This paper presents the results of the archaeological and palaeoecological research conducted between 2000 and 2014 in the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park (PNAESM). This included the systematic survey of the most of the National Park territory, included at altitudes between 1500 and 3000 m a.s.l. During the surveys, 350 archaeological sites have been detected and 78 radiocarbon dates have been realized, providing a sequence of human occupation from 10700 cal BP to modern times. In addition, three archaeological sites with stratified deposits have been fully excavated: Cova del Sardo de Boí, Abric de l'Estany de la Coveta I and Dolmen de la Font dels Coms. In parallel, 5 sedimentary cores have been extracted from lakes and one pigbog, from the Natural Park of Alt Pirineu (PNAP) and National Park (PNAESM) areas, providing a full palaeoecological sequence from the last 17.000 years cal BP. This archaeological and palaeoecological dataset (e.g. soil-sites and lake records) allowed advancing new models about the anthropization of the high-altitude areas and the social construction of pastoral landscapes. At the current state of research, the first signs of an anthropic input on the mountain landscape in the Pyrenees date back to ca. 5000 cal BC. The last 15 years of survey and research in the area have demonstrated that first human presence is mainly related to the development of an agro-pastoral economic system, also known as 'Neolithic'. In this context, mid- and high-altitude areas do not appear to be isolated spaces. In contrast, the latest archaeological data suggests a strong connection between mountains, plains and coastal areas of the NE of the Iberian Peninsula. This area is transitional between the relatively arid inland plains and the alpine landscapes. Here, during a period of 3000 yrs, the palaeoecological and archaeological data shows an increase of anthropic pressure. In this paper we discuss the results of a multidisciplinary research project carried out in the Sant Nicolau valley, a glacial valley located in the western Catalan Pyrenees at altitudes between 1500 to 3000 m a.s.l., and in the rest of the Nacional Park (PNAESM). Our research involves several complementary approaches and disciplines: 1) an extensive survey of the area and the integration of all types of archaeological evidences on a regional GIS; 2) a diachronic study of all the excavated sites, which includes an economic approximation of the archaeological materials and integrated archaeobotanical analyses; 3) an analysis of the landscape evolution through palaeosols and lacustrine sedimentary cores. The first results of this integrated approach are encouraging, showing dynamics in the occupation of the mountains that otherwise would be impossible to detect. In the Nacional Park area human presence seems to be sporadic until the first half of the V millennium cal BC. The first signs of anthropogenic fires, dated between 5200 and 4940 cal BC, seem to anticipate of only a few hundred years the appearance of a major archaeological record at Sant Nicolau button valley. A clear human occupation is dated between 4802 and 4368 cal AC at Cova del Sardo site, and is mainly associated with the exploitation of the subalpine stage for pastoral purposes by groups of southern provenance. Successively, the human presence becomes more discontinuous between 4229 and 3375 cal AC. Gradually moves toward higher altitudes. Indeed an increasing number of sites are established above 2000 m a.s.l., between 3484 and 2345 cal AC. The analysis of the archaeological artefacts suggests that the catchment area of these Neolithic pastoral groups goes from the Ebro Basin to the alpine areas of the Axial Pyrenees. We suggest that the modern landscape, far from being a 'natural' environment, is the result of a long-term process of anthropic transformation, starting VII millennia ago.
- Environmental archaeology