identified between 5900 and 4450 vyr BP. Enhanced flood frequency is accompanied by predominantly siliciclastic sediment supply between ca. 5500 and 5000 vyr BP and enhanced dolomitic sediment supply between 4900 and 4500 vyr BP. A change in the location and the construction technique of the Neolithic lake dwellings at Lake Mondsee can be observed during the period of higher flood frequency. While lake dwellings of the first settlement period (ca. 5800–5250 cal. yr BP) were constructed directly on the wetlands, later constructions (ca. 5400–4700 cal. yr BP) were built on piles upon the water, possibly indicating an adaptation to either increased flood risk or a general increase of the lake level. However, our results also indicate that other than climatic factors (e.g. socio-economic changes) must have influenced the decline of the Mondsee Culture because flood activity generally decreased since 4450 vyr BP, but no new lake dwellings have been established thereafter.