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The ARCAVE ambition

ARCAVE is a proof-of-concept project (2021-23), set to develop an analytical suite to maximize the information output from coastal cave sites rich in organic preservation. The overall aim is to reconstruct human interaction with and impact on coastal ecosystems throughout the post-glacial period.

Human impacts on Earth’s ecosystems are accelerating now at the dawn of the Anthropocene, with a troubling 68% decline in species richness/abundance since 1970 charted by the 2020 global biodiversity index. Managing especially coastal and marine resources, in the face of such rapid ecological degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change is becoming increasingly problematic. This hits home as the high latitudes face the most dramatic long-term changes globally. Measuring human impacts, however, is difficult as it fundamentally relies on separating natural variation from human-induced change. Such can only be reliably established against baselines of sufficiently deep and resolved timeseries data that control for the inherent variation in climate systems and the temporally varying but long-standing impacts of humans on their surroundings.


Wise/sustainable coastal resource management for the future thus requires a robust understanding of deep-time variability. The project proposed here seeks to reconstruct, at unprecedented granularity, the complex relations between humans and coastal/marine ecosystems in a high-latitude environment – using the anthropogenic and stratified deposits from the Kirkhellaren coastal cave as cultural heritage caves form prime archives of deep-time ecosystem change.


ARCAVE engages this unprecedented repository of Holocene-wide eco-change in providing a necessary pilot study of the biologically and economically quintessential, yet increasingly susceptible ecotone of coastal Arctic Norway. In doing so, the project will (a) couple legacy and new data in a novel analytical suite for the construction of dynamic food-web and genomic interactions, (b) provide better baselines of deep-time coastal ecotonal change, and thus (c), benchmark contemporary and future trajectories of coastal ecosystems.

By extracting proxies for ecosystem change and human impacts in deep time from coastal cave deposits, the premier goal of this project is to contribute a baseline of change for a North Atlantic coastal ecosystem. The Arctic Norwegian coastline is targeted due to its unique quality of hosting unprecedented preservation of marine fauna and ecosystem remains that is otherwise eroded by sea-level rise across global shorelines. By reviewing all existing survey data, 330 caves and rock shelters with assumed cultural significance were identified in Arctic Norway alone. The unrivalled preservation of organic remains in Arctic Norwegian coastal caves may significantly broaden our knowledge of Holocene ecological change. Although constituting unmatched windows into the past, only 5 have been excavated too any degree (14). This enormous, yet untapped potential for paleoecological and archaeological gain would benefit from a systematic, scientific framework.

The Team

Core members of the research team are listed below. In addition, a range of support staff and local stakeholders provide vital contributions to be announced.


Erlend Kirkeng Jørgensen

Principal investigator

Project initiator and principal investigator. Human ecodynamics specialist.



Vibeke Vandrup Martens


Leading expert on in-situ organic preservation monitoring. Responsible for monitoring and preservation impact analyses. - NIKU


Manuel Gabler

Geophysical prospection and digital methods

Remote sensing expert. Responsible for georadar operation, laser scanning and analysis.



Felix Riede

Human ecodynamics

Human paleoecology specialist. Will assist in excavation, trophic analysis, and human ecodynamic synthesis.

- Aarhus University


Isabell Schmidt

Cave archaeologist

Paleodemographer and geoarchaeologist. Has led and participated in several cave excavations in Africa/Europe. Will assist planning and execution of excavation.

- University of Cologne


Götz Ossendorf

Cave archaeologist

Expert cave excavator. Has led and participated in several cave excavations in Africa/Europe. Will assist planning and execution of excavation

-University of Cologne


Bastiaan Star

Paleogenomics (aDNA)

Expert in aDNA analysis of marine species. Will perform all genomic sampling and analyses.

- University of Oslo


Knut Andreas Bergsvik

Cave archaeologist

National authority on cave archaeology. Will assist in excavation and synthesis.

- Bergen University Museum


Anne Karin Hufthammer


National authority on archaeofauna. Will assist with faunal analysis and legacy data access.

- Bergen University Museum


Marit Bertheussen

Regional museum representative, local facilitator

Representative of Helgeland Museum and vital facilitator for stakeholder involvement.

- Helgeland Museum

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