Floodplains represent a global hotspot of sensitive socio-environmental changes and early human forcing mechanisms. The DFG Priority Programme (SPP) "On the Way to the Fluvial Anthroposphere" will investigate the pre-industrial floodplains in Central Europe and the fluvial societies that operated there.
Floodplains are an exceptionally dynamic landscape and a key area of European cultural and natural heritage. Due to their high land-use capacity and the simultaneous necessity of land reclamation and risk minimisation, societies have radically restructured Central European floodplains. This anthropogenic restructuring can be so significant that former floodplains are no longer recognisable as such. According to the current scientific state of the art, up to 95% of Central European floodplains have been extensively restructured or destroyed. Parallel hydro-sedimentary and climatic processes and human impact have formed even those floodplains, which are still close to a natural state. The question therefore arises as to whether or when it is justified to understand Central European floodplains as a "Fluvial Anthroposphere" and which socio-ecological processes have been involved in their development. Case studies available so far show that human induced changes in floodplain morphologies and environments and the formation of specific fluvial societies began long before the industrial period. The chronological focus of this Priority Programme is on the medieval and pre-industrial modern period, a time span that saw fundamental changes in the use and physical nature of floodplains. Our Priority Programme will deliver a significant leap in knowledge towards an unprecedented systemic understanding of anthropogenically converted floodplains and corresponding fluvial societies. It aims to answer the questions of when and why humans became a significant controlling factor in floodplain formation and how humans in interaction with natural processes and other chains of effects modified floodplains. It will clarify the extent to which short-term and long-term natural floodplain dynamics together with early human impacts affected subsequent developments and led to path dependencies. Our Priority Programme will encourage study proposals from archaeology, geosciences and history that analyse the interaction of humans and their environments in the emergence of the Fluvial Anthroposphere through multidisciplinary and cutting-edge methodological approaches. As an early transformed, sociocultural highly relevant region, the Rhine, Elbe and Danube river systems form our model region for systematic comparative analyses. Within a highly specific spatial and chronological framework, the Priority Programme promises a coherent and transferable contribution of global relevance to the current Anthropocene debate and related boundary conditions.