VU Geoplaza

This website provides a viewing interface for the data collected for the Case study landscape of the Dutch river delta in the context of the EU funded HERCULES research programme ( The overarching goal of this transdisciplinary research project is to increase understanding of drivers, patterns, and values of European cultural landscapes and to use this knowledge to develop, test, and demonstrate strategies for their protection, management, and planning.

The project builds on the development and application of innovative technologies and tools for assessing cultural landscapes. The strong involvement of small and medium-sized enterprises and non-governmental organisations provides a prototype for the empowerment of these institutions in landscape planning and management. The project cooperates closely with public and private authorities, agencies, and associations of citizens at local, national, and EU levels. Five objectives address the key topics of the call and form the structure of the project.

Objective 1: To synthesise existing knowledge on drivers, patterns, and outcomes of persistence and change in Europe’s cultural landscapes

Objective 2: To perform targeted case studies to develop in-depth insights on dynamics and values of cultural landscapes

Objective 3: To develop a typology of cultural landscapes and scale-up case study insights using observations and landscape modelling

Objective 4: To develop visions for re-coupling social and ecological components in cultural landscapes and translate them into policy and management options

Objective 5: To design and implement a community-based Knowledge Hub for Good Landscape Practice and test it with land users, agencies, small and medium-sized enterprises, and citizen associations


The data  presented in this webviewer are part of the Spatial Data Infrastructure developed for HERCULES´s Work Package 2. The principal aim of WP 2 is to enhance methodologies to collect data and to create knowledge about the long-term dimension of cultural landscape change. Its specific objectives are:

- to define an innovative methodological procedure for understanding the long-term development and transformation of cultural landscapes, drawing on recent insights from landscape archaeology, geography and (historical) ecology; 

- to develop and test an infrastructural facility (Spatial Data Infrastructure; SDI) for retrieving and linking archaeological, historical and ecological data and geo-information to support the interdisciplinary study of landscape change

- to develop and test models for analyzing long-term trends in landscape history in the case study sites

- to share research outcomes with relevant stakeholders through the knowledge hub developed 

Within HERCULES WP2 the concrete possibilities of dynamic modeling will be explored by adopting a case study approach. This will be done for three different areas, each being representative for more widespread environmental and climatic conditions within Europe: Atlantic (the Dutch river area), Boreal (the Uppland area, Sweden) and continental European conditions (Kodavere and Vooremaa, Estonia). A Mediterranean area (Puglia, Italy) will be used for comparison. All case studies, most notably the Dutch and Swedish ones, will start from the premises defined in Section 4 and follow the operational principles of Section 5. For each of the three main study regions a somewhat different modelling framework will be adopted to achieve this aim. Therefore, we will briefly introduce each of the case study landscapes below.


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Parts of the Dutch river landscape were occupied already during the Mesolithic and Neolithic. Initially, land use will have been limited to the stream ridges of the rivers and the adjacent parts of back swamps, as well as on Pleistocene river dunes and their surroundings. In the Middle and Late Bronze Age significant sections of the stream ridges were transformed into true rural landscapes, with scattered (and roaming) farmyards with associated burial mounds, gardens, field systems and roads. This rural landscape was part of a mosaic environment with forests, wetlands and more open cultivated areas. In the Roman Period, the study region formed the Northwestern part of the Roman frontier on the continent. By then, land use had been intensified considerably, creating a more open landscape with an increased human impact on the water system.

In about 1000 AD, the inhabitants of the river villages in the study region began building embankments along major rivers like the Rhine and Meuse. Along with the villages themselves, fields and gardens occupied the highest parts of the banks, while the slopes down to the flood basins behind the banks were used as communal meadows and pastureland. In the period from 800 to 1250 AD, towns in the Dutch river area expanded significantly and there was growing demand for agricultural products. To satisfy this demand, the agricultural land area had to be extended to the low-lying peat areas and river basins. But before these areas could be drained and reclaimed, embankments had to be built along the river courses and any obstructing ones had to be dammed. Several centuries later, the still remaining open spaces between the village embankments were closed off and long, uninterrupted dikes were built. This process was completed in most parts of the Dutch delta by about 1300 AD. Inside the dikes, where in winter especially the river water was sometimes dammed up to a significant extent, river forelands were created.

Thus over the course of five centuries, from 1000 to 1500 AD, the Dutch delta changed dramatically. It was transformed from an open delta where the rivers had free reign and where large areas were taken up by fens and marshes to a tightly ordered agricultural territory under human control. With their far-reaching interventions such as dike building, the inhabitants of the Dutch river landscapes unconsciously reset the environmental agenda for themselves. In the long run, their reshaping of wetlands and stream valleys had unexpected repercussions, like dike breaches and large-scale floods.

 Within our study landscape we (i.e. the VUA team, have zoomed in to a smaller case study area. The reason why we did this because we could directly involve local stakeholders and build on knowledge generated in previous studies. The area of interest exists of eight municipalities around the city of Nijmegen (i.e. Beuningen, Druten, Groesbeek, Heumen, Millingen aan de Rijn, Nijmegen, Overbetuwe, Ubbergen and Wijchen).


The modeling framework that will be applied is the Land Use Scanner (LUS). This framework was originally designed for predicting land use development in the near future, based on information about the current situation and the hypothesized development of future land use demand (Hilferink & Rietveld, 1998; Koomen, Hilferink, & Borsboom-van Beurden, 2011). The allocation methods applied in LUS are the logit based model to determine probabilities and a discrete allocation method to generate an allocation that is optimal given the suitability of different plots within the region. The LUS models are based on the understanding that land use is primarily influenced by socio-economic developments. This concept can also be applied with relative ease to situations in the past. A major advantage of this approach is that it shifts the pervading focus in archaeology from local settlement sites to various landscape scales as the object of interest. It also looks at the landscape from the angle of its use, rather than from the dominant, geomorphologically-based point of view aiming at predicting the landscape’s suitability for settlement – which is of course only one aspect of what people did in the past.


The LUS is particularly suitable for the Dutch river delta, given the very extensive data available on settlement distribution and paleo geographic reconstructions for the area over long periods of time. 

As input for the LUS for HERCULES WP 2 we can distinguise three types of input:

The first type of datasets that we are using are about the physical landscape to allow producing suitability maps. For this we will use the paleogeographical reconstructions, and datasets of the current physical landscape such as LiDAR (and slope class), soil, geomorphology as input for suitability maps for past landuse. Producing the suitabilities maps for the different periods will be done with input from previous studies, such as the IKAW and archaeological municipality models, and the running research projects listed above. To deal with the uncertainties in these model outcomes, the suitabilities will be approached as different scenarios. Per period a broadband of suitability maps will be provided.

The second type of input needed are distance relationships. Based on previous reconstructions of past networks (both roads and water) combined with shortest path analysis to be performed, between known centers different scenarios will be provided over time to reconstuct distance relationships (for this known archaeological sites combined with settlement pattern studies will be used as input).


The third type of input needed are indicators for the need for specific land types over time. For this the available techniques and estimates of demography will be needed as input for the modelling. 

The data shown in this viewer will be used as input for the long term modelling of long-term changes in cultural landscapes. Not all data is present is available due to legal issues.  In a later stage of the project this website will be updated with modelling results.