During the third millennium BC, a rapid and intentional destruction of forests took place over wide regions of Europe to allow a new agricultural economy, often dominated by animal husbandry. By the second millennium BC, these open landscapes were evidently managed to maintain productivity. Much investment was made in infrastructure, from farm buildings and field systems to trackways. In opposition to a landscape enclosed by forests, these new open landscapes provided new avenues of visibility and interconnectivity, and with innovative uses of chariots, wagons, and ships, easier and faster communications opened up. Monumental barrows and large settlements had a dramatic visual impact that could easily have defined property rights and a more visible settlement hierarchy as people moved across the landscape.
However, a more permanently open landscape also introduced concerns of maintaining productivity. Soil, especially the light soils, became more prone to erosive forces as well as nutrient depletion, especially when no longer sustained by forest regeneration. Instead, fertility had to be maintained by other cultural practices, including fallow, application of manure, and forest management. Despite such care, ecological crises sometimes would strike, as happened in the heavily settled and exposed landscape of Thy on the North Sea coast of Jutland. The dominant herding economy and the demands for timber for large farm buildings led to a near-extinction of proper forests, peat was used for heating, and driftwood was sometimes used in house construction. In contrast in both central Hungary and western Sicily, agricultural intensification led to soil erosion, certainly from later Bronze Age times and increasing in intensity and scale over time. Thus the extensive agricultural environments of the Bronze Age introduced the potential for overexploitation of the land and different human responses to this, as exemplified in our case studies.