The interactions between human and nature


The interactions between human and nature

Research on the interaction between humans and their natural environment is key to understanding humanity's impact on their surroundings, as well as how changes in nature have shaped human life and society over thousands of years.

Knowledge of this interaction forms the basis for a sustainable use and conservation of natural and cultural environments. We want to understand how human activity affects and is affected by nature, and how the use of cultural and natural environments can ensure biological diversity, as well as the natural and cultural benefits that different landscapes and cultural environments provide.

Research objectives

  • To what extent has humans influenced nature throughout history?
  • Which premises has nature placed on human development?
  • To what extent has climate change contributed to changes in  the society through history?
  • How have technological developments in prehistory and the Middle Ages affected nature and the environment?



The SPARC project is fundamentally multidisciplinary, combining studies and analysis from archaeology, glaciology, DNA studies, conservation science and cultural heritage management. The project is organized in six distinct but interrelated work packages.

The SPARC project addresses a set of interrelated challenges regarding on-going developments in these high-mountain environments, both internationally and in Norway in particular.

Firstly, there is the challenge of securing information related to ancient artefacts and heritage environments and uncovering their cultural historical and environmental significance.

Secondly, the project will investigate the present condition and development of snow patches as natural systems in order to be able to ascertain their potential as archives of climatic information, and predict future challenges regarding heritage preservation.

Thirdly, the project’s results will be synthesized in a set of recommendations and guidelines that will aid heritage management, organization and public/ professional dissemination in the future.

Ultimately, SPARC aims to develop an inter-disciplinary methodology to contribute new research-based knowledge to effectively address the complex, inter-related and multidimensional challenges posed by archaeological and ecological snow patches.

In order to strengthen the Norwegian research base, SPARC brings together a number of national and international research institutions that will contribute to this glacial archaeological project.
Our hope is that SPARC will become a focal point for research exchange both nationally and with other regions of the world where such environments are recognized.

Contact point: Birgitte Skar, NTNU University Museum.

The project runs from 2011-2017

The project is funded by The Norwegian research Council (RCN), the Directorate for Cultural Heritage, NTNU and The Directorate for Nature Management and is a project within The University Museums collaborative research program.


Key Researchers: Birgitte Skar (, project leader, wp5 management and monitoring issues)

Martin Callanan ( Postdoc, wp1 chronological cultural heritage and integrating issues,)

Brit Solli ( Professor, wp2 the cultural heritage of the ice)

Geir Vatne, Ivar Berthling, Linda Marleen Christiansen Jarrett ( ass. Prof, & PhD, wp3 the glaciology of perennial snow patches)

Elizabeth Peacock ( Professor, wp4 taphonomic studies og heritage objects and monitoring)

Jørgen Rosvold ( Postdoc, wp6 glacial biology and reindeer population studies Frozen Fauna)

Key international partners:

Professor James Dixon, Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico; Prof. Albert Hafner, Institute of Archaeological Science, University of Bern;

Tom Andrews, Prince of Wales Northern heritage centre, Canada;

Richard VanderHoek, Alaska State, Alaska, USA;

Prof. Stephan Gruber, Univ. of Zürich, Switzerland;

Prof. Christian Hauck, Univ. of Fribourg, Switzerland;

Greg Hare, Yukon Govt, Yukon, Canada.

Extended project page

Marine Ventures compares cultural developments in the similar seascapes of Patagonia and Scandinavia. Lack of cultural relations between these distant areas implies independent trajectories towards a cultural dynamism that is of global archaeological interest. The emergence and development of marine foraging is a central academic focus, along with interactions between social structure, dwellings and boats, structure of dwelling sites and logistics. For details, check out the project description.

The interaction between common eider and man is investigated in this interdisciplinary project with background in production areas for down and feathers in mid-Norway. Suitable scientific methods are tried out to investigate which families and species, down and feathers from North-European Iron Age graves originate from. Social aspects concerning the buried individuals and the relation to the production areas are investigated. Different traditions in the harvesting and use of down as well as the material culture of the mentioned traditions are other parts of the project.

Contact: Project manager professor Birgitta Berglund

Cooperation with researchers at NTNU University Museum, Institute of Natural History and Archaeological Research Laboratory, University of Stockholm.

Duration: 2017-2018.

Funding: NTNU University Museum, Norwegian Environment Agency and the County Governor of Nord-Trøndelag.

Interdisciplinary project with the starting point in the joint project “Forskning i fellesskap”, a cooperation between the Norwegian University Museums supported by The Research Council of Norway. The aim of the project is to develop methods for soapstone provenance studies and to investigate how the results can be used in studies of past societies. Provenance studies of soapstone in medieval churches and of artefacts from the Iron Age and the medieval Period from mid-Norway are in progress.

Contact: Project manager professor Birgitta Berglund

The project is a cooperation with researchers at the Geological Survey of Norway.

Duration of the project: 2016-2018.

Funding: The Research Council of Norway (Forskning i fellesskap), NTNU University museum, Geological Survey of Norway.

Forests provide a range of vital services for the human society. The large increase in ungulate populations in Norway over the last decades has been a key driver for changes in forest ecosystems. While forests are associated with timber and other provisioning services (biofuel, game meat) regulating (carbon) and cultural services (outdoor life, hunting), overbrowsing may negatively affect biodiversity and other services. This project examines ecological effects of moose and red deer browsing within an ecosystem services framework to underpin sustainable forest management.

Project web page

Contact person: Professor Gunnar Austrheim, NTNU University Museum

Collaborator: Senior Research Scientist Erling Johan Solberg, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA)

Duration: 2006 - ongoing

Fauna illustration

Investigates birds and mammals in alpine glaciated environments. The research project has two aims:

  1. To document how and which animals make use of alpine glaciers and snow/ice patches.
  2. To explore what information old animal remains from such sites can provide about their history.

The goal is to provide important information regarding animal responses to future climate change, as well as which resources could have attracted human hunters to such sites through time.

Contact person: Postdoctoral fellow Jørgen Rosvold

The project is closely connected to SPARC.

Visit the projects blog.

Photo: Jørgen Rosvold, NTNU University Museum

The project aims to make use of the well preserved reindeer remains found in ice patches to provide genetic information on past reindeer populations. In addition, the project will investigate reindeer remains from old bone deposits and Medieval trading sites. The project has four main objectives:

  • Expand the geographic and temporal resolution of the ancient reindeer DNA data.
  • Locate the ancient wild reindeer populations that were involved in the domestication process.
  • Investigate old cultural and economic traditions tied to the use of reindeer.
  • Use these data to explore factors that have been important in shaping the present structure of wild reindeer populations in Norway.

This project is connected to the SPARC project, the NFR network “Forskning i fellesskap” and ongoing research by Knut H. Røed at NMBU, and is partly financed by the Norwegian Environmental Agency.

Contact person: Postdoctoral fellow Jørgen Rosvold

For people living in northern areas, reindeer is a vital species as a resource, a symbol of cultural identity and spiritually. In a long-term perspective, few species have been as important for human history and development in the northern hemisphere. This history of interaction has largely been one of predator and prey, but in some areas a deeper a more reciprocal relationship developed – that of reindeer husbandry.

Investigations of alpine ice patches have a high potential for uncovering large pieces of this history. During warm summer days, ice patches attract reindeer and have been used by humans as hunting grounds and for gathering and handling domestic reindeer. As climate gets warmer and the ice patches melt away, parts of this story is revealed.

Bones and antlers, arrowheads from reindeer hunting and tools connected to reindeer husbandry is currently melting out of the ice. These objects are often uniquely well preserved and may have been protected by the ice for hundreds or even thousands of years. They tell important and poorly known stories about how reindeer and humans have used the high alpine regions in the past.

The goal of this project is to examine ice patches within South Sámi areas of Scandinavia.

Contact person: Postdoctoral fellow Jørgen Rosvold

The ecosystem services framework provides a basis for assessing relationships and trade-offs between different services.  Different stakeholders within management institutions and professional bodies representing areas such as agriculture, environment and cultural heritage often have different priorities on potential services, their benefits and trade-offs, and these need to be understood and explicitly addressed.

Assessing a common stakeholder perspective will serve to underpin the management of sheep in alpine landscapes where conflicting interests seem to have hampered management priorities. Currently, clear management guidelines regarding livestock densities in alpine lands (including both protected and unprotected regions) do not exist, even though both high (overgrazing) and low (encroachment) are considered as threats to a range of ES.    

The project will build on a 10-year experimental case study at a landscape scale to assess the effects of alternative sheep densities on ES in alpine cultural landscapes, and identify stakeholder ES preferences.

Contact person: Professor Gunnar Austrheim

Project status: Ongoing

Extended project page

4-OCEANS aims to assess the importance of marine life for human societies during the last two millennia, up to the age of fishing under steam-power. We contend that the harvest of marine resources played a critical, but as yet underappreciated and poorly understood, role in global history.

To bridge this gap in our understanding, the project includes an interdisciplinary team combining expertise in historical archaeology, marine environmental history, climate history, natural history, geography, historical ecology, ancient DNA, radiocarbon dating and zooarchaeology.

We will examine when and where marine exploitation was of significance to human society; how selected major socio-economic, cultural, and environmental forces variously constrained and enabled marine exploitation; and identify the consequences of marine resource exploitation for societal development and the oceans.

Through these objectives we will discover how marine resources as novel wealth altered societies throughout history. How might marine wealth have enabled some societies to escape food shortages? How did it trigger long-term socio-economic impacts and ecological consequences? How were marine resources valued, consumed, and energetically transformed?

Contact person: Professor James Barrett

Duration: 2021 - 2027

Extended project page

CHARTER is an ambitious effort to advance the adaptive capacity of Arctic communities to climatic and biodiversity changes through state-of-the-art synthesis based on thorough data collection, analysis and modelling of Arctic change with major socio-economic implications and feedbacks.

To achieve this goal, we will combine expertise from Earth System sciences and biodiversity studies within a social-ecological system (SES) framework and with a strong participatory approach.

Strategies co-developed in CHARTER with indigenous and local communities will comprise synergies between their ambitions for adaptation actions with novel forms of land management geared towards climate change mitigation and sustainable development.

In the CHARTER project, NTNU will use eDNA metabarcoding to understand how reindeer diets vary with herd densities. We will link herbivore and carnivore diversity at broad spatial scales and will synthesise long-term Arctic biodiversity trends.

Furter information on the project, as well as a full list of partners, can be found on the project's website.

Contact person: Associate professor James D. M. Speed.

The Demise of the Atlantic Grey whale (DAG) is a MSCA IF funded project awarded to Youri van den Hurk, with James Barrett as supervisor. The grey whale (Eschrichtius robustus) is a baleen whale species currently confined to the North Pacific. Palaeontological and archaeological research has revealed that the species was also present in the North Atlantic, possibly up until the 17th/18th century CE. It is the aim of DAG to discover the past spatiotemporal range of the grey whale in the eastern Atlantic, whether active whaling was undertaken on the species, and whether anthropogenic pressure eventually led to its extirpation from the Atlantic Ocean.

Further information about the project can be found on the project's website.

Contact person: Postdoctoral fellow Youri van den Hurk

Past projects interaction